• It’s the birth date of Cornelia Meigs (1884–1973), Invincible Louisa, Swift Rivers; Jim Kjelgaard (1910–1959), Big Red; and Elizabeth Yates (1905–2001), Amos Fortune, Free Man.
  • In 1768 the first edition of Encyclopædia Britannica is published. Read the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol.
  • Thomas Edison creates the first human voice recording—“Mary had a little lamb”—in 1877. Read Mary Had a Little Lamb by Sarah Hale, illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

December 6 marks Mitten Tree Day; to celebrate everyone is encouraged to decorate a Christmas tree with mittens (the tree and mittens can be real or cut out from brightly colored paper). As I write this, I am packing to travel to Canada and Seattle to present a workshop on children’s classics. One of the questions I always ask in these seminars is “What are your favorite books destined to become classics?” Our book of the day, Jan Brett’s The Mitten, always emerges as a fan favorite. It has now been in print long enough, more than twenty years, to have achieved classic status.

In a story adapted from a Ukrainian folk tale, Jan Brett relates the saga of Nikki, who wants mittens as white as snow. His grandmother Baba does not want to knit them, as they can be easily lost. But Nikki insists and finally gets his beautiful new white mittens, crafted with love and care. And, then, just as Baba predicted, he drops one of them in the snow.

What follows is a delicious repetitive sequence, in which the mitten becomes the home of many animals who go inside and snuggle together—rabbit, mole, hedgehog, fox, even a bear fit themselves into its warm space. To accommodate them, the mitten stretches and stretches. Finally bear’s sneeze sends the mitten flying—onto Nikki’s hand. In the end, although he brings both mittens back, Baba looks quizzically at one of them, now stretched to a much larger size.

A perfect cumulative tale, ideal for story hour or reading to a family, The Mitten features exquisite artwork that showcases Jan Brett’s strengths as an artist. On many pages, bordered by boxes that look like birch bark, scenes depicting the action of the text have been framed by one side panel showing Nikki playing and other panel depicting the animal that will appear next. This structure allows children to follow many stories and to anticipate the next page. Based on Ukrainian folk art, the drawings feature strong portraits of the animal characters and create a snowbound and enticing landscape.

Although for years I have used a dog-eared version of this book, I just purchased and would recommend the 20th Anniversary Edition, which has been lavishly produced and makes a very attractive present. Whatever edition you use on Mitten Tree Day or any other day in December, this totally satisfying picture book should be part of any winter celebration. It combines fantasy and reality in equal doses—the perfect offering on a cold winter’s day.

Here’s a page from The Mitten:


Originally posted December 6, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Clothing, Folktale, Seasons, Winter
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Mitten
One year ago: Happy Hanukkah


  1. jude says:

    This was one of my son’s favorites when he was very small. Along with Goodnight Gorilla, The Runaway Bunny, and Goodnight Moon, it still sits on one of my bookshelf.

  2. Ariel Cooke says:

    I love this book and when I was a school librarian in Newark, NJ, I used it very successfully with self-comtained autistic classes as well as gen ed. It turns out that some of the things many kids with autism can do are 1) matching and 2) sequencing; we cut out some of the many wonderful printables from Jan Brett’s website and practiced re-creating the sequence in the book. Another nice craft activity for pre-schoolers to go along with the story is a printable of winter hat and mittens; the child colors it in with his or her own design and the final display of all the many hats is dazzling in a library or classroom. Generally Jan Brett’s author website is one of the best; it has author videos too. Also she has a version of this story set in Brazill called The Umbrella that is also very cute and gives a nice overview of the creatures of the Amazon rain forest,

  3. suzi w. says:

    Jan Brett is one of my favorites. I’ll have to take a look at the 20th anniv. ed. The only book I own is the one about Comet the cat.

    But I do love The Mitten. I love how each page fortells the next page.

    Well, well, Mary had a little lamb. Today? That’s awesome. I had forgotten that was the first recording. (it’s so much easier to remember Bell saying,”Watson, get in here!!”) (I’m sure that’s what he meant when he said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

    Thanks for enriching our days, Anita. I have to remember to stop by EVERY day. It’s a crazy season right now.

    xo (and cupcakes),

  4. G. Perry says:

    OK. I got hands on this one this morning. The art is just gorgeous, almost like a fine painting. I love just holding and looking at it.

    The story seemed odd to me at first, (I’m way grown) but then as it came together, it became fun.

    And that sneeze!

  5. Kahla says:

    I just finished using this with my Kindergarten classes, and next we’ll read the Aylesworth version and do a comparison of the two tales. They love them both!

  6. Barb Keister says:

    The Mitten has always been one of my favorites, both as a parent and a teacher. I never knew about Mitten Tree Day! I think my nephews may be receiving the 20th anniversary edition for Christmas this year!

  7. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    This is one of the few picture books I really, really love. The bear crawling into the mitten gets me every time! Beautiful book.

  8. Sally says:

    One of my all time favorites. Love the illustrations – the writing. Remember reading it as a child.

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