Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Winter is Coming! Happy Book Birthday to Michelle Houts!

WINTER is coming…

If the doggiest dog days of summer have just set in where you are (here in Ohio, it’s been stinking hot!), it might be hard to imagine, but summer will turn to fall. And, eventually, fall always gives way to winter. It’s the order of things. It’s just the way it happens.

Today, September 9th, my third middle grade novel releases. WINTERFROST (Candlewick Press) is a tale that ruminated for more than 20 years in this author’s brain. It has its origins in Danish folklore and modern tradition. It comes from stories told to me as a young American visitor to an enchanted Scandinavian county and from pictures and legends sent across oceans for many years to follow.

Here’s the folklore: On Christmas Eve, it is customary, required even, to set a steaming bowl of rice pudding in the barn for the nisse, a small gnome-like being who resides on the Danish farm, looking after the animals and the family. Humble servants, nisse require very little to be happy. The rice pudding is enough.

Here’s the modern tradition:  The Danish believe we all need fresh air. Every day. Everyone needs fresh air in their lungs. No matter how old. No matter how young. No matter how cold. Even babies nap outdoors.

My friend sent me this picture a few years ago.

And here’s where the two collide:   As authors, especially authors of books for children, it’s our right responsibility to ask “What if…?” What if a Danish family forgot to leave their nisse rice pudding on Christmas Eve? What could happen? What if a baby left out to nap disappeared while peacefully slumbering? What if that baby were in the care of her sister?  How would she find the baby? Where would she look? Because even in the white of winter, the forest can be so dark. What if…
And here’s the result:

I hope many young readers will follow Bettina into the forest as she searches for her baby sister in a blur of frost and leaves and roots and cider in a world she barely believes exists.
And, I hope aspiring writers will follow me to a place where we sit ourselves down, roll up our sleeves, and answer those unanswered “what ifs.”
Because the worst question I can think of is “What if we didn't tell the tales that knock on our hearts and beg to be told? What if…?”


Michelle Houts is the author of three middle grade fiction novels and one nonfiction, a biography coming in October 2014. She lives and plays on a family farm in Ohio.  Michelle dreams of returning to Denmark at Christmastime so she can show her gratitude to the nisse with a warm bowl of rice pudding.


  1. That photo of the babe next to the snow--I love it! What a great introduction to Winterfrost. Happy book birthday!

  2. So intriguing--- makes my mouth water for rice pudding right now---off to make some with last night's leftover rice---then to local children's bookshop for Winterfrost! What if?