“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
A wee-hours snowstorm canceled our plans for the morning, much to the girls’ satisfaction. They’ve been waiting for weeks to try out the new sleds Scott hid in the garage, the ones they aren’t supposed to know about. (Sorry, honey—I left the garage door open one day. Oops.) Upstairs in their room an indoor blizzard is raging: mittens flying, long underwear leaping out of the drawer, layer upon layer of clothing sailing through the air en route to its exuberant young owners.
Myself, I’ve always been of the Carl Reiner school of thought when it comes to snowstorms. To me, snow is: an inconvenience, an excuse to drink hot chocolate, and a once useful but now overused basis for metaphor (in that order).
But the children of my best pal, Alice Gunther, recently gave challenge to my admittedly cantankerous point of view. Alice, inspired by Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle, asked her girls how they would describe snow to someone who had never seen it before. With Alice’s permission, I reprint parts of their descriptions here:
B (age 5) “Snow feels like a cut when it gets into your boots.”
“It is white as white paper.”
C (age 7) “Snow looks like a cluster of diamonds from a fairy tale. If you leave velvet out in the snow, you will find it covered with little snowflakes, and the points look like Celtic knots. Each one is different from the others, yet they could fit together like a mosaic or a flower. Snow looks like lace on the velvet, like a queen’s dress.”
M (age 9) “Snow feels like a very cold chick—a chick with hypothermia.”
“When you step on it, it sounds like baked taco shells.”
A (age 11) “Snow looks like frosting on a cake, with jagged peaks here and there, although it is soft in most places. Where you have walked, it is flat, and greenish brown grass peaks out. As you look ahead of you, all the ground in front of you is level and very wide, almost like a flat plain. If you pick up a scoop in your gloved hand and look closely at it, it seems to have tiny craters, almost like a sponge.”
Wow. These breathtaking bits of freewriting almost make me want to go dig up my own long underwear and venture out to see the stuff firsthand.
Almost. I think instead I’ll curl up with the aforementioned mug of hot chocolate and a copy of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” I’ll have to read it to myself, though. The kids are all outside.
To read Alice’s Writer’s Jungle review in its entirety, visit the Bravewriter discussion in the “Living Language Arts” forum at 4 Real Learning.
When I was setting up this blog, I created a category called “Things that Inspire Me” with Small Meadow Press in mind, but I haven’t had a chance to post about it until now. This is due in part to my urge to gush for pages about Lesley Austin’s beautiful notecards and illustrated quotations—I keep drafting posts that turn into novels. And really, I don’t need to say anything at all: Lesley’s lovely offerings speak for themselves. Her new “Notes on Gratitude,” with quotations from Shakespeare, Chesterton, and others, have got me looking forward to every opportunity to write thank-you notes, so delightful are they. I ordered her “Jane Austen Missives” stationery set to give to my niece for Christmas, and once I had it in my hands, I had to get quite stern with myself in order to give it up. I plan to tuck one of Lesley’s charmingly named “Small Useful Books” into my daughters’ Easter baskets—they’ll be perfect for our nature walks this spring.
See, I’m doing it again! I can’t help it! And I haven’t even gotten to the so-perfect-it’s-uncanny illustrated quotation I ordered in honor of Scott. (“What a dreadful thing it must be to have a dull father,” by Mary Mapes Dodge—accompanied by a sepia-toned picture that makes my girls, whose father is anything but dull, grin every time they glance at it.) I’ll stop now and let you see for yourself.
I admit it: when it comes to writing curricula, I’m a snob. After all, Scott and I both write for a living; we are the kind of word geeks who sit around discussing sentence structure for fun. I’ve never felt the need to use a writing program with my kids: that’s one area I can handle on my own.
But every time I go to a conference, people ask what writing curriculum I recommend. In an effort to do justice to this frequent question, I’ve purchased several books and programs for review. None of them was anything I felt enthusiastic about passing on to other families—until I encountered Julie Bogart’s Bravewriter.
A friend tipped me off to Julie’s website, and I visited it in the same informational spirit in which I’d reviewed various other writing resources, to see if this was something I could wholeheartedly recommend to inquiring homeschoolers. Imagine my surprise when I found myself chomping at the bit to try out her ideas on my own kids—and heck, on myself! Julie’s energy and insight get me jazzed up to sit down and work. She’s a writer who loves writing about writing, and the dish she’s serving up is like mental energy bars—she makes you want to get moving, get those words down on paper! Life is rich; let’s articulate it!—that’s Julie’s message.
So I couldn’t resist. I ordered The Writer’s Jungle, joined Julie’s Bravewriter Lifestyle list, and began serving up her feast to my kids. Jane (who served as a reluctant guinea pig for trials of certain other materials whose very names now cause her to wrinkle up her nose) thinks Bravewriter is delicious. Tops on her list: doing dictations from her beloved Redwall books (full of quite challenging words to spell, I might add) and freewriting, which she loves for its license not to worry, for the moment, about spelling and proper punctuation. I’m including her latest freewrite below. Her mission was to spend ten minutes writing anything she wanted about a subject she “knows a lot about and wants to know more about.” Here it is exactly as she wrote it, spelling errors and all.
I think that Brian Jacques CONTRADIKS himself! On the Redwall “ask Brian” webpage thing they had a cople of years ago, one question said “will there ever be a good rat, fox, ect. or any bad badgers, mice, ect.” and Brian replied, NO! All the bad guys are BAD & all the good guys are GOOD. There are no crossovers, no gray areas.” But not 1ce but 2 times he contradicts himself! First in Mossflower, the wildcat Gingervere & later his wife, Sandingomm. And then again The Bellmaker! that time a searat named ______.
(“I have to look up his name, Mom,” she told me when she’d finished. “I can’t get the book now because it’s in the bedroom where Beanie is napping.”)
What I love about this piece of writing—besides its obvious passion and intensity—is that it is the beginning of legitimate critical analysis. In the weeks to come, Jane will return to this piece and flesh it out. I’m eager to hear more. In what ways do Gingervere, Sandingomm, and the unnamed searat shatter the bad-guy mold?
And what a great topic for discussion! She thinks Brian Jacques is mistaken about the nuances of his own characters. Can writers be wrong about their own work? This was a hot topic in my grad school lit classes; it’s meaty stuff. Ten minutes of scribbling at the kitchen table revealed a bubbling stew of opinion I hadn’t known my 9-year-old possessed. We’ve had great fun lunching on these ideas all week.
Looks like I finally have an enthusiastic answer for those conference inquirees.