A tennis court filling up with snow. A playground catching flakes on its silver-slide tongue. Trees standing stubbornly without coats, gleefully spreading gloveless fingers into the wind. These are some of the snapshots I took in with my window-camera as I sat curled under a blanket on my gray coach, during the blizzard last weekend. I was grateful to be snowbound. I had writing to do, a class to prepare for, and piles of other assorted get-to-do's. But there was a snowflake marathon on window-TV and I couldn't stop watching it. The city was so still, the sky so fast. All of Brooklyn was suddenly inside of a snow-globe. On Sunday, the sun came out to show off the city's fresh saucer of cream. I wondered who would be the first cat to wander into it. The six year old me, wanted to be the first to flop onto the fresh flakes. The writer me wanted to just watch. Soon I saw two snowsuits shaped as children, warrior-waddle into the court. Each claimed a side, and slow-motion raced until the snow, stacked to their chests. stopped them. Then they stood, touching mittens through the net, puffing clouds out through their noses.
In this very busy city, it's so easy to get caught in the wind like a swirling snowflake, and forget to stop and just see. And, as Kate DiCamillo writes about in her journal [link]
"....'that's what writing is all about. Seeing. It is the sacred duty of the writer to pay attention, to see the world. ' Not until years later when I finally made a commitment to writing, when I was fighting despair, wondering if I had the talent to do what I wanted to do, did those words [of my teacher] come back to me. And what I thought was this: I cannot control whether of not I am talented, but I can pay attention. I can make the effort to see."
I was grateful for the snow that reminded me of Kate DiCamillo's poem, Snow, Aldo because it offers such a wonderful way to practice capturing what we see, and that's what I wanted to offer the MFA students in my picture book course at The New School. Here is a version of the exercise I assigned them. Whether you're a writer, or a parent snowbound with children looking for an activity, this is a fun way to consider how to capture your world. Below is the poem, and some exercise and activity suggestions follow. Make some hot cocoa to go with it, and let me know how it goes.
by Kate DiCamillo
Once, I was in New York, in Central Park, and I saw an old man in a black overcoat walking a black dog. This was springtime and the trees were still bare and the sky was gray and low and it began, suddenly, to snow: big fat flakes that twirled and landed on the black of the man's overcoat and the black dog's fur. The dog lifted his face and stared up at the sky. The man looked up, too. "Snow, Aldo," he said to the dog, "snow." And he laughed. The dog looked at him and wagged his tail. If I was in charge of making snow globes, this is what I would put inside: the old man in the black overcoat, the black dog, two friends with their faces turned up to the sky as if they were receiving a blessing, as if they were being blessed together by something as simple as snow in March.
"Snow, Aldo" by Kate DiCamillo. © Kate DiCamillo. Used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
Try any or all of these activities:
Let Kate DiCamillo's first lines start you off. Write, "If I was in charge of making snow globes, this is what I would put inside...." take ten minutes and write and/or doodle all the images that pop into your mind.
Consider...what would you choose from this very moment, this very place, to put in your snowglobe? What would the snowglobe scene of your day be? Your week? Your year? If you made a snowglobe for every age you've been, what would they be? What would go in the snowglobe of your family? Your neighborhood? Your dreams?
Write your own "If I was in charge of making snow globes poem"
Draw circles on paper, or cut out circles from construction paper, then write, draw, or collage your snowglobe scene.
Make Snowglobe cards for friends, about times together.
Capture snowglobe images for MLK Day, Valentimes day, or someone's birthday.
Teachers: use this to explore a certain theme by adding enabling constraints. For example, ask kids to create the snowglobe for a certain country or city you are studying, current events, animals, ask them what the character in their book might choose if they were in charge of snowglobes...etc.
Make an actual DIY snowglobe! (This idea comes from my crafty teacher sister, who made the one pictured for me)
Get snuggly and read some Kate DiCamillo books! Find out more about this amazing, award winning, 2015 Children's literature ambassador author. katedicamillo.com