Writing on a Snow Day

King Alice_cover image

After you read the interview with Matthew Cordell, please leave a comment on this blog post for a chance to win a copy of King Alice.

Two weeks ago, PA Weather Action posted a Preliminary 2018-2019 Winter Outlook for Pennsylvania. When I drilled into the article and looked at the projection map, I learned they were predicting an above average amount of snowfall in my region of the state. {Groan.}

However, I do enjoy snow days. There’s something lovely about not having to rush in the mornings. Plus, it gives me extra time to spend with my daughter who I feel as though I barely see all week long. For us, snow days mean art projects when her brother naps, time to explore a picture book for every inch of snow that falls,  and baking. This year, I’m hoping we add WRITE to the list of things we do. You see, King Alice by Matthew Cordell has inspired me to try to inspire her to do some writing on a snow day.

I’ve noticed some school districts assigning work or having virtual classes on days when they’re physically closed due to snow. While I understand the need to keep students learning, this frustrates me since I feel it denies students the opportunity to use their day off to create something of their own choosing. While some students might get bored on a snow day (especially if it’s too blustery to go outdoors), I think the vast majority of kids find ways to busy themselves on snow days.

Enter King Alice for inspiration to get young writers’ creative juices flowing. Here’s the publisher’s summary of the text:

Alice and her family are stuck indoors on a snowy day. Alice loves to read, and when her dad suggests that she make her own book, she snaps out of her “I’m bored” mode and makes up a story that lasts till the lights go out later that night.

Here is a book that celebrates books, reading, and an imaginative way that one family handles being housebound.

Writing a book (or a short story) may not be the first thing kids think of to do on a snow day, but we (e.g., educators, parents, aunts/uncles) can plant the seed in advance of the first snowfall. I plan to read King Alice to my daughter this weekend. Then, we’re going to create a snow day bucket list. I’m sure it’ll include tried-and-true snow day favorites, like baking, making hot cocoa from scratch, and building a snowman. However, I’m pretty sure after we read King Alice that she’ll add write a story to her list.

Here’s a Q&A I did with Matthew Cordell, which you can share with your students after you read King Alice aloud to them.

Stacey: Tell me about your inspiration for King Alice.

Matt: Alice (the character and book) are directly inspired by my own creative, headstrong daughter, Romy. Romy is 9 years old now, but when she was younger — around 5 — she used to love to come up with things to do with Dad that didn’t always sound so fun for me. Like… doing my make-up. Or… playing “circus clowns” where she could throw a pie in my face. I usually gave in and did these things, as it was generally pretty harmless, and made for a funny story later on. And, well, I love to make her happy. One winter’s day, she had an idea that the two of us could make a book together. We ended up writing and drawing it together (it was basically a Wizard of Oz homage) and we stapled all the pages together and… Voila! We made a book. Later on, I thought all of it — the making-of-a-book as well as my daughter’s fun, take-charge personality — would all make for a good picture book. And it did! (According to Romy.)

Matthew Cordell_author photo

Matthew Cordell

Stacey: I noticed the text used a written dialogue and speech bubbles. Would you talk about your decision to use them both? And how do you think this could inspire young writers?

Matt: If I had to describe the look of King Alice in one word, it would probably be “messy”. There’s a lot going on, and it’s very cluttered and, at times, chaotic. (Not unlike any given day in a typical family.) I liked the idea of using different devices to tell the story. Some descriptive text and dialog. Some in word and thought balloons. And the other parts — the Dad and Alice book — are completely separated and woven into the art itself. In regards to the word and thought balloons, though, I grew up on a steady diet of comic books. So I often like to include devices that are commonly seen in comics. Lots of hand-lettering and the like. I just really enjoy drawing it and looking at it in this way. I think young writers and artists, in general, should not get stuck in thinking that you have to do things one way. Making art and stories is so much more fun if you open up the idea of what is possible and chip away at limitations of what can or can’t be done.

Stacey: King Alice serves as inspiration for young writers to craft stories when they’re homebound in the snow. What advice would you give to encourage emerging writers (e.g., preschoolers, Kindergarteners, 1st graders)? Should they try to write a wordless picture book?

Matt: My book, Wolf in the Snow, was my first wordless picture book, and I had a lot of fun making it. To continue with my last question, telling a story without words is another way to approach storytelling in an unconventional or unexpected way. In some ways, it may be easier (if one likes to draw more than write), but it can also be harder (telling a story successfully with only pictures–without the help of words–can be quite challenging). But it is definitely fun to try to make this work. I love to draw and I found it a fun challenge to craft a story without using words. It’s fun to see what you can or need to draw in order to make it work. And you can jump right into the drawings, which is always fun!

Stacey: How do you hope teachers will use this book to inspire — rather than assign — writing on snow days?

Matt: I hope teachers and children will see that King Alice approaches creativity as self-motivated fun. Not as something someone asks or forces us to do. Often times, we can feel burdened in making something simply because someone asks it of us. But a creative challenge, at its heart, is always full of possibilities, excitement, and fun. And I think that’s what Alice sees in her daily existence. “What’ll we do today, Dad?” She’s always looking for something new to make. It’s a good way to be.

Stacey: What’s your next project?

Matt: I’m currently working on final art for my next written and illustrated picture book. It’s tentatively titled Expedition, though that might change. This will be my second wordless book (after Wolf in the Snow) that tells the story of a family who visits a natural history museum. They spend a day uncovering knowledge of history, art, artifacts, as well as that of the many different cultures of people also visiting the museum that day. My family and I are big museum-goers. It’s the first thing we look to do when we travel. I’m always inspired by what can be learned and explored in our world’s museums.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of King Alice by Matthew CordellMany thanks to Macmillan for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of King Alice, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, November 9th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, November 11th. You must have a USA mailing address in order to receive the book if you are the winner of this giveaway.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Macmillan will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – KING ALICE. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.