Your lesson ended five minutes early, but you have to line up for specials soon. Tonight will be a full moon, and there’s a storm brewing outside. Any teacher knows free time on a low barometric pressure day and a full moon night spells D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R. That’s why you should keep a copy of April Jones Prince’s new book Snowy Race on hand. It’s a blustery treat that’s only one hundred fourteen words long. So finishing it in five minutes is realistic. Of course, the language is poetic and the art is delightful, so you can take more time with it, too.
That’s what I did when I shared Snowy Race with my Kids Need Mentors’ class. For those of you who don’t know about Kids Need Mentors it’s an incredible program that pairs classrooms with published authors for the school year. Each author/teacher pair communicate before the school year begins to decide how their relationship will work. This year I’m paired with the fabulous Kelly Purdy and her amazing first graders at GAMS Tech Magnet School in Newburgh, New York. We decided I would Skype with her class once a month, and each month I would read them a different book.
Before I read Snowy Race aloud to my mentees, I showed the class the book’s cover, read the title and asked three students to predict what would happen in the book. Interestingly, they all thought the main character would be in a race against another person. Not one of them thought there would be a race against the snowstorm or a race to make it to the train station before the train. This made me think about the importance of discussing with kids all the various meanings a word can have. For older readers, this concept could lead to a discussion of the idiom “race against time.” But being that I Skype with my first-grade mentor class during my prep, I did not dive into a discussion about idioms!
Anyway, we read the book and at the end, I asked three students whether or not they would recommend the book. Here’s what they had to say:
- Yes, because I love races.
- Yes, because the characters eat pancakes for breakfast. (Who doesn’t like pancakes for breakfast, right?)
- Yes, because I like races. If I was racing, I would have a super power like Freddy Ramos from the Zapato Power series and run super-fast.
I love it when my mentees teach me about books I didn’t know about! Surprisingly, not one of the kids mentioned a fascination with the snowplow or with snow itself. But it was their first day back at school after December break, so they were probably still waking up.
For upper elementary classrooms in addition to using this book to talk about the concept of a race against time, this would be a great book to use on the 100th day of school. After reading the book, challenge your students to write a story in one hundred words or less. Students can use Snowy Race and another one of April’s books, What Do Wheels Do All Day? as mentor texts.
Want to find out how April writes stories in one hundred words or less? Watch the interview with her below. Leave a comment on this post. One lucky winner will be chosen to receive a signed, personalized book for their classroom. Enjoy!
Kate: Hi, April! Thanks so much for joining us today.
April: Thanks so much for having me, Kate. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Kate: Oh, thank you. I’m so glad that we could do this. Please tell us about the story seed for Snowy Race.
April: So Snowy Race came from many different places. I think it especially came from growing up in Minnesota where it’s even colder and snowier than it is here in Massachusetts. I have a lot of childhood memories of growing up in the snow, and lots of memories with my own kids these more recent years. So, it came from wanting to write about snow and something that I had so much experience with. But, it also came from, a piece of art that I saw from a friend in Maine who draws really stylized pastels. It was a big plow with ribbons of snow. So I think that’s part of where the plow aspect came from. So, I wanted to write about that. But, then I also, when I had this feeling of the plow, I had plow versus snow. So I thought of books like Jerry Palotta’s Who Would Win books and Shark Versus Train. And I think I got inspired by these sort of two voices.
Then really digging deep I realized that I was influenced by having visited my dad and his office for many, many years as a child. I started visiting when I was about two months old. I often show kids picture of me sleeping at his office. So, he made books for a living. He was creative director for a publishing company.
So that clearly affected a lot of what I do. But I think being able to help him and feeling that joy and feeling important was something that you know, filtered into the story as well. So it really came from a lot of different places. And, I love to tell kids that you really are your own story stew, right?
You have all these pieces of experiences that you put together that help you create something that nobody else would create. So when they say, you know, I see, where do you get ideas? And they say from our brains, and I said, but you have to feed that brain, right? Just the way you feed a car with gas, or you feed your body with food. You have to feed your brain with experiences and new foods and going places and talking to people and reading books and just, you know, just generating that stew for yourself.
Kate: Definitely. Your dad must love this book.
April: He does. It’s dedicated to him so that was a joy.
Kate: That’s so nice. You told this story in 114 words, and you’ve written other books such as What Do Wheels Do All Day? that are even fewer words. Could you please talk about the process of crafting a story with so few words?
April: Yeah, absolutely. So I think that each story is its own thing, right? It has a way that it sort of wants to be told or can be told. So, I hadn’t many different snow stories going on when I decided I wanted to write about snow.
I had what about the first time, you know, experiencing snow. What about waiting for it to snow? There were so many different approaches that I took, and they were all much longer and prose based. So. I think when I hit upon this refrain of the flurry, flurry, hurry, hurry, and the two voices, it just stayed with me, and it was something that I wanted to explore and see where it went.
So, it just came out very spare, you know, very different from the other versions that I had tried to write. And, I think that I was also always keeping in mind there is an article that editor Anne Hoppy wrote for The Horn Book many years ago, and it’s something that I photocopied and saved. I think it was even before they were online.
It talks about how picture book writers really want to write with restraint so that you’re leaving space for the illustrator to tell their part of the story. So, I think that’s something that is always a challenge to me.
Kate: Yeah, definitely. I’ve actually challenged the readers of this blog to try and write a story in less than 100 words for the hundredth day of school.
April: That’s a fabulous idea.
Kate: Yeah, it should be fun. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
April: They will eat it up.
Kate: I think so, too. So you mentioned that you dedicated the book to your dad.
Kate: But you also thank the Shrewsbury Highway Department, and I was hoping you could share with readers how they helped you with the research for this book.
April: Absolutely. It’s so nice to have resources to be able to reach out to when you have questions, right? Because some things we can’t learn from books or blogs or you know, other sources. So, the Shrewsbury Highway Department was really helpful, not so much in the text because I think it was so spare. But when we got to the illustration component, we realized we had a lot of questions, partly stemming from the fact that Christine Devenier, the illustrator, lives in Paris and we realized it really doesn’t snow in Paris.
Kate: Oh, no.
April: She got about six inches at a time. When she was painting the book, which felt like you’re welcome. We sent it over there.
We had a lot of questions about what size the plow should be, where the little girl should sit, because plows aren’t really geared toward having passenger. So they’re two separate seats in the front. So I talked to the highway department. I also talked to Ford Motor Company, both the dealerships and corporate and asking them about different ways you can configure your cab and can you turn off that airbag? We just wanted to make sure that she was safe, and that we were setting a good example.
But we also wanted the little girl to be central to the action. You know, we didn’t want her to not be able to see from the backseat. So lots of questions about that. Questions about how the sanders worked and, what went in them and whether the highway department uses contractors or whether he would be an employee or, you know, like where is he living in proximity to the plow itself.
So these little details that when someone goes to depict them visually, you want to make sure that you understand what kind of thing you’re after. We sent her lots of photos, and I was able to go down to the highway department and take pictures of different equipment. I was just really grateful for their help.
Kate: That’s wonderful. They were so helpful.
Kate: So most people who read this blog are classroom teachers. In addition to writing, you also teach a college course at Rhode Island School of Design, you help authors develop their careers and artists develop their careers, and you have a family. Can you please tell teachers how you manage to write when you’re doing all those other jobs at the same time?
April: Absolutely. I wish that I wrote more. I feel like that’s a good New Year’s resolution. I think we’re all always learning how to balance and juggle as you have different demands on your time. But I think the best advice is to do what I know you’re so good at doing, which is getting up early and really trying to put in your own creative time before you check your email and you get into the frenzy of the day. Because it’s really hard at the end of the day when you’re sort of frazzled with all these different ideas and needs and exciting things that are coming at you, it’s hard to have the brain space to do your own creative work. So, I think that’s usually the best strategy, just carving out that time and protecting it.
Kate: That’s great advice. Thank you so much for joining us today.
April: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Happy reading.
Kate: Happy reading. Take care.
If you’re still not convinced that Snowy Race should be in your classroom library, check out this review in The New York Times.