by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
When I was a kid, we used to secretly roll our eyes when older people started telling their “you have it so much easier than we did” stories.
These earnest (but never-verified) accounts of relative hardship often included tales of how those who came before us had to trek four miles a day (it was always four miles), uphill both ways (defying all rules of logic), to school in the snow.
At the time, it was kind of an iconic (okay, cliché) way to tell us that our lives weren’t really so tough, and we should be grateful that we didn’t have to trudge long distances to school in inclement weather.
The point was: we should just shut up and finish the chore at hand—raking leaves, tying up newspapers for recycling, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning our room, shoveling snow—and be grateful.
(In hindsight, I probably should have paid more respectful attention and felt more grateful. I can now appreciate the point my elders were trying to make...even if I didn’t want to hear it at the time.)
And, in a surreal turn of events that my childhood self could never fathom, I am now approaching the age of those relatives and family friends who seemed ancient.
While I am still a little too young to officially get the patronizing “OK, Boomer,” I am mindful that, tempting as it is, my kids and their friends and my younger colleagues at Scholastic really do not want to hear about the days before the internet.
While we who grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, without cell phones and the World Wide Web, did not have to trek four miles to school each day, we did have a lot of snow days.
And our snow days were pretty dramatic.
Because, in those pre-social media days, there was a lot of uncertainty up until the last minute around whether or not school would be called off. Weather forecasting—and communication in general—was not the same then as it is now. I am not saying it was better or worse, but we frequently had no idea what to expect.
The only way I found out if we were having a snow day—a cherished day off from school—was by getting up early, turning on the clock radio next to my bed, and listening as the AM radio announcer (we never listened to FM) read off the list of public school districts in alphabetical order that would be closed because of snow.
Usually, in the weeks with no snow, we only paid attention to the nightly national TV news with Huntley and Brinkley or Walter Cronkite at 7 p.m., which was usually about the Vietnam War and other roiling current events. So it was special to listen to news radio on WEEI or WBZ (with what classicists call “bated breath”) and hope that right after “Needham” and before “Norwood,” the announcer would read off “Newton” and we would have a day off.
Maybe the adults were better tuned in to whether school would be in session, but for me, it was really such a surprise when we had a snow day.
Looking through my old Naugahyde-bound photo albums filled with square Kodak photos and a few Polaroids, I see proof positive that we did live through some massive snowstorms.
While we loved not having to go to school, there was a price to pay for having a snow day—we had to get out of our cozy beds to shovel.
Each family in our neighborhood had kids with different snow-shoveling motivations and abilities (only a few, like the Burkes, hired someone to shovel). So, in addition to everything else going on during our snow day, there was a healthy competition among the kids in each family to see who could finish shoveling—and start playing—the fastest.
On those long snow days, we kids played outside—building snowmen and snow forts; having huge snowball fights; and, if we could convince an adult to go with us to Newton Center, sledding and tobogganing. Inside, we played with old-fashioned toys like our Creepy Crawlers machine, or put on a play with Barbie’s stage playset, or read a new book from Scholastic book orders.
And then, when the snow plows came through and blocked the driveway, we had to interrupt what we were doing and go out to shovel the driveway all over again.
In the winter of 1978, when I was a junior at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, there was a massive blizzard that totally took us by surprise because we were paying no attention to the outside world or the weather. Classes were canceled and the academic buildings were shut down, but since we lived on campus, we had to stay put.
I can’t help saying it: the world was, indeed, a different place—notably, GrubHub-like food delivery services weren’t invented yet. So, some very motivated dorm fellows risked life and limb and made it through impassable roads to bring in a continuous supply of pizza to Larrabee and other dorms to help students survive through a long string of snow days.
I’m not saying that was our finest academic (or nutritious) week, but it did show student resourcefulness during a snowstorm and was pretty fun.
Boston’s tradition of massive snowstorms reached new heights in the “Blizzard of 2015,” when two to three feet of snow came down for two days and the city ran out of places to put the snow. The blizzard was the sixth worst in Boston’s history, and my parents, who were still living in Newton, were snowed in with no power and no way to get to the store.
Fortunately, there were functioning food-delivery services by then, and their modern-day cell phones worked, so we kids could worry about them out loud and share our disappointment that they had decided not to winter in Florida.
It’s a sad reality of becoming an adult that snow days go from being exciting and unexpected days off filled with all kinds of age-appropriate winter fun to being a dreaded inconvenience.
For me and many others, school snow days—which come with no back-up childcare, hazardous commuting conditions (New York City office buildings rarely close for weather, so we still have to get to work), and lots of early-morning shoveling to even get out of the driveway—are not fun at all. They are honestly just huge pains in the neck...or lower back.
But fortunately, no such cynical disillusionment exists in this week’s Book of the Week: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. The Snowy Day is a perfect, beloved-by-generations classic (yes, classic!) picture book about a young boy named Peter embracing his snow day.
“In this mood book, never static but sparkling with atmosphere in lovely water-color pictures, a small boy experiences the joys of a snowy day....Perfect for a snowy day’s preschool story hour.” —The Horn Book Magazine, 1963
I have been working at Scholastic Book Clubs—and steeped in children’s literature—for many decades, so it is always particularly thrilling (almost like hearing “Newton has a snow day!” announced on the radio) to learn something new about an old-favorite book. I think you will really enjoy reading about the history and impact of The Snowy Day in Alexie Basil’s Behind the Scenes post.
We have also put together several other free resources for you to enjoy with your students in your classroom. We hope they’ll help you introduce a whole new generation of students of all ages to The Snowy Day!
• Play in the snow with the Book Boys in a fun, classroom-friendly video.
• Watch Ilyssa Thomas’s Book Talks teacher review of The Snowy Day to hear why she thinks it transcends grade levels and age groups.
• Encourage your students to (literally) draw connections to their real life with a fun illustration activity in Cooked Up from a Book.
And my friend and colleague David Vozar recalled snow-day memories in his weekly signature comic:
I hope you and your students enjoy this extra-special opportunity to get The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats as Scholastic Book Clubs’ Book of the Week.
Best wishes for a lovely holiday season filled with family and friends and unexpected, happy surprises; sharable memories; and lots of good books and time for reading.
As always—on snow days and every day—I would love to hear from you. Please email me directly at: JNBlog@scholastic.com
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs