Slice of Life: John Rocco’s Blizzard

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s been snowing for much of the past week, wreaking havoc with assessment schedules, mid-year goal meetings, and learning in general. On the other hand, I have had plenty of time to read, which is always a good thing.

John Rocco’s Blizzard (Disney-Hyperion, 2014) has been out since October, but I didn’t read it until last week. Rocco was ten when the Blizzard of ’78 buried most of southern New England under forty inches of snow. This picture book memoir is an adventure story that all kids will love, whether or not they’ve experienced record-setting snow storms. But as I reread this wonderful story, I realized that this book is a great mentor text, one that will inspire kids to write about their own epic weather adventures.

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The simplicity of Rocco’s language is deceiving. He has done a terrific job choosing just the right word and detail to truly bring this story to life. When John and his sister finally get outside after the snow stops, they realize that walking is “like trying to move through white quicksand.” When John makes his list of necessities before he heads to the store, “candy bar” is the only starred item. And when he returns from his adventure, he tells his family about his “perilous journey.”

Rocco’s word choice also make this book a good choice for an activity like one Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty describe in their recent book, Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, and Conversations; Using Mentor Texts, K-6 (Stenhouse, 2014, a must-read for any K-6 teacher). They suggest gathering nouns and the active verbs they’re paired with to spur kids thinking about replacing worn-out words with more vivid choices. Also, Rocco’s uncluttered declarative sentences are perfect for introducing compound and complex sentences. There is even a great example of parallel structure, beginning when John realizes that “I was the only one who had memorized the survival guide.”

The  visual humor of Rocco’s illustrations and his ingenious use of text features give Blizzard an added depth of meaning. The passing days of the week are each spelled out in clever ways that blend into the scenes. “Tuesday,” for example, is spelled out by a squirrel scurrying across the roof. The old-fashioned cash register totals $19.78, and there are clues about John’s fascination with frozen landscapes scattered throughout the book. The fold-out map of John’s trek to the store is a wonder, and I can imagine some kids spending lots of time poring over this winter wonderland.

Blizzard  belongs in every K-3 classroom library, and I can imagine 4th and 5th graders who will love it, too. First and foremost, read this book for the wonderful story that it is. Then go back and take a closer look. You and your students will be richly rewarded. I can’t wait to share this book with my students, if it ever stops snowing!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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10 thoughts on “Slice of Life: John Rocco’s Blizzard

  1. What a delightful book! It is now on my to get list! It would be perfect reading as we are having snow day #2 here in Michigan as well!

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  2. I want this book now. Thank you for sharing so many ideas in your slice. I love finding books where you feel that the author has “chosen just the right words.” A lesson for all of us who write. Enjoy your reading time and snow!

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  3. My 3rd grade teacher was from Buffalo and she talked about the Blizzard of ’78 a lot. Apparently she lost track of her son while he was shoveling the driveway. Yikes!

    I will have to check out Blizzard. Sounds like the right book for the way the weather has been lately.

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  4. I have been sharing pictures sent by my daughter in Chicago with my students who have very little understanding of snow. Blizzard would be a great text for my little southerners. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  5. I know this book, Catherine, but haven’t thought to use it in the ways you describe. Even for my middle-school students, it would be a ‘lift’ to their writing, & some new ideas for their blog ‘slices’. Thank you so much for your ideas!

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  6. I have to purchase this book! I was 8 and I remember the snow we got in Ohio. I don’t know how much we got but I do remember the drifts were high enough that we could stand inside tunnels made in them. Thanks for sharing your ideas about how it could be used with students too!

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  7. Catherine, thank you for reminding me that I needed to get this book and share it with the teachers I work with. I think I first heard about the book through John Schu. I remember when I was a little girl in Syracuse and the streets were impassable after a snowstorm but a walkway was carved for all of us to walk the three blocks to school. The snow was so tall that it stretched way over my head. It was such a cool experience for a little girl.

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