A Year In Mill Valley

The Wizard of Zo

Once a week Nathaniel writes a letter to us in his writing notebook. A couple of weeks ago he wrote this letter, spelling and all:

Dear Dad,

We are starting our fanatasy book project. After I read my fantasy book, I will get to design a diorama. I picked Charlie Bone and the Hidden King. What fantasy book do you like?

In p.e. we are playing hockey. I’m the best in the class. Yesterday we did a dribling drill wich really helped. I’m enjoying it.

Love, Nathaniel

Diorama. That word sends a wiff through the air of all of those science nights I never participated in, history projects on large pieces of cardboard that I was crap at, and still lifes in shoe boxes I had no idea how to make.

My folks were big on education, but they weren’t particularly helpful when it came to things that were out of the main classroom experience. I vividly remember a junior high project on Eisenhower’s campaign where my classmates came to school with large pieces of cardboard full of images, campaign pins, and newspaper clippings, while I showed up with a large piece of cardboard with the words “I Like Ike” rendered in crayon. Or my one and only science night where the rocket I was showing wouldn’t go off, and the booth looked like, well, like it was designed by the same person who designed my Eisenhower poster.

Determined not to let Nathaniel know the ignominy associated with handing in a mediocre diorama, I told him I’d be glad to help him with it.

I asked him how the book was going. He said it was going well, but I sensed from the way he said it that he either hadn’t gotten very far, or he was having a little bit of trouble with it. So I asked him to bring it home. And I was glad I did, because it was definitely on the hard side.

As there was only a week or so until the diorama was due, we needed a fallback. Luckily he and I were in the middle of reading The Wizard of Oz, and while we weren’t going to have it finished by the time the diorama was due, we had made it to the Emerald City, and there was lots of great diorama material getting there.

So we worked on the diorama together. He said he wanted to show Dorothy and Toto walking on the yellow brick road, and I suggested maybe they could be meeting the Scarecrow. We worked on a sketch. Then he got a shoebox and painted the inside. And hung some clouds. And drew a couple of trees, along with Dorothy and Toto and the Scarecrow. And Rachel helped with Dorothy because he didn’t like any of his Dorothys. And I helped him prop up the fence and the Scarecrow so they wouldn’t fall down again. And then he drew the characters on a piece of paper and taped it to the outside of the box (see picture above). And he wrote a really nice summary of the story on another piece of paper and taped it to the back. And what you see above is how it came out.

And when it was done I don’t know who was happier, Nathaniel or me.

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