An Interview with Tad Hills + a Book Giveaway
Tad Hills’s new book, Rocket Writes a Story, is as touching and well-written as the first Rocket book, Rocket Learned to Read. This book is sure to become a mentor text in primary writing workshops since Rocket has trouble generating ideas for writing and moving through the writing process. I am quite sure that the tale of Rocket will inspire young writers, who think they have nothing to say, find ideas to write about. And from there, just as Rocket does, the young writers in your classroom will be inspired to go through the writing process, just as Rocket did, learning that the art of writing well takes time.
Hence, I wanted to interview Tad Hills so teachers who would decide to use his book with their students would be able to have his words to add to the read aloud experience and into minilessons.
SAS: What inspired you to write this book (a book about writing)?
TH: I wanted to write another book about Rocket but for a long time I didn’t know what he’d do next, what he would learn. Once I decided to write a book about writing I thought it would be interesting to put Rocket in my shoes. I knew it was important for young readers to know that writing is a process and can at times be exasperating and other times exciting and rewarding. When I visit schools I always ask the kids how long they think it takes me to write and illustrate a book. Their answers range from a couple hours to many months (answer: 8months+). It’s important for kids to know that making a book to be proud of is a complex process.
SAS: Can you tell us how you developed Rocket’s character and identity as a writer in this book?
TH: In How Rocket Learned to Read he is, initially, not very interested in school but slowly is drawn into a story read by the Little Yellow Bird. This sets him on a path and leads him to love books, reading, words and learning to spell. It was then natural for him to want to be a writer, to create a story of his own, to do something with all the words he collected.
SAS: I think many kids will relate to Rocket’s struggles with writing and his process. Who inspired Rocket? How do you think he will help kids as writers?
TH: Our dog Rocket was the inspiration. When we got him 5 years ago I knew that someday I would write a book about him. Around this time Publisher’s Weekly asked me to do an illustration for the cover of their 2008 spring children’s book issue. A month later, when I saw the illustration (of a dog-inspired by our Rocket- listening contentedly as a little yellow bird, perched on his nose, reads from a tiny book) printed on the cover of the magazine I thought, “That’s my next book,” and took it from there.
I think kids will see themselves in Rocket and appreciate that he has trouble finding (but does find) inspiration and is intimidated by the proverbial Blank Page.
SAS: How do you come up with ideas to write about?
TH: It’s tough to say where ideas come from. A story idea seldom comes when I’m trying to think of a new idea. One usually appears out of nowhere when I am just going about my business, living my life. Sometimes it’s just a fragment of an idea, sometimes it’s fully-formed. I get ideas when I read other books. Reading can pull you outside of yourself and place you in a very receptive place where your imagination is free to travel. I also find that the simple act of writing can generate ideas. It’s a wonderful feeling when your characters start to act on their own behalf and have conversations inside your head. You can sit back and watch and listen and write down what they do and say.
SAS: Who inspires you?
TH: I think kids inspire me the most. My own kids and kids I see at schools or around the neighborhood. I try to see things from their perspective. Of course, watching kids interact with their parents and teachers gives me ideas also. I watch and listen. That’s a big part of being an author.
SAS: Can you tell us more about your writing process?
TH: It’s hard to describe my writing process because it feels very unstructured and very non-linear. I seldom start with an outline. I write and write and see what happens. Then I sift through what I’ve written and try to put the pieces together in a way that is interesting and makes sense. Some days are more productive than others. Some days feel fruitless. Eventually, after much editing and head scratching, things take shape.
SAS: Teachers can use some of the strategies the little yellow bird taught Rocket. How else do you suggest teachers can inspire (reluctant) writers in their classrooms?
TH: The tough part is getting started: finding something to write about. I think that introducing randomness into the mix can get the ball rolling. Say, if each student pulled 2 unrelated words from a hat his or her imagination might be prompted in an unexpected direction. This might trigger an idea, something fun and exciting to write about. Also, encouraging reading by finding the right books for kids- especially reluctant readers- to read will help them become more able and confident writers.
SAS: Can we expect more Rocket books from you? What’s next for Rocket?
TH: I’m sure you’ll see another Rocket book. As of now I’m not sure what he’ll be doing. Learning something new I hope.
SAS: What else are you working on?
TH: I am working on a chapter book about two ducks, Franny and George. They live in a house with an author (who writes children’s books about them) and his family.
Here’s a peek at a few pages from Rocket Writes a Story:
This giveaway is for a copy of Rocket Writes a Story for one of our readers. Many thanks Schwartz & Wade Books for sponsoring this giveaway. To enter for a chance to win a copy of Rocket Writes a Story each reader may leave one comment about this post in the comments section of this post. Feel free to share your thoughts about this interview, how you might use this book in your workshop, your thoughts about working with reluctant writers, etc. All comments left on or before Friday, August 10th at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Sunday, August 12th. I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post by August 13th. 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 and have my contact at Schwartz & Wade send the book out to you. Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.
Comments are now closed (9 p.m. on Sun., 8/12/12).
Thank you to everyone who left a comment about Tad Hills’s book. Congratulations to margaretsmn, whose comment number was picked using the random number generator. (And a belated happy birthday to her too. I read her comment after I matched her comment with the number from the generator, and it turns out she celebrated a birthday yesterday). Margaretsmn said:
I love this book already. Rocket is so adorable and Yellow Bird so wise. I have two reasons I want this book soon: 1) I am doing a series of writing workshops for my school, the first time leading teachers in my own town, and 2) My birthday is August 11th! If I don’t win it, I will definitely buy it. I can see so many possibilities, such as building a word tree like Rocket’s in the classroom.