giveaway · mentor texts · picture book · primary grades · writing

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:

Click on the image to enlarge.
Click on the image to enlarge.
Click on the image to enlarge.

Giveaway Information:


  • 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.

33 thoughts on “An Interview with Tad Hills + a Book Giveaway

  1. The honesty of the struggle to write is my favorite aspect of this book. That, and the pride Rocket feels when his story is complete. I could relate to it personally as one who wrestles with the writing process, and I know students will, too.


  2. I have grown to love Rocket and his feathered teacher. Rocket’s character is relatable to many of our young students, and his journey in learning to read and write shows us that with the right amount of inspiration we can motivate reluctant readers and writers. I can’t wait to see what Rocket will learn next, and I also look forward to the duck book!


  3. When I clicked on the 1st sample page, the 1st thing that came to mind was a word wall on a tree! This looks like a great book. I’m going to look for it when I go to the library today.


  4. Rocket has nestled his way into my heart. I have shared “How Rocket Learned to Read” so many times! And I’ve been waiting and waiting for this new book! How exciting to see an interview and learn even more about Rocket and Tad Hill’s thinking and processing about writing. This is great to share with students – an inside scoop! Thanks so much for the opportunity to add this book to my classroom library and the interview!

    A perfect tie to Ruth’s post today! More inspiration for writing!


  5. I already have this book! I just bought it last week! My second grade class loved the first Rocket book, so I knew this year’s class would learn so much from Rocket’s writing adventures. I would love to give a copy to the First Grade team, so they can share it!


  6. What a lovely story – I can see so that it will be a wonderful mentor book for writing in my class. Thanks for sharing all this info on writing as well.


  7. It is VERY hard to TEACH writing. I LOVE how Rocket and the little yellow bird talk about writing about things that are “exciting” and “inspiring”. Can’t wait to have a copy of this book for my classroom!!


  8. This sounds like a great mentor text for writing workshop that students will be able to connect to and learn from. I’m always looking for mentor texts that will help inspire struggling and resistant students. Thank you for sharing this interview and offering this giveaway 🙂


  9. I have loved using Rockets first book as a mentor text and am so excited about this one. Generating ideas can be a challenge. Children already love Rocket…I can see them latching on to this story. Thank you for the fabulous Interview and Giveaway.


  10. So many students have trouble getting an idea and starting to write. I’m looking forward to adding this book to my list of mentor texts.


  11. This looks like a great story! I’m excited to read it and see how I can use it to inspire my special education students who often struggle with writing. Thanks for sharing!


  12. I think this will be a great read aloud to remind all of our writers that we all struggle with ideas from time to time! I also love to incorporate new books into the classroom!


  13. I am so thrilled I found this blog that is a source of so many wonderful texts. This one sounds like one EVERY teacher should have as a mentor text, It think it might really serve to show students the the strategies of how writers think. So often, we show them the work of “great” writers and then ask kids to just use the model. This sounds like it will show kids how writers think – wow. Don’t worry, even if I don’t “win” I “win” just from reading this post and ordering the book! Thank you!


  14. Thanks Stacey for the interview to get the inside scoop for the Rocket books. I love this book and have many plans to use it this year. Although I have already bought it, I do have a friend who would love it.


  15. This will be a fabulous mentor text. I am going to recommend this to one of my former student’s 3rd grade teacher because it would be a good tool to reach him. I have the Rocket learns to read and can’t wait for this one!


  16. I had this book in my hands the entire time I was at the book store last week!
    The challenges of the writing process are so clear and simple steps explained so well.
    A great mentor text.


  17. Oh, my kindergarteners LOVED Rocket because they could absolutely understand what hard work it takes to learn to read. Many of my students arrive at school without knowing any letters. They totally understood Rocket’s initial feelings! I have used ‘Rocket Learns To Read’ as a mentor text for writing, as well as drawing (look at that great yellow bird that uses simple shapes!). I am certain that the next installment Rocket’s educational journey will be just as useful and interesting for my five and six-year-olds as they move from one writing phases to the next.


  18. So glad to know Rocket will inspire the first grade authors I teach. It’s on my list to launch our writers workshop this fall. Thanks!!


  19. This is already on my order from the library list for September, and on my Wish List at

    I’ve been warned by the Kindergarten teacher that the kidlets coming to me in September do not like to write, and are weak readers. I think this book just might inspire them in both areas of the curriculum.

    Thank you for writing a story with which the little ones will be able to identify!


  20. I love how the author has taken adult writer frustrations and writing tools and simplified them for a young writer. I teach adult and teens how to get published at my blog: Random Writing Rants. And although they might be too old for this book, I would love it for my grandchildren. They’re always asking me about what I do. (I write novels.) And I’m always trying to encourage them. This book would really help me explain to them what I do, and how they can become great writers, too. How cute!


  21. I bought Tad’s first book Rocket Leans to Read for my grandchildren. My oldest grandchild is 7 now and is definitely a reader. He’s mesmerized by any book that looks interesting. He writes, also. My other grandchildren love a good book, too. I like the way Tad simplifies a skill that can be very challenging for a young reader/writer. And “inspire” is a good word to be introduced to when one writes. How simple and direct is that?! Hail again to Rocket and little yellow bird!


  22. 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.


  23. It is so clever to write a story about the writing process. It is a great way to teach students how to write without just saying you do this, then you do this, etc. What a wonderful book. I would love to share this with my writing students. Susan Koehn –


  24. This sounds like a terrifc mentor text for writing teachers! I will definitely recommend it to the graduate students I teach when I teach ‘Teaching Writing K-12’ for Lesley University…..:)


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