Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rocket Rocks!

Two years ago a little white dog with black spots, cute as a button, and his teacher, rather petite,  bright yellow with wings, introduced readers to the power of combining letters to make words.  In How Rocket Learned to Read (Schwartz & Wade Books, July 27, 2010) written and illustrated by Tad Hills readers are transported to a moment of discovery; knowing words can spark the ability to read.  Being able to read does not happen overnight but when it does, it is a thing of power and beauty.

Since my post linked above I discovered teaching materials at the publisher's site linked here which I successfully used with students last year.  Also since that post Tad Hills's book, How Rocket Learned to Read, received numerous awards including the Irma Black Award about which I posted here.  I was so excited to learn that Rocket and his teacher were returning this summer.

There is nothing better than when friends you've met in a book and grown to love, return.  Last week Rocket Writes a Story (Schwartz & Wade Books) written and illustrated by Tad Hills was released. 

Rocket loved books. ...
Rocket even liked the way books smelled.  When he opened a new book, it smelled like a place he'd never been to, like a friend he'd never met.

With those three sentences found on the first page, book lovers are completely captivated.  We know what Rocket and his teacher know.  We want to see where this adoration of books is going to take these two.

Rocket's love of words leads his teacher to daily ask him to sniff out new ones as he explores.  After finding new words, Rocket goes back to his classroom (the great outdoors) and writes them down.  The ever helpful bird assists when he gets stumped and adds words of her own, posting them all on a nearby tree.

Prompted by his teacher Rocket wonders what to do with all these words.  Before long he has an idea.  But the blank white page does not seem to fill up with the story Rocket wants to write.

Again the nose knows, as Rocket looks for something to stir his imagination.  He writes all afternoon and returns in the evening to a tall tree, the source of those enticing smells.  He speaks but is not answered.

In the morning on his way to school there is a new word spelled out along his path.  A voice from the tree introduces the word to Rocket.  Not only does the precious pup have a new word but perhaps, the best kind of new.

Day after day Rocket works on his story.  Day after day he succeeds, pauses when perplexed and takes long walks.  Encouraging Rocket with questions, his teacher helps that story to grow.  As the story grows, so too does a new friendship.

A completed story is an invitation.  A completed story can even coax shyness into trust.  A completed story opens up possibilities.

Unfolding the book jacket readers are drawn to Rocket and his teacher, the little yellow bird, as they gaze outward; those eyes are irresistible.  On the back teacher and student are looking at each other completely focused on a conversation.  Without even opening the book you know there is a mutual admiration sensation in this classroom.

Endpapers are covered in a leafy array, a backdrop for small white pieces of paper with Rocket's words and pictures on each of them.  A two page title spread pictures Rocket (in a small circle on the right) bent over writing with his teacher watching from the tree branches.  Hills, using oil paints and colored pencils, alters his visuals from double page layouts to several small, round-shaped, close-ups on a single page, to single pages, always in tune with the narration, complimenting and enhancing.

Employing the use of white space to focus, primary colors, bright but softened, to promote reader participation, and the placement of text, all work to create a delightful, pleasing whole.  I have complete and total admiration for this newest title by Tad Hills, Rocket Writes a Story. I'm almost giddy at the potential for using this in the classroom setting but the appeal to children is undeniable.

A couple of students, living in my neighborhood, stopped by yesterday to stock up on books to take with them on vacation.  One of them noticed my copy of Rocket Writes a Story sitting on the stool where I work on my computer.  Guess what?  How Rocket Learned to Read and Rocket Writes a Story are on their way out West.

Thanks to John Schumacher at Watch. Connect. Read. for pointing me to this interview with Tad Hills about Rocket Writes a Story at School Library Journal.

Update:  August 6, 2012

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