An Interview with Author-illustrator Tad Hills

I spent last week re-reading Tad Hills’ picture books and designing displays for his upcoming visit to my school library. Yes, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author-illustrator Tad Hills is visiting my school library to meet my first and second graders. 

Tad Hills creates highly entertaining picture book characters that make readers of all ages smile, laugh, and think. He dropped by Watch. Connect. Read. to answer seven questions about writing and illustrating. Thank you, Tad!

Mr. Schu: How Rocket Learned to Read is one of my all-time favorite picture books to share with my kindergartners and first graders. It is a perfect read-aloud that lends itself to thoughtful and interesting discussions. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that I am eager to share Rocket Writes a Story with my students. What planted the seed for this companion picture book?

Tad Hills: It took a while to figure out what Rocket was going to do next. I wanted to keep him in the classroom and since he loved words and spelling and books so much it made sense for him to collect words and use them to make something special.

When I visit schools, kids of all ages often tell me proudly, “I’m writing a book!”  I thought Rocket would like to write one too. 
Rocket Writes A Story
*image taken from here

Mr. Schu: If someone asked me to create a list of the best teachers in picture books, the little yellow bird would have a comfortable spot at the top of the list. How did you develop that character? Was she always a bird? Is she based on a real teacher?

Tad Hills: When Publishers Weekly asked me to illustrate the cover for their Spring 2008 Children's Books issue I had it in my head that the image would be a small yellow (not red, blue or green) bird reading a tiny book to a larger animal, at first an elephant, then, later,  a dog based on our family dog, Rocket. When I saw the finished illustration I saw my next book. Instantly, I knew the Little Yellow Bird was a wise and enthusiastic teacher.  Her character became even more defined as Rocket’s character – the reluctant reader/student evolved. The Little Yellow Bird had her job cut out for her.

It’s very possible that she is an amalgam of many teachers I’ve had over the years. I think there’s a little bit of Mrs. Cummings, my 7th grade English teacher at Norwell Jr. H.S. in the Little Yellow Bird.  Mrs. Cummings was fine-featured and very precise and was profoundly encouraging to me.

Rocket Writes A Story
*image taken from here

Mr. Schu: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.” –Tad Hills, from Rocket Writes a Story

My students often gather around me to take turns smelling a new book. Are you a “book smeller”? 

Tad Hills: I do know people who open up a book and take a whiff. I’m not a book smeller.  Though I do like the feeling of a book in my hands.

Mr. Schu: In my humble opinion, MerryMakers creates the best dolls based on children’s literature characters. Were you involved in the creation of Rocket’s plush?

Tad Hills: MerryMakers always loops me in on the plushification process. They send a prototype and I make comments and send it back. It can go back and forth 6 or 7 times. You really have to feel a stuffed animal to appreciate it. And I agree Merrymakers makes the best dolls. 

Mr. Schu: My students are WILD about the How Rocket Learned to Read app. Are there any plans for a Rocket Writes a Story app? 

Tad Hills: I really love the How Rocket Learned to Read app too. I like the way it enhances the book for kids. There are lots of little hidden treats (like, if you shake the ABC snow page the footprints disappear and you can write or draw with your finger.) There are not currently plans for an app for Rocket Writes a Story. 

Rocket Writes A Story
 *image taken from here 

Mr. Schu: Please finish these sentence starters:

Tad Hills: Writing is a process. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s no fun at all. But when it's fun it really feels good.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about my Halloween costumes. Since my kids are older, last Halloween was probably my last year for costume-making (until I have grand kids). I have always loved making things and I enjoy the challenge of building a complicated costume. I start 2 days before Halloween and don’t stop until the costumes are finished. Sometimes I’m putting the final brush strokes of paint on as the kids are walking out the door to trick or treat.
Click here to see more costumes.

I am giving away two copies of Rocket Writes a Story

Rules for the Giveaway

1. It will run from September 23 to 11:59 PM on September 26. 

2. You must be at least 13. 

3. Please pay it forward. 

Borrow Rocket Writes a Story from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.


  1. My grandson would love this book. Thanks for this opportunity.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  2. My son (age 5) and I literally just read this story together! I love it! Simply perfect follow up to How Rocket Learned to Read, which we also loved. My son wrote his own story too.


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