I’m excited to talk with Jody Jensen Shaffer today about what she loves about writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, her favorite childhood memories, and her rescue dog, Sophie.
What was the spark for A Chip off the Old Block?
Hi Kathy! Thanks for having me on your blog. The spark for A Chip off the Old Block was the phrase, “Rocky loved his rock star relatives.” It came to me as I was brainstorming picture book ideas, and it felt like the first line of a story. I loved the word play of the line, so I created a story around it. I just had to discover who Rocky was and what his story would be.
A Chip off the Old Block combines terrific storytelling with science and history. What would you like for readers to take away from the book? How have children reacted to Chip?
Thanks! It was lots of fun to write. I hope readers take away from the book the idea that you’re never too small to matter and to never give up on your dreams. Bonus points if they learn a little about rocks, US landmarks, maps, and natural formations! I’ve been really happy with how Chip has been received by children and adults! One class even did a Google maps tour of the places Rocky visits in his travels.
You write across the spectrum of children’s literature from poetry to nonfiction to fiction. Can you briefly describe what you like about each?
I love writing poetry because of the challenge of the form. It’s like putting a puzzle together, and the pieces are brevity, beauty, meaning, and joy.
I love writing fiction because I can choose any characters I want, put them in any situations I want, and have fun with the language, voice, and story.
I love writing nonfiction because I love learning new things! And my interest in science comes to me naturally because of my dad’s influence. He was a college professor of biological sciences (and a great wordsmith).
You’ve said that you loved being a kid. What’s one of your favorite memories? How does being able to tap into that feeling of childhood influence your work?
I have so many great memories of my childhood: fishing with my family at local ponds, riding bikes to the swimming pool, visiting my dad’s lab at the college, even working our huge garden with my siblings (before we were allowed to ride our bikes to the swimming pool). I feel so blessed to have had the parents I had and the childhood they gave me. It’s easy to recall feelings of being loved and valued. I hope to send that same message to my readers through my writing.
You say you can remember the exact moment you learned to read. Can you talk about that a little?
It’s a very brief memory. I was reading an early chapter book and laboriously sounding out each syllable, index finger on page, when it occurred to me that if I just read “lighter,” the words might come to me more easily. I relaxed, I guess, and the words came. It was like a light switch turned on. From then on, I read fluently.
What’s the best part about being a children’s author? Do you have an anecdote from an author event that you’d like to share?
There are so many great things about writing for children, and I feel really blessed to be able to do it, but if I have to choose the best thing, I’d say it’s being able to play with words for a living. In terms of an anecdote, I was Skyping with a class for World Read Aloud Day recently, and a little guy stepped up to the screen and told me how much he liked one of my less well-known books. I felt his sincerity, and I appreciated him telling me.
In 2017, your book Prudence the Part-Time Cow was chosen to represent Missouri in the National Book Festival in Washington DC that is hosted by the Library of Congress. Can you talk about this honor a little? How was Prudence chosen and what did it mean for you as an author and for the book?
I was super excited to learn that the Missouri Center for the Book chose Prudence for that honor! At the National Book Festival, each state chooses a book to represent it. All the states’ books are displayed together in one room for festival-goers. I didn’t attend the event, but several people who did told me Prudence sold out several times!
You’re a dog lover and have a rescue dog named Sophie. I’d love to hear more about her!
How much time do you have? Just kidding. She’s part long-haired dachshund, part chihuahua, we think. Very friendly, a good walking companion, pretty, and a real cuddler. She sleeps under the sheets with us.
What’s up next for you?
In July 2018, just in time for back-to-school, Beach Lane will publish It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! about a school bus’s first day of school. In 2019, Grosset & Dunlap will release my bobble-head biography, Who Is Jackie Chan? I’ve got more projects coming that have yet to be announced, so I better stop there. I’ll continue to publish poetry in great children’s magazines, too.
What’s your favorite holiday? Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?
I really like Earth Day and Arbor Day. I love helping take care of the earth.
Thanks, Jody! It’s been so great chatting with you! I wish you all the best with A Chip Off the Old Block and all of your books and projects!
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Get Caught Reading Month Review
About the Holiday
Launched in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers and managed by Every Child a Reader, Get Caught Reading Month hopes to instill a love of reading in every child and encourages people of all ages to read more. Celebrities, authors, illustrators, and others participate by sharing pictures of themselves reading an old favorite or new book on social media. Special materials are available for and programs held in schools, libraries, bookstores, and community venues all month long. Why not join in by finding a new book to love—like today’s book?! For more information and to find resources, visit the Get Caught Reading website.
Penguin Random House sent me a copy of A Chip Off the Old Block to check out. All opinions are my own.
A Chip Off the Old Block
Written by Jody Jensen Shaffer | Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Rocky had an impressive family. There was Aunt Etna, Uncle Gibraltar, and his Great-Grandma Half Dome. His cousins were pretty well-known too. In fact, “tons of his relatives were rock stars.” Rocky loved hearing his parents’ stories about his family. Rocky wanted to be important too, but his parents thought he was too little. He may have been “just a chip off the old block” like his dad said, “but inside, Rocky was a boulder!”
Rocky made a plan, and in the morning he hopped on a pickup truck headed for Arizona to join his cousin The Wave. As soon as he got there, though, a gust of wind blew him away. He landed hard and “noticed that a piece of him had broken off.” Undeterred, he caught a flight with an eagle out to Wyoming and another cousin, The Tower. Rocky was almost settled in when a rainstorm washed him over the side.
At the bottom of the long slide down, Rocky hitched a ride on a car bound for Texas. There, he thought he could watch over the sauropod tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park. But it didn’t take long for an armadillo to dig him out and send him back on the road again. this time he was determined to go to South Dakota. When he arrived, tinier than when he’d begun his trip, he decided that he’d make a terrific souvenir of his cousin Rushmore.
Just then he heard the news. The park was closing because a crack had been discovered in Abraham Lincoln’s nose. “Rocky was crushed.” His dreams of being important would never come true now. But looking up at his cousin, he realized that maybe he could help. A passing lizard gave him a ride to the top, and Rocky jumped. He tumbled down, down and right into the crack in Lincoln’s nose. “He was a perfect fit! I did it! I did something important! I saved Abraham Lincoln!” Rocky exaulted, excited and proud.
Down below, visitors and park employees cheered. Reporters relayed the news, and photographers took pictures. The park was saved, and it was “all thanks to Rocky, the little pebble that wouldn’t be taken for granite.”
A guide to igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, illustrated descriptions of some of the world’s most majestic rock formations, and an Author’s Note about Mount Rushmore follow the story.
There’s so much to love about Jody Jensen Shaffer’s A Chip Off the Old Block! Part adventure, part educational travelogue, and completely inspirational—with lots of funny wordplay to boot—Shaffer’s story will charm kids. Little Rocky is a sweetie of a go-getter who has big dreams and sets out to achieve them. He overcomes obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments and adjusts to changes with optimism while never losing heart and building up his self-confidence. Kids will cheer when Rocky finally finds the place where he can make the most monumental difference.
Daniel Miyares’ gorgeous illustrations depict the splendor of Rocky’s magnificent cousins and the landscape they dominate while cleverly tracing his journey from state to state, carried along by a truck and a car, in a backpack, and with the help of some animal friends. Rocky is full of personality and childlike expressions that will endear him to readers. Miyares’ full-color, full-bleed pages will get kids excited to learn more about geology and each rock formation, and will no doubt inspire some vacation wish lists.
A Chip Off the Old Block is a smart and witty book that will excite a child’s imagination. It would be a terrific addition to home bookshelves and should be included in classroom libraries to accompany STEM, STEAM, and English Language Arts lessons and well as fun story times.
Ages 5 – 8
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2018 | ISBN 978-0399173882
Discover more about Jody Jensen Shaffer and her books and find teachers’ resources and activities on her website.
To learn more about Daniel Miyares, his books and his art, visit his website.
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