Friday, May 20, 2011

Tad Hills on Winning the 2011 Irma Black Award

From School Library Journal Online

By Rocco Staino May 19, 2011

Tad Hills, author and illustrator of the popular "Duck & Goose" series, has another hit with How Rocket Learned to Read (2010, all Random). This story about a dog named Rocket who's taught to read by a friendly bird was also nominated for a Children's Choice Book Award and a Virginia Readers' Choice Award. In our review, SLJ said that "Youngsters will find this addition to Hills's cast of adorable animal characters simply irresistible."

Today in New York City, Hills was presented with the 2011 Irma Simonton Black & James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature by the Bank Street College of Education, in partnership with SLJ. The award invites first and second graders nationwide to vote for a picture book that best uses words and illustrations to tell a story. This year, some 9,550 students from 94 schools participated in the selection process.

Tell us about the real Rocket?

Rocket is a Wheaten Terrier who will be four-years-old on July 18. He's a fantastic dog in every way. He's gentle, sweet, patient, and very cute, and I knew right away that someday, somehow he would inspire a book.

Do you remember how you learned to read?

I don't remember learning to read per se, but I do remember how much I loved being read to. My favorite books included Blueberries For Sal (Viking, 1949) by Robert McCloskey, The Biggest Bear (Houghton, 1952) by Lynd Ward, and the books of Thornton Burgess.

It must be a great feeling to win the Irma Black Award.

I'm so happy to win the Irma Black Award. Since the award is determined by writers, teachers, librarians, and children—people who know and care so much about kids' books—I feel especially honored.

One young Irma Black voter drew a comparison between Rocket and Munro Leaf's Ferdinand the Bull because both liked to nap under their favorite tree. Was that intentional?

I haven't heard that comparison until now, but I do remember that Ferdinand was one of those books I loved as a kid. I still really love that book. I was a very shy quiet kid, and I think I related to Ferdinand. And I think the Rocket character would relate to Ferdinand too.

As you create new books, are ebook formats and apps coming into play?

Digital applications come into play long after I've finished a book, not while I'm creating it. There are ebook versions of my "Duck and Goose" books. How Rocket Learned to Read is available as an ebook but also as an iPad app, which includes not only the book but some great interactive features and animation and a couple of learning games. But when I'm writing or illustrating, I don't think about the story or the pictures in terms of any possible future digital incarnation.

You grew up surrounded by nature. How do you like living in an urban environment like Brooklyn?

I loved growing up in Norwell, MA, where I was able to spend so much time outside wandering around the woods and fields near my home. But I love living in Brooklyn now. I've lived here for more than 20 years—longer than I've lived anywhere else. Sometimes the noise drives me crazy, but my neighborhood is full of interesting people—painters, illustrators, writers, actors, musicians, chefs, and teachers—and we have a pair of cardinals and a forsythia bush in our garden.

Can you share what you have in the works?

Right now I'm working on a second Rocket picture book and a chapter book about two ducks—not Duck and Goose—in search of their heritage.

This article originally appeared in the newsletter Extra Helping.

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