Saturday, March 31, 2012

Happy Birthday Tad Hills - April 1

Happy Birthday Tad Hills - April 1

Keep the kids busy! This is my mantra on days when all my children are home together.  I don't know if Tad Hills sensed anxiety in my email I sent him last week asking him to verify his birthday.  I saw a triple trifecta coming that could have lead to some serious badness -- end of Spring Break, a weekend before a holiday, and serious changes to our family dynamics with a new baby in the house.  Thankfully, for the sake of my sanity, Tad Hills responded to my email confirming his birthday for April 1st and mentioned, "When I tell people that my birthday is on April Fool's Day they always assume that I must have been tormented with joke gifts.  But, oddly I never was."  It is no April Fool's joke that our family kept ourselves from tormenting each other by reading Tad Hills' books and coming up with a few fun activities.

Tad Hill's best selling book How Rocket Learned to Read is a favorite of many teachers and librarians.  It is a story of dog that is unable to read and an enthusiastic bird that is determined to teach him. The bird sparks Rocket's interest by reading aloud to him.  Then, she introduces him to the letters of the alphabet and the sounds the letters make.  She moves on to teaching Rocket how to spell the words of things they observed like F-A-L-L and R-E-D.  Before migrating south for the winter the bird shares her words of wisdom, "Don't forget. Words are built one letter at a time!"  Rocket spends the winter practicing his letters in the snow and when Spring arrives he practices in the mud. Once bird returns, Rocket and her read books together again and again.

According to The Children's Book Review Tad Hills said, "the seed for the story was planted when my family got a dog and named him Rocket.  I later used him as the subject for a PW cover illustration (spring children's books 2008).  That cover image of the dog sitting quietly with a yellow bird perched on his nose reading -- inspired the story."  My favorite illustration in the book was of Rocket practicing his spelling in the mud.  His paws were covered with mud and so was his head and nose.  This illustration inspired us spell our own words.

Instead, of using mud, we made pudding.  I didn't have chocolate pudding in the house so we added cocoa powder and crushed chocolate cookies to vanilla pudding to make our "mud pudding".
The kids used their hands to spread out the "mud pudding" on a cookie sheet.
We started by spelling M-U-D just like Rocket did in the book.
There was lots of licking and spelling going on.  My daughter was having me challenge her to spell hard words, my youngest son was practicing his favorite letter O, and my oldest son wrote his name!
"Mud Pudding" was everywhere!  All the kids went straight to the bathtub and their clothes went in the washer!
I learned, by reading Tad Hills' biography on, that when Tad was younger his mother was teacher for the Audubon society.  He said, "Raccoons, snakes, owls, and turtles were common guests in our house." These experiences along with living in a rural area instilled a love of nature.  Tad's grandmother, who was an artist, "encouraged him to look at the world from different angles" and "was delighted when, instead of seeing a pansy, he saw a monkey's face, or instead of a puddle of spilled milk, he saw an elephant." (

I loved this childhood memory.  I told my oldest two children that we were going to go on an "Imagination Hunt".  I showed them images of pansies and cloud formations.  We talked about how if you use your imagination you can see things in other things.  We set off around our neighborhood to see what we could find.
Right near our house we found a tree that looked like a one-eyed alien or even a man.
My son found this water line cap that looked like a smiley face.
Think we were having fun? My daughter thought this stick looked like one of the prankster arrow-through-your-head hats.
I found this piece of wood that I thought looked like a spooky ghoul!
My daughter found this nut carved by a squirrel that she thought looked like a jack-o-lantern.
Our most exciting find was this knot on a tree that my son thought looked like a bear's face.
Our boots and bottoms were muddy but we had a great adventure!
Tad Hills also is the creator of the successful Duck and Goose series.  According to an interview with The Children's Book Review Tad Hills said, "I would have to say that Duck and Goose had the biggest impact on my career.  Prior to Duck and Goose I had published a bunch of novelty books, such as touch and feel board books and books of knock-knock jokes.  Duck and Goose was my first attempt at writing a picture book.  It was the book that made me feel like an illustrator and an author."

All week I read many of the board books featuring Duck and Goose to my youngest son.  His favorite was Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin.  To bring these books to life we went to feed the local ducks and geese.
After the warm weather the last few weeks we were back to having chilly mornings.  But, this didn't stop us from venturing out to see our featured friends.
A hungry goose accepts a treat!
Quack! Quack! Honk! Honk!
Tad, we hope you have a wonderful birthday.  Now that I have publicly shared that you have never had tormenting joke gifts on your birthday you can blame me when you get your first! We had so much fun celebrating your birthday this week. I don't think I have ever celebrated with three activities before. You and your books gave us some very memorable family reading experiences.


1. Tad Hills' website
2. Tad Hills Bio - RandomHouse
3. Tad Hills Interview - Patricia Newman, Children's Book Review, School Library Journal
4. How Rocket Learned to Read App for iPad Trailer - YouTube
5. How Rocket Learned to Read Printable Activity Packet - RandomHouse



  1. LOVE the Mud Pudding, Eric! We will definitely be trying that out SOON! Looks like you had a great time... and believe it or not, I've never shared these books with my kids. Going to the library this week!

    1. We really enjoyed How Rocket Learned to Read. We also downloaded the App for the iPad. It was only $4.99! The book has some interactive features plus there is two learning games included.

  2. How Rocket Learned to Read is perfect for my 5-year-old right now and very fun to read with her. Thanks for sharing this interview with Tad Hills!

    1. I really liked the bird -- maybe because of my years as a teacher. I can really see children identifying with Rocket.

  3. You are one brave Daddy bringing out the "big guns"---pudding painting!!!! :) A sticky-icky, marvelously messy activity that kids just LOVE!!!

    I love the activity that you did with your kids--walking around looking at objects differently. I'm going to try that with mine this afternoon just right here on our property. They will surely enjoy using their imaginations in that way.

    (And that was totally a spooky ghoul!);)

    1. Pudding Painting was crazy! There was pudding everywhere -- on their clothes, on the floor, on the chairs! But, they had fun.

      I hope you have fun on your walk. I couldn't believe how many things we were able to find. Stop back and share what you found.

  4. Practicing spelling in pudding? Your ideas just get better and better Eric!

    1. Thanks Julie! The best part was eating as we spelled!

  5. Wow Eric - these are great ideas! As a homeschooling mom and 12x12er I am so motivated by this post and your blog to find even more ways to mix my family with my dreams to write and illustrate! Thank you Thank you.

  6. Melissa, Thank you so much! I would love to hear about some of the ideas you come up with! I admire your decision to homeschool. You are creating a very special bond with your children.


You Might Also Like:

Related Posts with Thumbnails