by Laura Sassi
Today we welcome author Jody Jensen Shaffer for our third Read, Discuss, Do! interview. Jody has authored more than 80 children’s books including Prudence, the Part Time Cow a Missouri Show Me Award finalist for 2020; A Chip Off the Old Block; It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus!, an Amazon best-seller and Amazon Prime Book Box pick for September 2019; It's a Field Trip, Busy Bus!; EMERGENCY KITTENS!; Who is Jackie Chan?; and more. She’s also an award-winning poet and popular guest at school visits.
Today we are delighted to hear from her about connecting with kids through books, the benefits of reading picture books, and more. Let’s get started.
Laura: Read, Discuss, Do! is all about taking story time to the next level through thoughtful conversation and activities. Do you have a favorite memory of seeing this in action with one of your books?
Jody: Yes! Prudence the Part-Time Cow, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis and published by Laura Godwin Books/Henry Holt, is about a cow who loves STEM. Prudence is a scientist, an engineer, and an architect. After reading the story with groups of kids, I love to have them use the skills of science, engineering, architecture, and teamwork to build structures. In small groups or individually, kids try to see how tall they can build newspaper and masking tape structures. [Hint: they'll want to tape their structures to the floor if they're not going to be kept, or to a piece of heavy paper if they will be kept.] Or they can use 10 drinking straws and masking tape or 10 craft sticks and binder clips for the same purpose. It's fun to see kids strategize and experiment with height and weight. I've also got a free discussion and activity guide on my website with more extension activities for Prudence.
For A Chip Off the Old Block, illustrated by Daniel Miyares and published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, we do an activity with Starburst candy. A Chip Off the Old Block is about a little rock who wants to do great things, but it's also about kinds of rocks and the rock cycle. The Starburst activity is perfect for small groups of kids. I give each child 3 each of two or three colors of Starburst. They use scissors to cut the candies into pieces. This represents sedimentary rocks. Then I have the kids squish all the pieces together in their hands. This represents metamorphic rock. Finally, I demonstrate (or give the kids instructions for doing this last step at home with their grown ups), using a heat source and aluminum foil, how rock melts and becomes magma, then igneous rock. The free discussion guide on my website has fun map-reading activities, too.
Laura: These activities are fantastic! Here’s behind-the-scenes writing question. Do you think about how readers might extend your stories through discussion and activities while you are creating a story? In other words, is that part of your thought process as a writer?
Jody: Yes! It's not my first thought when I write a new story, but especially for my books that are creative nonfiction, I think more and more about how teachers, librarians, and parents might extend my stories. I have a lot of elementary teachers in my family, so thinking of extension activities is natural and fun for me.
Laura: I know you do a lot of school visits. What are your favorite three questions to ask kids to spark picture book conversation?
Jody: How might [book character] have handled this differently?
If you had written this book, how might you have changed it?
What do you think is the most important part of a book--the characters, the story, or the art?
Laura: Those are great questions that can be applied to almost any book. Thanks! To close, pleas tell us about your most recent book (or a favorite of your choice) and how readers might use the read, discuss, do! formula to extend the story.
EMERGENCY KITTENS!, illustrated by Dave Mottram and published by Doubleday/Random House, came out in January 2020. It's a fun, silly book about three little kittens who save a boy, Sheldon, from bullies by being super adorable. It lends itself to extension activities about kittens, pets, superheroes, and standing up for oneself and others. Kids might enjoy brainstorming traits of superheroes, then drawing pictures of what they imagine a superhero looks like. They can discuss bullying and safe ways to help someone who is being bullied, or actions to take if they are being bullied, including safe people to talk to. There are lots of great resources online about how to discuss bullying with children. If kids want coloring pages of the KITTENS, they can download those for free from my website.
Laura: Thank you so much for joining us today, Jody, and reminding us that extending the stories we read can be done in many creative way.
BIO: Jody Jensen Shaffer is an award-winning poet and the author of more than 80 books of fiction and nonfiction for children, including PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW, a Missouri Show Me Award finalist for 2020, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS!, an Amazon best-seller and Amazon Prime Book Box pick for September 2019, IT’S A FIELD TRIP, BUSY BUS!, EMERGENCY KITTENS!, WHO IS JACKIE CHAN? and more. Jody’s poetry and fiction have been published in magazines like Highlights, Ladybug, and Clubhouse Jr. Jody lives in Liberty, Missouri, with her family. When she’s not writing, Jody can be found watching baseball or walking her rescue dog, Sophie. You can find Jody online at jodyjensenshaffer.com and on Twitter @jodywrites4kids.