The Children’s Book Review | March 28, 2018
Jody Jensen Shaffer and Daniel Miyares discuss their picture book A Chip Off the Old Block, in which a plucky pebble shows true grit as he travels the country trying to find out if he fits in with any of his famous rock-formation relatives.
Daniel Miyares Asks Jody Jensen Shaffer:
On the surface this book is about rock formations large and small, but underneath it’s all about the search for significance and family relationships. What made you want to do a story about family and the younger generation’s place in it?
I wanted to write a story about an unlikely hero, and I was inspired by Kate DiCamillo’s mouse main character in The Tale of Despereaux. I thought having a rock as a hero would be pretty unlikely, so I began brainstorming when the opening line “Rocky loved his rock star relatives” popped into my head. I loved the pun and the idea that Rocky valued his family. I knew he was going to try to be a rock star in his own way. That line has since changed, but it was the spark that began my story. Plus, I’m the baby of my family, so…
What was it like to see your manuscript visually brought to life? Were there things that you didn’t expect?
Seeing my story illustrated was super exciting! I was delighted when I learned you would be taking it on, Daniel, because I’d seen your work online and loved it. The thing I was most excited to see in your illustrations was what Rocky would look like. Would he have arms and legs? How would he get from here to there? Of course, I was delighted with your choices. And that underbite? Adorable. The rest of the book is pretty fantastic, too. 🙂
Favorite rock formation and why? Go.
I think I have to go with Mount Rushmore. It’s such an amazing feat of engineering and art and culture.
If you could add one face to Mt. Rushmore who would it be?
Our first female president.
You seem to know an awful lot about rocks…Why is that?
Research, my friend, research!
Are there any rock puns that you wish could’ve been included in the book but weren’t?
When Cousin Rushmore says, “Solid,” it would have been fun to have him say instead, “Gneiss,” which is pronounced “nice” and is a rock type. But I was afraid folks wouldn’t know how to pronounce it, and the joke would flop.
When I was painting these characters I had their unique voices in my head. Did you hear their voices as you wrote them? If so, could you do a few impersonations? An audio recording will suffice. JK…but really, that would be awesome.
Okay, just checking: was Rocky’s dad’s voice a little, um, Dug the dog from Up?
Jody Jensen Shaffer Asks Daniel Miyares:
I love how you drew Rocky with an underbite. Are you partial to underbites? How did you decide how Rocky would look?
I’m not sure I have a strong leaning towards underbites, overbites, or perfectly aligned bites. I just knew that it was important for Rocky to have an innocent and hopeful look about him. He is young and struggling to find his place in the world, but he always maintains that hopeful disposition. I wanted to capture that…with a rock.
I started with an actual pile of rocks in my studio and took time deciding what kind of rock was he going to be. Then I did a bunch of character sketches. I didn’t want to just land on a compelling drawing of a rock character. I had to make sure I understood how he was going to make it through the story. Could I show enough emotion with my character? How does he look once he breaks apart? Does he retain his “Rocky-ness?”
Have you been to any of the monuments or formations in the book?
Not yet! Now my wife and I are talking about how we can plan road trips for us and the kids to visit some of them. The book may have to be our guide. My kids are kind of obsessed with Mount Rushmore. Definitely have to get there soon.
What is your typical illustration process? What process did you use for this book?
Typically I start out with loads of research. I really want to think my way around the story and all the things I might be representing in the illustrations. Then I work on rough thumbnail drawings of how I want each spread of the book to look. Sometimes I refine those drawings more, but often I take those small rough drawings and use them as inspiration for my finished paintings. The way I paint each book changes some depending on the story I’m telling. For CHIP I wanted to have the freedom to really get at the beauty and uniqueness of each rock formation. To do this I used watercolor, gouache and some acrylic paint. There are a lot of beautiful vistas in this book, so those watercolors and gouaches were great for capturing the warmth and light. Then there are those moments when I really needed to show the grit and heaviness of the rocks. That’s when the acrylic paints are nice because they have a bit more body to them. Another big part of my process for making this book was working in separate layers. I would paint the foregrounds separate from the backgrounds like a theatre set. It was critical to get Rocky’s acting to show up in a big way so I wanted the ability to knock back the other elements if necessary.
I’d love to know your initial impression of my manuscript when it hit your inbox. Juicy details welcome.
My very first impression was that it was hilarious. I giggled to myself as I read it. I was picturing these illustrations of a real true to form rock having all of these thoughts of self doubt and worry. I hadn’t assigned human characteristics to him at that point. Just a plain old rock making plans to find his way in the world. It struck me as extremely funny and poignant. Really the more I thought about it, the more I saw that there were a lot of layers to the story. Sure there was the humor and the geological information, but the big draws for me were the family relationships and the hero’s journey.
What was the hardest part of illustrating CHIP?
The most challenging thing about this particular project was getting this little rock from here to there. He travels all over the map! Rocks by their very nature are…how can I say this delicately…sedentary. Rocky was not content to be bound to this Earth. He had to roll!
What is your favorite rock? How about your favorite rock pun? What is your favorite rock band?
Gotta go with the agates. They’re like discoveries within discoveries.
In the book I laugh every time I read “It was clear the two of them didn’t share the same sediment.”
Favorite rock band: Rolling Stones obviously.
I love how the Mt. Rushmore faces are smiling on the last spread. What do you think those presidents would say about our book?
They might first say, “WHAT!? Our heads are carved into the side of a mountain!” Then they might say, “This book ROCKS!”
This book is fictiony-nonfiction, or nonfictiony-fiction. What kind of research did you do to make sure the nonfiction parts were accurate?
I had to look through tons of old photos, check out books from the library about particular locations, find as much information online that I could, read letters or blog posts written by people who visited some of the parks. As with most things, if you can’t actually fly around the world to visit all of these places in person, you have to somehow get a thorough enough understanding of them to invent what might go on there. It’s really a process of learning what is known about a particular place and what is up for interpretation. To do that you really do have to research your way all the way around a thing. Pictures alone wouldn’t cut it, nor would just textbook information.
Written by Jody Jensen Shaffer
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Publisher’s Synopsis: A plucky pebble shows true grit as he travels the country trying to find out if he fits in with any of his famous rock-formation relatives.
Rocky comes from a long line of rock stars! Uncle Gibraltar, Aunt Etna, and Great-Grandma Half Dome are just some of the legendary rock formations he calls family. It’s no wonder he wants to matter in a big way too–but it’s not easy trying to get a foothold. Rocky gets tossed by The Wave and driven away at Devil’s Tower–but he’s determined not to allow these pitfalls to chip away at his confidence. Rather than feeling crushed, he keeps on rolling, hoping to become the rock-star he knows he’s meant to be.
Ages 5-8 | Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0399173882
About the Author
Jody Jensen Shaffer has written twenty-seven books of fiction and nonfiction, the most recent being The Way the Cookie Crumbled (July 2016). Others include Ninja Warriors, Inside My Muscles, and What’s Your Story, Frederick Douglass? She’s also had work published in Highlights, High Five, Hello, Babybug, Humpty Dumpty, Turtle, and Clubhouse Jr.
About the Illustrator
Daniel Miyares wrote and illustrated Bring Me a Rock!, Float, and Pardon Me!, and illustrated Surf’s Up (by Kwame Alexander). He grew up in the foothills of South Carolina, received a BFA in illustration from Ringling College of Art and Design, and now lives in Kansas City with his wife and their two children. His clients have included Hallmark Cards, The New York Times, National Geographic, Spider Magazine, Ladybug Magazine, and the Kansas City Star.
This interview—Jody Jensen Shaffer and Daniel Miyares Discuss A Chip Off the Old Block—was conducted between Jody Jensen Shaffer and Daniel Miyares. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Family, Geology, Picture Book, and Rock Band Books.
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