Meet the WA Authors of the 3rd Grade Reading Challenge

by Karin T.

This month, Washington authors Patrick Jennings and Kelly Jones have even more third-grade fans than usual. Patrick and Kelly visited schools in Snohomish and Island counties as part of the Sno-Isle Libraries Mega-Fun, Biblio-Trivia, Rockem-Sockem Third Grade Reading Challenge. The Reading Challenge is a literary trivia program. Third graders work together to develop teamwork skills and master details about six books. We offer this program to help kids develop and nurture a lifelong love of reading.

As a member of the Reading Challenge team, I asked the authors a few questions about their visits to schools, their books, and what they love to read.

 Interview with Patrick JenningsAuthor of Guinea Dog 


What’s your favorite thing about visiting schools?

I love getting to meet readers, hear what they think of my stories, and other stories, and to listen to them talk about reading and writing and, really, just about anything.

I not only love talking to kids, but it also helps me develop characters and come up with ideas for stories. My book Hissy Fitz, for example, is based on an idea workshopped by a class in Michigan.

Animals are featured characters in many of your books. Do you have any pets or a favorite animal? 

I’ve been a longtime cat person, though at the moment my home is petless. I find animals, including humans, endlessly fascinating.

I’ve studied wolves, bats, owls, ferrets, guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, and, of course, dogs and cats for my stories, and have lately researched tigers, narwhals, beetles, and goats for future stories. Luckily, my readers love animals as much as I do.

I’m reading Out Standing in My Field, with Lucky Cap next on my list. Do you think you’ll write more baseball stories or other sports stories someday? Do you have a favorite team in real life? 

I lived for baseball when I was a middle-grader, played Little League, watched every Cubs game on TV, and internalized forever the language spoken by announcer Jack Brickhouse.

I haven’t really followed professional sports as an adult, though, other than a short stint following the Giants when I lived in San Francisco. I really enjoyed going to Candlestick and listening to away games on the radio, then poring over statistics in the Chronicle the next morning.

I’m not sure if I’ll write another sports story, but I may have a sailing story in me. The research for it would be thrilling, as I love to sail, but don’t know how.

Tell us about your favorite authors or books for kids. Have you read any books you’d recommend for teens or adults recently?

Like most people, the books I read as a kid have really stayed with me and influenced me. For me, the books I read in the middle grades were particularly influential. These were my golden years as a reader, when I fell in love with books and stories and language.

I especially liked funny animal stories—and eventually that’s what I would choose to write.

I adored Beverly Cleary and read all of her books. I still love them. Ramona Quimby is one of my favorite fictional characters.

When I started writing for kids, I re-read many of my childhood favorites but also discovered the work of these authors:

I read old and new books. In January I re-read Steig’s Dominic, Horvath’s The Canning Season, and, for the first time, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brothervery different books, but all absolutely wonderful, funny, and weird.

What can you tell us about your next book/writing project?

I have one book finished and looking for a home. Appropriately, it’s about a dog that gets separated from his owner in the woods and is trying to get home. The story is told from the dog’s point of view in a very limited vocabulary and primarily by nose: it’s described by scent, not sight, like most stories.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about Guinea Dog or any of your other work?

I’m really excited Guinea Dog is a part of the Challenge again. It was in 2014, too. Odd, Weird, and Little and My Homework Ate My Homework were also included in past years. Knowing that so many readers are perusing the book so intently really tickles me. I look forward to meeting the students and attending the finals.


Interview with Kelly Jones

Author of Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer:

What’s your favorite thing about author visits to schools?

I love seeing students realize that an author is just a regular person, like them – one who works hard at her writing. After all, if

I can write books, so can they! I never got to meet an author until I was an adult, so it took me a long time to realize that.

The third graders and I had a lot of fun discussing how to create superpets for the stories we might want to write and/or illustrate, and figuring out how some science and math could help us out with that. We did some calculations involving how many chocolate cakes you might need to bake to get your teleporting pet T. Rex who eats an entire chocolate cake a day through a whole week. Also, in case you didn’t know, a penguin who can fly through the night sky and only eats pizza with sausage and black olives is definitely an omnivore.

What can you tell us about your next book project? Do you think you might use cats (yours or perhaps cats with superpowers) as inspiration on a future project?

My next book is called Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? It’s the sequel to Unusual Chickens, and will follow Sophie into her next adventures with some new chickens (with a new superpower) – and hatching some unusual eggs, too! It will be illustrated by Katie Kath, and will be out this fall. No cats have turned up in it yet (but you never know about cats…)

My super-secret fourth book has a couple of goats in it, though! Their names are Rodgers and Hammerstein. (Pro Tip: if you don’t have enough room in your small backyard for all the pets you’d like to have, I highly recommend inviting some fictional ones into your stories!)

Kelly’s second  book, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, features 16-year-old Annis Whitworth as the main character, a dressmaker/spy during the Regency period.

Do you like to sew in real life? I wish I could create magical garments like Annis does.

I do like to sew – but I always wish it went faster! All of Annis’s slapdash, poorly planned projects come from my experience, I’m afraid. Alas, I lack her magical talent, so I’m much better at Halloween costumes than wearable clothes!

I really love Cal Patch’s Design-It-Yourself Clothes. It helped me learn how to take a flat piece of cloth and turn it into a 3D garment.

 You have some backyard chickens, and your author profile says that you look for recipes to make with lots of eggs. I read about your chili-chocolate chunk cookies in The Sweet Sixteens, and it made my mouth water.

You can make some too! Just replace chocolate chips in the Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe in Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain with chunks of Theo Chocolate’s chili chocolate. (Trust me, they’re a delicious dessert, not a healthy food! Kind of like a s’more crossed with a cookie…)

Any other cookbooks or baking books that you recommend?

I also love Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. My copy was a gift from my editor after a discussion about a type of recipe we were testing (our final version just might appear in the forthcoming sequel to Unusual Chickens, so I can’t tell you any more about it yet – but look for it this fall!)

 I love that book too. I made the Rhubarb and Cherry Brown Betty, and it was delicious.


 You mentioned on the blog Reads for Keeps that Sorcery and Cecelia was your favorite book when you were 12.

Sorcery and Cecelia is still one of my favorite books, many many re-reads later (and the others in that series as well.) In fact, I love it so much I wrote to both the authors (along with other authors of all kinds of books set during the Regency period) to see if I could mention their characters in Murder, Magic, and What We Wore. It was such an honor when they said yes!

So, keep your eyes open for a few names you might recognize as you read, or flip to the back, and see what you’d like to read next!

Some of Kelly’s favorite recent reads:

Anything you’d like to add about Unusual Chickens or any of your other work?

You know, I’ve learned something from my characters’ struggles: even when you really, really want something, it can take a while to get it right, and to make it happen. If it doesn’t turn out quite like you hoped? Keep trying. It takes patience, and practice, like sewing. But it’s an amazing feeling when someone else loves a story you wrote.

Here’s a photo of an embroidery piece I did while researching the hand-sewing (and secret spy messages) for Murder, Magic, and What We Wore – I’d forgotten how easy it is to prick your finger, and how long all those tiny stitches take!

(Photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)



You’re invited to join us at the Reading Challenge finals, where you’ll see Patrick and Kelly at the Edmonds Center for the Arts March 28, starting at 6:30 pm along with lots of amazing third graders who know Patrick and Kelly’s books (and more) backwards and forwards.

And, who knows, you may witness a future Jeopardy! contestant in the making!

Do you have a favorite book from childhood? Do you like reading children’s or teen books as an adult? Tell us what you like—we’d love to hear.

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