Congratulations to Betsy Ellor on her debut picture book, My Dog Is
NOT a Scientist! (Illus. Luisa Vera / YeeHoo Press) which releases next week!
Winning the science fair would be easy if it wasn’t for Renzo. This playful dog turns the scientific method on its ear ruining Yara’s experiments. Or are they ruined? With a never-give-up attitude, the young scientist learns maybe play is science after all.
Let’s ask some questions!
Q 1. What was the inspiration for My Dog Is
NOT a Scientist? (I’m going to guess there’s a dog in your life?)
Betsy Ellor: Yes! My dog, River, has been sticking her nose in the projects my son and I do for years. I’m not sure I know how to do a science experiment without keeping one eye on my dog. Just like Yara in the book, I noticed one day that River was an expert at observing with her senses, asking questions, and testing her guesses. The rest of the story grew organically from there. I also layered emotional resilience into the story after watching my son fail and try again and realizing how critical that is to science. I made a little video about the inspiration for the story. It’s here if you want to check it out.
Q 2. Is it true that this is your debut picture book, and you wrote the draft of this book in one session, with only TWO revisions? Did the story marinate in your imagination for many months before, or is writing picture books your superpower?
Betsy Ellor: I wish I had that superpower! I write novels as well and I honestly think writing a truly good picture book is harder. But yes, it is true that I wrote the story in one session and only did a couple of revisions before I sent it out.
I wrote My Dog Is NOT A Scientist simply because it made me laugh and I stopped after only two revisions because it just felt done. A year later Yeehoo reached out to acquire it. I’m not saying that’s a path to publication that I’d recommend and I did do many more revisions after it was acquired, but I think my joy in the storytelling was palpable in the manuscript and that joy is what sold it. It’s so important to learn good writing techniques and study the market and all the other things we strive to do as writers, but joy is critical to good picture books. This book is proof of that.
It takes a (global) village!
Q 3. Can you explain how this book became an around-the-world project?
Betsy Ellor: The story originated in my home in Massachusetts. Then I submitted it to Yeehoo Press based in California. Yeehoo hired the amazing Luisa Vera who lives in Spain to do the illustrations. (Funny sidenote: The author’s photo I used for the book was taken on a trip to Valencia so both of our photos on the flap were taken in Spain). Then when it was done the book was printed in China.
Yeehoo sent me videos of them setting up the press for printing. It made me stop for a moment to really take in all the people around the world that came together on this one little book going to print on the other side of the globe from me.
Q 4. I LOVE Luisa Vera’s illustrations. What surprises did Luisa bring to the project?
Betsy Ellor: Her illustrations are a delight, but I’ll admit that everything about them surprised me. For some reason, I had in my head a more watercolor-type illustration. When I saw the proofs I was shocked at first. Then I saw how much fun was going on on every page. It’s impossible not to get sucked in.
When I did World Read Aloud Day with a 1st-grade class, I truly appreciated Yeehoo’s wisdom in choosing Luisa for the project. Covering the whole scientific method makes the book on the long side to read out loud to a younger audience. Fortunately, there’s so much to look at on every page it keeps little eyes busy so their ears are listening and their minds aren’t wandering.
“All the world’s a stage…”
Q 5. I read that you are also a playwright. (Yes! Theater geeks unite!) How does this influence your approach to writing picture books? Which comes first—the title, concept, character(s), story arc, or voice?
Betsy Ellor: Theater is my first love even now when I write almost exclusively prose. My first published work was a family musical called Sara Crewe that i wrote with the composer Miriam Raiken-Kolb. It is an adaptation of The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Writing lyrics was good practice for moving a story forward with few words which definitely helps with picture book writing. Writing with a composer is a lot like working with an illustrator – two people coming at a story with different mediums who need to trust each other.
Also, having written plays I always write with half a brain thinking about the visual. On stage, people can’t just stand still and feel they need to be doing something for the audience to watch. Because playwriting is what I learned first my writing tends to be visual and active.
Q 6. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Betsy Ellor: I want readers to know that anyone can be a scientist if they follow their curiosity. The story shows that anyone, anywhere can ask questions and seek answers – even a crazy dog. Science doesn’t have to be neat and perfect. Go explore! Have fun! The scientific method is a tool. Use it, but don’t be afraid to fail and fail and fail. Sometimes through failing you discover something unexpected and even more amazing.
Q 7. What projects are you working on now?
Betsy Ellor: Unfortunately nothing I can share right now. Fingers crossed I’ll have more good news soon. Right now I just finished two new picture books that I’m starting to submit, and I’m diving into writing my second middle-grade novel. I’m definitely keeping busy.
Thanks for joining us on the blog. Betsy–and
Happy Happy picture book DEBUT!!!!!
To learn more about Betsy Ellor, see linktr.ee/betsyellor for signed copies, blog, and social media links.
Next up on the blog:
It’s the #BookBirthday of LIGHT SPEAKS, a gorgeous #STEM picture book
illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell / written by Christine Layton (Tilbury House).