For Melanie Ellsworth, the plan was to celebrate her debut picture book, Clarinet and Trumpet, in August of 2020 but COVID reared its ugly head and said, “hip, hip, no way!” A bummer to be bumped but now she gets to celebrate TWO book birthdays in two months and I’m so excited to chat with her about them both in today’s interview.
KC: Congrats on your double debut and thanks so much for joining me on the blog! How did you come to write for children and what was your path to publication like?
ME: Thanks for having me on Writers’ Rumpus today!
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember and have always loved picture books for the pairing of art and text. Reading picture books to my daughter reminded me how much I love that genre and how important stories were in helping me develop empathy and make sense of the world around me.
Writing has always been part of my life, too, and I’ve taught writing in my ESOL and literacy specialist positions. Several years ago, I participated in Kate Messner’s summer Teachers Write Program which really got my creative juices flowing again. Workshops, conferences, joining SCBWI (back in 2012), and participating in critique groups have all been part of my journey to publication. My first picture book contract came from a submission to a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor following a 2017 writing conference in Maine. That picture book, CLARINET AND TRUMPET, was published in March of 2021 – delayed a bit due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, my picture book HIP, HIP…BERET! raced on full speed ahead and came out in February 2021. So it has been a whirlwind of a winter/spring, but in the best way!
KC: Can you share with us where the idea for each story came from?
ME: I love how ideas come from so many different places. For CLARINET AND TRUMPET, the idea came from an experience in my childhood, and for HIP, HIP…BERET! the idea came from deliberately playing around with words in search of a story idea.
Growing up, I played the clarinet in bands and orchestras. We woodwinds sat in front of the brass section and often felt out-blasted. For much of elementary and middle school, each section’s goal was to play as loudly as possible so their section could be heard over the other sections. It took some time and maturity to recognize the importance of playing as a whole group, modulating each instrument’s and each section’s sound as needed – playing to meet the needs of the music. Beautiful music emerged when we all stopped blasting and listened to the voices of the other sections. Though band instruments are introduced in CLARINET AND TRUMPET, it’s essentially a friendship story centered around that theme of listening to each other and recognizing the value of all the voices that make up a community.
And HIP, HIP…BERET! came about when I took the common expression Hip, Hip Hooray and substituted various rhyming words for “Hooray.” Once I had the “Hip, Hip…Beret” title, I imagined a beret taking a wild ride on a windy day, landing in unusual places along the way. And I knew I wanted a refrain that varied the end rhyme each time in the hip, hip hooray expression.
KC: I love all of the word play you included in each book! Was your process similar for both books or did you find that one was more challenging to tease out than the other?
MC: These two books are similar in the sense that the first draft flowed out fairly quickly because I had a complete picture of the full story before I started writing. That is definitely not the case with most of my stories; sometimes I only have an ending in mind and have to find the rest of the story, or I just have a title or a general concept and start writing to see what will happen. CLARINET AND TRUMPET took more drafts than HIP, HIP…BERET! to get to the final polished state.
KC: What is your favorite part of being an author?
This question surprised me, but I love it! I should give it more thought, but what pops to mind first is the feeling I get when a new idea that I’m really excited about hits me, and I can’t wait to start writing. That idea might not turn into a great story or ever be published, but I think the chances are higher because that passion comes across in the writing. Parts of writing can feel like plowing through, so when those sparks of inspiration hit, it makes the work feel worthwhile. Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to interact much with children and read/talk about my books with them, but another wonderful part of being an author is hearing the questions children ask about your books – often not what you expected!
KC: What are you working on now/next and where can people follow you online?
I’m always revising and writing new picture books, which my agent is submitting, and my goal is to start developing some ideas I have for early chapter books and middle grade. But picture books hold a special place in my heart, so I know I’ll continue writing those even as I challenge myself with other genres.
If people would like to stay in touch, they can subscribe to my newsletter on my website (www.MelanieEllsworth.com) to receive occasional musings, book thoughts/recommendations, and event updates. My other social media links are in my bio, and I enjoy connecting with other readers and writers!
Melanie Ellsworth writes picture books, including HIP, HIP…BERET! (HMH, 2021) and CLARINET AND TRUMPET (HMH, 2021). She lives in mid-coast Maine with her family. As a former ESOL teacher and literacy specialist, Melanie loves all parts of the writing process, from gathering ideas to revising to sharing books. Visit Melanie at www.MelanieEllsworth.com, on Twitter @melanieells, Instagram @melaniebellsworth, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MelanieEllsworthAuthor.