Today on Writers’ Rumpus we’re talking with Betsy Ellor, author of MY DOG IS
NOT A SCIENTIST, illustrated by Luisa Vera, available April 18 from Yeehoo Press.
When I saw the title of Betsy Ellor’s debut picture book, MY DOG IS
NOT A SCIENTIST, I laughed out loud! Then I crossed my fingers and hoped. Would this book have the humor, heart, and focus on science processes that the title promised? We live in a golden age of STEM kidlit, with new books about science and scientists coming out every month. Many books dig deep into the WHYS of specific topics—concepts, content, and facts that are the fruit of years of research and discovery—and such books are gems. But fewer books authentically center, in a kid-friendly way, the HOW—the practices of science that lead to new discoveries, practices such as asking testable questions, observing, recognizing patterns, being willing to make mistakes, and thinking in unconventional ways.
I’m happy to report that MY DOG IS
NOT A SCIENTIST lives up to its promise and more. This book is for curious kids who want to know HOW to get answers, not only by reading but also by asking questions directly of the world and thinking in ways that a scientist thinks. But it’s not just for the science-inclined! This book is also for any kid who’s ever had an ambition, a rival, a deadline, or an overenthusiastic dog! Plus, it’s just plain funny. The storyline, action, and art make it a go-to read-aloud for every kid, whether or not they’re interested in science (yet).
And now for the interview!
Marianne Knowles: Betsy, welcome to Writers’ Rumpus! I have to ask, how did you come up with this? The book works so well as both fiction and nonfiction.
Betsy Ellor: Thanks. I love learning, but I also love writing character-based stories so most of my writing walks that line between fiction and nonfiction – a fictional character engaging with interesting facts. The idea for this book came to me very easily. My son and I did loads of science projects together from a very early age and our crazy dog, River, was always right there with us. One day we were talking about observation and the scientific method and I noticed that River was an expert at observing with her senses. The rest of the story grew organically from there. I actually made a little video about where the story came from.
MK: You clearly “get” science, and yet you’re not a scientist, your background is creative writing and interior design. How did you come to write a picture book whose central theme is the practices of science?
BE: I know, right? Talk about imposter syndrome. Promoting this book I keep thinking “What am I doing? I’m not a scientist.” But then I think “Betsy! The tagline of the book that you wrote is ‘Anyone can be a scientist if they follow their curiosity’ so you are a scientist!” I may not be trained as a scientist, but I am VERY curious. I ask a lot of questions and then try to find answers to them. If you’re curious about the world around you it’s nearly impossible not to learn about science. Also, there might be some benefit to not being a trained scientist. I think because my knowledge comes from my own curiosity and observations rather than formal training, my stories tend to show science in a way that is relatable and approachable.
MK: That’s a great point! Next question: Luisa Vera’s colorful, lively art adds so much to the storytelling. Do you have a favorite spread from the book, and what makes it your favorite?
BE: Yes! My favorite spread is the one at the climax where Yara uses creative problem-solving and a heavy dose of emotional resilience to turn what she thought were ruined experiments into a winning idea. The spread has a lot of hilarious Renzo illustrations in it, which I love. It also has power statements “A scientist is creative!” “A scientist is bold!” “A scientist never gives up!” I love the energy Luisa captured in Yara’s moment of overcoming her obstacles.
MK: How did you come up with Yara’s Question list? This is one of the best back-matter question lists I’ve seen in any recent STEM book. And by “best” I mean, a kid can do experiments and make observations at home, on their own, to explore these questions themselves.
BE: Thank you so much for saying that. My goal is always to inspire kids to be curious. With the back matter, I tried to think of what kinds of questions my son and his friends were curious about at the early elementary age and deliberately picked questions tied to things kids would observe in their normal life. All the questions could definitely benefit from adult help with research and setting up experiments but I wanted kids to feel like they owned the observation and questioning stages of science.
MK: What was this book’s journey from idea to printed page?
BE: What I love about the story of this book is how it contrasts with my as-yet-unpublished projects. My previous projects I slaved over for months doing dozens of drafts, I studied market and comps carefully and submitted them everywhere. A few come very close to acquisition but never made it. With My Dog Is NOT A Scientist I had the idea one day, wrote the first draft in one sitting, revised it maybe twice, sent it to Yeehoo because I’d met Helen Wu at an SCBWI conference, forgot all about it and a year later Yeehoo reached out to acquire it. I wrote this story largely for my own amusement, but I think it was my joy in writing it that carried into the manuscript and sold it. I should say that I did do many more revisions with my editor at Yeehoo, Molly Shen, but the story’s journey taught me that while all the things I’ve learned studying how to be a writer for children are useful, the joy in storytelling is really the most important part of the process.
MK: What’s next? Are you busy with launch activities for MY DOG IS NOT A SCIENTIST? Do you have more books out on sub, or coming out soon? What can you tell us about them? What other writing-related activities do you do?
BE: Aaaahhhhh! So much I want to say and so little I can say. I have a couple more picture books and a middle-grade novel that I hope I can share soon. In the meantime, My Dog Is NOT A Scientist is keeping me busy with events and storytimes. I just finished two new picture books I’m starting to submit, still trying to find the right agent and diving into my next middle-grade novel. It’s an exciting time.
An interior designer by day, Betsy Ellor lives in a home filled with color, chaos and creative projects run wild. Her 2021 anthology Heroic Care: 35 Writers & Artists Show What It Means to Care reached the top 30 on Amazon, and her family musical Sara Crewe has been performed across the US. Her latest project, My Dog is NOT a Scientist releases April 18 from Yeehoo Press. Learn more on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter
My Dog is
NOT a Scientist!
By Betsy Ellor
Illustrated by Luisa Vera
Available April 18, 2023 from YeeHoo Press
Purchase the book at IndieBound or Amazon or learn more on Betsy’s website or at Yeehoo Press.
Congratulations; interesting to hear the back story on how this fun book came about!
“My Dog is Not a Scientist” looks really fun. Congratulations.