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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz -Interview w/Betsy Ellor and Luisa Vera + Review of My Dog is not a Scientist

It was so fun talking with thid dynamic duo wo created a really funny STEM fiction picture book.

Betsy Ellor lives in a house where curiosity and chaos run wild. She divides her time between seeking out great stories and designing great spaces at Endicott College where others can cultivate their own curiosity.

Her previous works include the anthology Heroic Care: 35 Writers & Artists Show What It Means To Care, (2021) and Sara Crewe, a family musical that’s been performed across the U.S.


Luisa Vera was born in Spain in 1962. She has been drawing cartoons and watching stories unfold for as long as she can remember. She enjoys art (not all), dance (almost all) and a good laugh (above all). She took off to New York in 1985 in search of who knows what, but ultimately her career has advanced between that city and Barcelona, where she now lives. She uses a pencil, paper, a Mac, and lots of humor to portray the brighter, most ironic, kinder sides of life.

Luisa is the author/illustrator of Let’s go to the Museum (A Modern Art Adventure Maze) (2023) and illustrator of Casas del mundo by Pablo Aranda and Luisa Vera (2018), and Je M'appelle John Lennon, by Carmen Gil (2014).


Luisa is the illustrator of Je M'appelle John Lennon, by Carmen Gil (2014).


Luisa’s newest, and Betsy’s debut, picture book, My Dog is Not a Scientist, released yesterday!


Welcome Betsy and Luisa,


Tell us a little about yourselves. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )


BETSY - Well, like my bio says. I am an interior designer by day and also a single mom, so finding time for writing is a little tricky. I’m very deliberate about getting up at 5 am each day to write and then doing a bigger chunk of writing time on the weekends. There are always so many other priorities competing for my attention, but I’ve learned to keep my writing time as sacred time. I’ve been writing since I was 8 or 9 years old. I write picture books but also novels for kids and adults. It really depends on what stories are nagging to be told. Whatever form it comes in writing renews me so it’s worth the effort to make sure I do some writing every day.


LUISA - I’ve been drawing since I can recall. As a child, I was always with a pencil at hand.


I illustrate every day and I mean EVERY DAY. It’s my passion and my job. I love to illustrate children’s books the best, especially the ones that tell realistic stories about a child’s everyday life and experiences. Always trying to find the funniest moments of daily life.


It is so good to meet you both. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written of illustrated a manuscript?


BETSY - The great thing about writing is that it’s very portable :) I’ve written on trains, in coffee shops, in boring work meetings, in dimly lit hotel bathrooms while my son is sleeping in the bedroom. My last trip pre-pandemic was an extended tour of Spain - Luisa’s homeland. I can see why she can create such inspired art in such a beautiful place! My travel companion was a late sleeper so I enjoyed writing in the morning glow on many beautiful balconies that week. [Sounds wonderful!]


LUISA - I illustrated in a camping tent on a deserted island in Canada.


And last summer I broke my leg, and I illustrated a whole book in bed for two months. I felt a little bit like Frida Kahlo with all my papers, art supplies, and computer on the bed. That wasn’t easy. [Yikes!]


Betsy, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for My Dog is Not a Scientist?


BETSY - My son and I have loved doing science experiments for years and for just as many years my crazy dog, River, has been sticking her nose into them. Just like Yara in the book, I noticed 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 made a little video about the inspiration for the story.


Way to go River! Luisa, what about the My Dog is Not a Scientist manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?


LUISA - I thought it was so funny! The subject interested me very much and the characters were so appealing.


And you really expanded the humor beautifully. Betsy, what is the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing or illustrating My Dog is Not a Scientist?


BETSY - My Dog Is NOT A Scientist is a STEAM book with SEL themes of resilience and perseverance. Covering those big themes in a good story, with humor, and doing it all in a reasonable word count was the biggest challenge. With help of Yeehoo’s editors, we accomplished all those goals. It’s definitely more than 500 words or whatever some people say the word count goal is these days, but Yeehoo made a great choice in Luisa because her illustrations give kids so much to look at when you read the book aloud. I’ve done read-alouds with the very young and there are so many little things hidden in the illustrations and fun details to take in I haven’t had any problems with restless audiences.


LUISA - For me, it was definitely illustrating the chaos in Yara’s room without making it too confusing.


I think you both did great! How many revisions did My Dog is Not a Scientist take for the text or illustrations - from first draft to publication?


BETSY - Unlike every other manuscript I’ve ever written, I wrote the first draft of this story in one sitting. I did two revisions and then submitted it. I wrote the story simply for my own amusement and I think it was the joy I felt in writing it that was apparent to Yeehoo and moved them to acquire it. I did do more revisions after it was acquired, but it definitely taught me that more than anything else we need to have joy in the stories we tell to make them a success.


LUISA - Most illustrations were approved right away, but the pieces involving the chaos in the bedroom had 2/3 revisions.


Oh, that organized chaos called a room (or is it an office?). Luisa, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in My Dog is Not a Scientist? If so, could you share one or more with us?


LUISA - Yes! There’s a blue bird that appears in many of the scenes. This character has nothing to do with the story. It’s my discreet addition. He’s kind of an observer/witness to the whole process. The little insects in one of the experiments are also a funny touch. They not only appear during the experiment. I love illustrating insects and birds!


I really enjoyed hunting for the insects and the appearances of the blue bird. What's something you want your readers to know about My Dog is Not a Scientist?


BETSY - 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. The scientific method is a tool kids can use to help their exploration, but failure, missteps, and messes are part of science too. As Yara learns, sometimes through failing you discover something unexpected and even more amazing.


LUISA - I’d like to say that the scientific method can be applied, not only to Science, but to most aspects of life. I wish I’d known this fact earlier in life.


You both definitely succeeded in showing this to readers and encouraging them to explore. Betsy, when you first saw Luisa’s illustrations in My Dog is Not a Scientist, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Betsy Ellor, 2023. Image © Luisa Vera, 2023.


BETSY - Her illustrations are a delight. I was surprised by how every time I look at them I see more fun details. When I read the book aloud kids love seeking the little blue bird on every page or looking for where Eddie is spying on Yara. The book can be read again and again and again and you’ll always find new things to discover. My favorite spread in the one where Yara uses creative problem-solving to come up with a new idea to win the science fair. Not only does it have some hilarious drawings of Renzo, but it also shows Yara refusing to give up because “A scientist never gives up!”


Renzo really is such a fun character. Luisa, is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread?

Text © Betsy Ellor, 2023. Image © Luisa Vera, 2023.


LUISA - I especially like the spread where Renzo pees on the experiment. It made me laugh while I was working on it, and still does.


It's definitely true dog nature! And Renzo's face is perfect. Can you think of something you wish you’d known before you started the publication journey with My Dog is Not a Scientist?


BETSY - Honestly, it’s been a great journey. Yeehoo was wonderful to work with and helped me every step of the way. If anything I wish I would’ve known more about book marketing. That side of the business is still new to me even though I’ve published books before. It might always be a learning curve, but then again the only way to learn it is through doing it so I just keep doing my best, keep learning, and keep improving.


LUISA - I’d have liked to be more a scientist myself before I started illustrating it. I was never very good at science experiments, and had to actually try them out to represent them properly.


That must have been fun! Especially if, like Betsy, you had your own dog assistant. Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


BETSY - I have a couple more picture books and a middle-grade novel in the pipeline, but unfortunately nothing I can share yet. Right, I’m finishing up two new picture books and I’m diving into my next middle-grade novel. I’m definitely keeping busy.


LUISA - I’m working on five different books right now. I’m writing and illustrating them, which is quite a challenge. Two of them are comic books for toddlers. Another one is on animals in danger of extinction. I’m also working on a continuation of my Modern Art Museum book, this time, focused on Architecture for kids. And finally a book about a girl and her very unusual pet. This year’s a busy one for me. All of them will be initially published in Spain, and then… maybe they’ll travel to other parts of the world.


Good luck with all of these projects. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

BETSY - Yosemite is the one I’m longing to visit for sure. It’s been on my bucket list for a while but I never plan far enough ahead. I’m working on that for next summer. I love all the parks in my area of New England, but I’d have to say one of my very favorites is Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. I have family in that area and have traveled there a few times over the years. I love the Smokies, it’s always such a refreshing place to hike to hidden waterfalls and find inspiration sitting in the woods.

LUISA - My favorite park is Yellowstone National Park. I’d like to visit it more often, but it’s soooooo far from Barcelona.


Thank you Betsy & Luisa. I has been so much fun getting to meet you both and learn about your new picture book.


To find out more about Betsy Ellor, or to contact her:

Website: https://www.wordsunboundstudio.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bewordsunbound

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/betsy.ellor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/betsyellor/


To find out more about Luisa Vera, or to contact her:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/luisavera.estudio/?hl=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/luisa.vera.7965

Behance: https://www.behance.net/luisaveraestudio/

IMC Illustration Agency: https://iemece.com/es/ilustrador/174/luisa-vera


Review of My Dog is NOT a Scientist


A great book for dog-loving, curious kids who adore asking questions and making messes as they explore how and why the world works. With a dash of self-esteem and a helping of scientific method, this is a wonderful recipe for encouraging experimentation and discovery.

My Dog is NOT a Scientist


Author: Betsy Ellor


Illustrator: Luisa Vera


Publisher: Yeehoo Press (2023)


Ages: 3-10


Fiction


Themes:

Persistence, curiosity, trial and error, humor, self-esteem, and competition.


Synopsis:

A humorous, endearing story about a passionate, young scientist who is determined to achieve her goal—no matter what!


Yara is out to prove that she's the greatest scientist in town!


Her annoying neighbor Eddie always wins the Science Fair, but this year is going to be HER year. Like every good scientist, Yara starts with a question, makes observations, and comes up with a hypothesis . . . but each time she starts an experiment, her dog, Renzo, ruins it!


Could Renzo be up to something more than making trouble?


From Betsy Ellor and Luisa Vera comes a humorous, endearing story about a passionate, young scientist who is determined to achieve her goal—no matter what!


Opening Lines:

Yara is by far the greatest scientist in town. Unfortunately,

no one knows it yet. Her annoying neighbor, Eddie, always

wins the Science Fair.


“Not this year,” says Yara.


“This is MY year. I’m going to win.”

“No, you’re not!” says Eddie. “You’re not

a real scientist. I’m older, I’m smarter, and

I don’t have . . .


What I LOVED about this book:

Text © Betsy Ellor, 2023. Image © Luisa Vera, 2023.


It's so funny that the answer to what Eddie doesn't have is the loveable, energetic Renzo. I think Luisa Vera beautifully managed to create in Yara's room a mirror of her life - organized chaos. And although her chief rival has blue ribbons and an impeccably organized and super tidy room, he seems to resort to spying on Yara and taking every possible opportunity to confirm his hypothesis - Yara is not a proper scientist. Eliciting from Yara the repeated refrain - "Go away, Eddie!"


Despite her annoying neighbor, Yara doggedly progresses through the steps of the scientific method, determined to win the science fair this year. She asks a question (“What makes paper airplanes fly?”), observes with her senses, creates a hypothesis ("the part of the yard where grass will grow the fastest . . . "), then develops an experiment . . .

Text © Betsy Ellor, 2023. Image © Luisa Vera, 2023.


As if dealing with a constantly annoying, nosy neighbor isn't enough, Renzo seems determined to help Yara. Luisa Vera creates so much delicious chaos and misadventure through the actions of the ever exuberant, hungry dog. When Yara faces the final step - reporting the findings - it seems impossible to have a project for the science fair, until she realizes that Renzo has unknowingly been using the scientific method this whole time, just by being a dog - "Squirrel!"


The lively, colorful images will entertain the youngest reader and appeal to those who enjoy a comic feel. Fun back matter specifically explores the scientific method, invites readers to ask questions, and offers kids a chance to share their experiments with Yara and Rezo. This is a really fun way to encourage creativity, persistence, curiosity and adaptability. It's a great book for budding (and established) scientists encouraging them to take a chance, think creatively, and have fun.


Resources:

- try conducting a dog speed test, a plankton design challenge, and so many other fun experiments by Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.


- what have you wondered about? Make a guess. Can you create a way to test if you're right?

- have you doubted yourself or your ability to do something? Did you find something that helped you get rid of or deal with that doubt?


- check out the curriculum guide for My Dog is NOT a Scientist.


- pair this with The Mystery of the Monarchs: How Kids, Teachers, and Butterfly Fans Helped Fred and Norah Urquhart Track the Great Monarch Migration by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Erika Meza and My Brother the Duck by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated Daniel Wiseman.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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