Ellen is a former child and current member of the fellowship of flawed persons. She has worked as an elementary school teacher and curriculum specialist in L.A. public schools. She’s a freelance writer and author of more than 60 award-winning books for children.
For what age audience do you write?
I write picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, and sometimes books for older children. I’ve written about astronomy, the solstices, animals, tools, earthquakes, law-related education, the U.S. presidents, and described how children lived 1000 years ago. Six of my books are retold folk tales and five are rhyming picture books.
Henry: Impressive! I love rhyming picture books, but they are HARD to write well. I first learned of Ellen via her book BEASTLY BABIES.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book, BEASTLY BABIES, was tremendously fun to write. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the zany chaos created by babies–animal babies, that is.
Henry: It’s hard to think of a more cute and kid-friendly topic than baby animals.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I mostly hope they laugh and have a good time–and that they enjoy the illustrations. If there’s a message, it’s probably this: When parents are dealing with a nest or pond or den full of babies, hilarity ensues.
Henry: This is particularly true if the parent is a bear and the babies are goslings (MOTHER BRUCE). Or if the parents are birds and the baby is an alligator (FLAP YOUR WINGS).
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
It’s different for every book. In nonfiction, it’s taking a difficult concept or complex event and explaining it in simple words. For fiction, it’s devising the right ending. I’m pretty good at beginnings and middles, but endings are hard. You have to tie up all the loose ends in a satisfying, but original, way.
Henry: I find the beginning, middle, and end difficult to write. Other than that, it’s smooth sailing for me.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
I’ve learned to pay attention to my intuition and try to be as authentic a person as I can be. There’s an inner resonance I’m looking for in my writing. I try to write the book that only I can write.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
1. I had an opportunity to visit the top of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico and see the sun come up—a truly awe-inspiring sight. I was there to research my book LOOKING FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE (about SETI).
2. I got to see a professional musical production of CINDER EDNA, one of my picture books, and watched the cast receive a standing ovation.
3. Most importantly, I’ve received many, many letters and emails from children telling me how much they enjoyed one of my books. That touches my heart more than anything.
Henry: Fun! Of course, we can find extraterrestrials in many picture books.
Read the rest of this interview on Henry’s KidLit, Fantasy & SciFi blog.