Author Spotlight: Melanie Ellsworth
Feb. 12, 2021
We are excited to feature author Melanie Ellsworth and her debut picture book, HIP HIP...BERET! illustrated by Morena Forza (HMH Books for Young Readers), out on Feb. 23. Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I was fortunate to grow up with parents who were avid readers. My mother took me to the library often, and I was around ten years old when she started reading Charles Dickens’ novels aloud to me. While I didn’t understand all of the vocabulary or the complicated sentence structures, hearing the words read aloud helped me understand the rhythm and make sense of the stories. I learned the intended lesson – that good stories are worth a struggle and with a bit of effort, I could read anything I wanted. My father has a real affinity for puns and poetry (especially limericks), and he passed his love of word play down to me. You’ll find plenty of word play in my first two picture books!
When my daughter was born, I shared my favorite childhood picture books with her, and we spent lots of time discovering new picture books at the library. I was reminded of how much I loved that genre and started writing my own picture books, grabbing free moments between working as a literacy specialist and caring for my daughter.
Congrats on your debut picture book Hip, Hip... Beret! illustrated by Morena Forza! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
I like to play around with familiar phrases and idioms, changing them slightly to make them into something new. I was playing with the phrase, “Hip, hip, hooray!” by changing the last word of the phrase, and eventually I landed on “Hip, hip, beret.” I had fun picturing all the heads a beret might land on when the wind carries it on a journey, and I thought children would enjoy predicting the end rhymes.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
It felt fairly long but was probably typical of the timeline for many writers. I started writing seriously in 2012 when I joined a critique group and SCBWI, and I started attending writing workshops and conferences over the next several years. In June of 2018, I got a revise/resubmit offer from HMH on a picture book that had been read aloud during the slush pile panel at a conference, and that was followed by another offer a few months later for HIP, HIP…BERET! So from the offer in August 2018 to publication in February 2021, HIP HIP’s journey has taken about 2 ½ years.
What projects are you working on now, or what other books do you have coming out?
My next book is Clarinet and Trumpet, illustrated by John Herzog and published by HMH Books for Young Readers, and it comes out next month (March 30, 2021). My agent is submitting other projects, and I’m always working on revising and writing new picture books. I’m also venturing into early reader graphic novel territory to shake things up creatively and because I have some ideas that may fit better in that genre. And this might be the year to finally finish that MG novel I keep trying to ignore!
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
I knew a lot of talented young writers growing up, and I was a bit intimidated. I didn’t think I’d ever be as good a writer as some of my classmates and that scared me away from becoming involved in school publications. So what I’d tell myself now is that it’s okay to do the things you love without comparing yourself to those around you. Just keep practicing your craft. I always enjoyed the editing process and wish I had ventured into a publishing internship after college. It just seemed like a pie-in-sky fantasy at the time, but so did being a published author! I would tell my young self and any aspiring author to just go all in! Remember to have your own back!
I’m not actually a fan of hats – on myself, that is (weird-shaped head, I guess). I think other people look quite stunning in them. (Hmm…this may tie in with the previous question.) But, writing and publishing this book has taken some of my hat-fear away. I now happily wear a beret. Maybe my writing mantra should be, “Write what you fear!” 😊
Where can people find you online?
Melanie Ellsworth is the author of HIP, HIP…BERET! (HMH, February 23, 2021) and CLARINET & TRUMPET (HMH, March 30, 2021). She has a Masters in Language and Literacy and has worked as a literacy specialist and an ESOL teacher. Now, she writes in mid-coast Maine where she lives with her husband, daughter, and her co-worker dog.
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