Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Q&A with Melanie Ellsworth


Photo by Amy Wilton



Melanie Ellsworth is the author of the new children's picture book Battle of the Books. Her other books include Clarinet and Trumpet. She lives in Maine.


Q: What inspired you to write Battle of the Books?


A: This book was inspired in part by my daughter’s love of reading picture books. I imagined that when she approached her bookshelf, the books must be thinking, “Read me! Pick me!” (In fact, one of my early titles for this book was READ ME!)


I knew I had to write this story from the books’ point of view where every night is a competition to be chosen for story time.


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you change things along the way?


A: This book changed quite a lot on its journey. Originally, I envisioned a Velveteen Rabbit element, with an older book pushed to the back of the shelf, tattered and no longer read. The other books didn’t even consider the old book to be competition for story time, but then one night, the child needed comfort and chose this old book once again.


And in another early version of Battle of the Books, I had the old book being a mentor for a newer book on the shelf. So the ending of the story definitely changed over time as the plot evolved from a relationship between a child and one of his books to the love of a child for reading and ALL of his books.


And it also became a story of fairness and forgiveness as the books work together to rescue their friend, Pirate Book.


Through Tara Luebbe and Betty Cattie’s “Writing with the Stars” contest in 2017, I ended up winning a mentorship with author Beth Ferry, and the book further changed when she suggested trying it in prose instead of rhyme. That change to prose freed me up to add more dialogue and amp up the humor in the book.


Q: What do you think James Rey Sanchez's illustrations add to the book?


A: I love James Rey Sanchez’s bold color choices and the energy he infuses into Battle of the Books. It must have been a challenge to find creative ways to make the setting - a bookshelf – interesting and to animate the main characters – books – to bring them to life.


James also made the book funnier through his illustrations. Pirate Book, with his gold teeth and eye patch, cracks me up! Pirate Book even has a lock, becoming an actual treasure chest - such a great metaphor for how I think of books as filled with the treasure of ideas and imagination.


I’m really looking forward to finally holding the printed book in my hands and fully appreciating James’ artwork! I own a copy of This Magical, Musical Night (by Rhonda Gowler Greene) that James illustrated, and his energy just leaps off the page in that book, too.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I hope kids have lots of fun and laughs reading this story and that older kids and adults enjoy the word play in the dialogue. Readers will pick up on themes of competition, fairness, and cooperation.


Adults reading to kids can have fun doing the voices of the different book characters, and I think many parents will relate to the bedtime phenomenon of a child holding a stack of books asking for “just one more!”


I also want this book to remind readers about how important books are to our lives and how all kinds of different stories have something to offer. As a literacy specialist, I know that reading aloud to kids is incredibly valuable, and that’s part of the message of this book.


Teachers can also use Battle of the Books with students to introduce various book genres and to talk about writing with older elementary students – how to use dialogue to create unique voices, for example.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m always writing picture books; I have more ideas than I have time to write! And I’ve been working on an early graphic reader series as well. It’s been fun to venture into new writing territory.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ll be having a virtual launch event through Print: A Bookstore (https://www.printbookstore.com/) on Aug. 24. James and I will read Battle of the Books and share a behind-the-scenes’ peek at how we created the book. We hope lots of book lovers will come join the book party!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Melanie Ellsworth.


  1. Hooray for ALL the books! So valuable to see how flexibility and perseverance with form, format and concept is really essential in publishing a book!