chatting with shelley rotner about homer

Hot Dog! Throw me a bone!

Award-winning children’s author, photo-illustrator and photo journalist Shelley Rotner is here to tell us all about her latest picture book, Homer (Orchard/Scholastic, 2012)!

Once again, Shelley has collaborated with author/illustrator Diane deGroat to create another awesome, adorable, hilarious dog book that’s got tails wagging and readers rolling over with glee all over the country.

Diane and Shelley

You may remember when Diane stopped by in 2009 to tell us about their first book together, Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth!, which won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Best Book Award and was named one of Time’s Top Ten Children’s Books for 2009.

For Homer, Shelley and Diane again combined photographs with digital art to create a series of tickle-your-funny-bone illustrations, and this time they’ve upped the ante with a charming story that pairs dogs with baseball.

Doggers locker room

Golden Retriever Homer and his owner Alex both love baseball, but Homer has a secret life! One night while Alex is asleep, Homer sneaks out to meet his canine friends at the baseball field. Homer plays first base for the Doggers, who are up against the Hounds for the championship. Things look very bleak for the Doggers, who are down 3 to 0 at the bottom of the ninth. They’ve got one last chance with the bases loaded. Can Homer come through for his team?

For this book, Shelley took about 2000 photographs of over 100 dogs of various breeds. Suffice to say, she must be the patron saint of patience having to position the dogs to match Diane’s drawings. The dogs’ facial expressions and human posturings are not only comical but oh-so-endearing, sure to elicit lots of giggles and “aw’s” from readers of all ages. I also love all the baseball puns and references, from dog catchers, taking a walk, and the Howl of Fame, to players’ names like Yogi, Whitey, Sandy and Mickey. Yip!

Hounds line-up

Since last time Diane showed us how she digitally manipulates the photos and adds her drawings, I thought it would be fun this time to ask Shelley, herself a passionate dog lover, about what it was actually like taking all the photos. So, Sit. Stay. Read on!


Casey (Homer) in cover pose

Shelley, could you briefly describe your role as photographer for this book?

Well, we had a prototype for the book. It took me several months to photograph and then to get some “extras” that Diane specifically needed as the book started taking shape.

My job started with finding the 18 dogs that made up the (2) teams- the Doggers and the Hounds. The Doggers were the “nice guys” and the Hounds were the “tough guys.”  I tried to get a diversity of dogs that represented these teams. Once the dog teams were picked I had to photograph the dogs and their “parts” so that Diane could re-assemble them for their roles in the book. Hands, whoops I mean paws up for cheering- different expressions- very similar to photographing young children.

Besides the team players there were hundreds of other dogs for the stands. In addition, we tried to use all the dogs from our 1st book, Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth!  Most of the dogs are local that I see around town or on the trails. Others are from a dog park in NYC on the upper Westside.

Yogi (real name, Thaddeus), one of Shelley’s faves from the book.

What kind of camera did you use to take the photos for this book? What made it especially suitable for this particular project?

I just used a digital camera. I’m not big on equipment. I think it’s more about your vision and how you see. Technology allows almost anyone to take photos these days. If you must know, I do use Nikons.

What factors make a dog easy or difficult to photograph – does it come down to breed, the dog’s personality, or your particular rapport with him/her?

I guess since I usually photograph children who sometimes cooperate or not, I can make a general comparison. Dogs are kind of like 3-year-olds. There is the random mood factor but a well-trained dog definitely helps make my job easier. And just like humans, some dogs are more expressive than others. It’s really about which dogs resonate in some way to me.

And last but probably most important are bribes. Bribes REALLY help!  A dog will almost do anything for a treat. Kids will too. (candy? ice cream?)

Shelley with Blue, her adopted shared dog she’s photographed every week since birth.

Can you offer a few general tips/tricks for photographing dogs, especially with regard to eliciting certain expressions or getting certain angles/poses?

Yes- I have learned to make a high-pitched squeal and almost always dogs will look at me and tilt their head. Some dogs respond to “squirrel” and others to “Puppy, puppy, puppy” in a high voice.

You’re a dog person, while your collaborator Diane deGroat is a cat person. It does seem like most people are either one or the other. What do you think makes them so?

I’m not sure. Maybe it’s like love. It just is.

Shelley and Casey visit Moharimet ES in Madbury, NH., for their Scholastic Book Fair event.

Are you a baseball fan? If so, whom are you rooting for this season? 

I used to be a NY Yankee fan growing up in NY and also going to a lot of games with my Grandpa. I’ve just finished another book (e-book),  HOME TEAM: NEW YORK YANKEES. I’ve had to go to Yankee games the last (3) years so it’s re-ignited some baseball spirit. This might be the 1st of a series of books called HOME TEAM.  The books are about the fan experience and the great American pastime shared with generations of baseball lovers.

This was your second children’s book featuring digital photo/illustration collage. Was it easier this time around? Did you do anything differently based on lessons learned from the first book? 

Well this project might have been somewhat easier for Diane because of the technological learning curve and easier for me because of the experience of photographing dogs, but there were a lot more dogs.

Balls are Casey’s favorite toy.

Casey, the real golden retriever who is Homer in the book, is such a beautiful, charismatic, photogenic dog. Please share one of your favorite memories involving just you and him.

Well, Homer  (Casey) is my brother’s dog so I’ve known him since he was a young pup. I guess one of my favorite memories of him is watching him with my then 10-year-old Aussie. It was spring and they were playing in the grass and the bluets were blooming. He’s also great to watch on running through the woods, chasing sticks, and hanging out with his sister Zoey.

Shelley with Casey
Casey with his best friend and sister Zooey
Shelley’s Aussie, Ginger, who passed away several years ago while they were working on the first book.
Spread featuring Ginger from Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth

Anything else you’d like to add? Are you and Diane working on another book together?

I never realized just how popular baseball is so was pretty thrilled to put baseball with the popularity of dogs. Nothing in the works with Diane now. I think if we were going to collaborate again it would have to be cats!

For now we’re busy promoting HOMER. We have a fall event at ORVIS (Dog Day) and hoping to be at the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

Shelley and Diane being interviewed by Monte on WRSI New England radio.


Thanks so much, Shelley! I’ll never look at dogs quite the same way again. You and Diane have definitely hit this one out of the park. AaaaarrrroooooOO!


♥ Shelley and Diane will be signing their dog books at the Orvis Flagship Store in Manchester, Vermont, on October 7th and 8th — mark your calendars! Dogs are welcome, and who knows, maybe Homer himself (Casey) will be there too and you can get his pawtograph!

♥ Check out the official book trailer:

♥ You have GOT to visit the Silly Dog Books website, where you can see profiles of most of the dogs in the book. Find out about their real names, likes, dislikes, special talents and the naughtiest things they’ve ever done! There’s also a great Process Page with a step-by-step explanation of how Shelley and Diane created the illustrations, and a Fun Page featuring downloadable baseball trading cards, coloring pages, and Biscuit Recipes!

Shelley Rotner’s official website.

Diane deGroat’s official website.



**Spreads from Homer posted with permission, text and illustrations copyright © 2012 Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner, published by Orchard Books/Scholastic. All rights reserved.

***Spread from Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth! posted with permission, text and illustration copyright © 2009 Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner, published by Orchard Books/Scholastic. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

5 thoughts on “chatting with shelley rotner about homer

    1. I know — I love Casey! Shelley’s photos bring out the best in all the dogs. Now we know what they’re all up to when we’re asleep! Wonder what position Echo plays :).


Comments are closed.