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

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illustrator chat: diane degroat on charlie the ranch dog

Charlie, overwrought with excitement

Well, flap my jowls and tickle my ears! 

Have you ever seen a more lovable dog? Yep, it’s Charlie, easily the most famous basset hound in America. He lives with Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman herself, and his new picture book, Charlie the Ranch Dog (HarperCollins, 2011), has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for the past 6 weeks! Doggone awesome!

Is that bacon I smell on his breath?

Anyway, just in case you’re not familiar with the book (where on the wide prairie have you been?), it chronicles a typical day on the cattle ranch from Charlie’s point of view. Along with his best friend Suzie (a spunky Jack Russell terrier), he gets up too early every morning and works so hard (wink, wink) fixing fences, gardening, keeping cows and other critters in check, fishing, and rounding up cattle.

A dog this busy certainly deserves oodles of bacon a good meal and endless naps a little rest now and then just to keep his strength up. Why, if not for Charlie’s steady vigilance, Daisy the cow could have destroyed the garden! Personally, I happen to admire those who’ve perfected the fine art of napping and bacon nipping, and I know exactly how Charlie feels: a dog’s work is never done. ☺

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may small graces auction

     Approximately 5" x 5", original, unpublished, signed watercolor.

It’s Small Graces time again!

And look, it’s Gilbert!

In case you don’t recognize him, he’s the star of Diane deGroat’s highly popular picture book series. This endearing opossum first captured our hearts in Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink (William and Morrow, 1996), and eleven books later, he’s still going strong with his most recent adventure, April Fool! Watch Out at School! (HarperCollins, 2009). Gilbert even has his own I Can Read books now — have you seen Gilbert, the Surfer Dude (HarperCollins, 2009)? Let’s just say, interesting things happen when you go to the beach and forget your bathing suit. ☺


Looks like Gilbert is in a bit of a funk with that rain coming down. I’m sure he’ll feel much better if you place a bid! All proceeds from the Small Graces auctions benefit The Foundation for Children’s Books, a small non-profit that sponsors author and illustrator visits and residencies for under-served schools in the greater Boston area. Quite a win-win situation — your money goes to a good cause, and you have a chance to own some original art by one of the country’s premier, award-winning children’s book author/illustrators!

Besides creating the Gilbert series, Diane has illustrated well over a hundred books in her long, illustrious career. She was the very first person I ever interviewed for alphabet soup, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone warmer or more generous. We love you, Diane!

The auction runs all this week — so click on over to Ebay and place your bid! Gilbert told me he wants to go home with you! ♥

P.S. Here’s the perfect book to read this week for Mother’s Day:


Hope you’re having a good week!!

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

Surprise Guest: Top Dog Diane deGroat!

Diane with her collaborator, Shelley Rotner.

Woof woof! Hot diggety dog!

I’m pleased as punch today to welcome back supremely talented and prolific author/illustrator Diane deGroat, who has totally gone to the dogs with fellow author Shelley Rotner to create a thoroughly delightful, tickle your funny bone picture book, Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth

     Picture book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.     

Just released by Orchard/Scholastic on August 1st, this fold-out concept book combines photographs with digital art to illustrate what dogs do, and what they don’t do, and has readers of all ages howling with laughter and begging for more.

You don’t have to be a dog lover to appreciate these charismatic canines, who, thanks to Shelley’s expert photography and Diane’s clever Photoshop manipulations, can be seen doing fun things like playing tennis, eating with a knife and fork, playing in a rock band, and of course, brushing their teeth (with White Fang toothpaste, no less). The fold-out format is highly effective at keeping the suspense and surprise padding along at a good clip with nary a whimper. And if all this adorableness isn’t enough, the acknowlegement page features all the dogs’ names and breeds with their profile pictures. Yip!

Some of you may remember that Diane was my very first alphabet soup interviewee back in October 2007, when she stopped by to talk about the snowflake she had created for the Robert’s Snow auction. That’s when we all found out about this:

Yes, Diane’s famous taxidermy collection! Quite fascinating, no? Since then, Diane has published two more titles featuring everyone’s favorite possum, Gilbert, in addition to the new dogs book. So, why did Diane have to remove the canine’s canines? And what other tricks did she and Shelley perform for these perky posable pups? 

Sit. Stay. Read on:

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sweet treat for mother’s day

      by Diane deGroat (HarperCollins, 2008), 32 pp., ages 4-8

Back in October, I interviewed children’s author/illustrator Diane deGroat as part of Robert’s Snow: Blogging for a Cure. We had a lot of fun talking about her taxidermy collection, and she showed us how she created one of the pictures for her newest book about Gilbert the possum, Mother, You’re the Best! (But Sister, You’re a Pest!).

Published by HarperCollins and released this past March, this 11th title in the wildly popular Gilbert and Friends series of picture books (appropriate for ages 4-8), finds Gilbert longing to please his mother with a special gift. After burning the toast, spilling the cereal, and drenching his Mother’s Day card in orange juice, Gilbert takes breakfast upstairs to Mother, but his younger sister, Lola, is already there. He is jealous of Lola sitting on Mother’s lap, so he offers to take Lola to the store.

As the day unfolds, Gilbert ends up giving Lola a bath, and then reading to her at naptime — both attempts to keep Lola from absorbing all of Mother’s attention. At the end of the day, he discovers to his surprise that he has given Mother the gift she wanted most of all — some time to herself. And to sweeten the pot, he finally gets what he’s longed for all day — some time alone with her.

This story is endearing and heartfelt without being saccharine, and expresses well an older sibling’s longing for one-on-one parental attention. Buoyant watercolor illustrations draw the reader into Gilbert’s warm, cozy world of home, school, and neighborhood. A lovely addition to home or school libraries!

I asked Diane to share a favorite childhood recipe, and she sent me this:


Wonder bread
fresh peaches (very ripe)

1. Peel and cut peaches into large chunks, removing pits and any brown spots. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Let sit until the sugar is dissolved and syrupy.

2. Spread margarine onto both sides of bread. Fry until browned and greasy.

3. Spoon some peaches over the hot bread, and eat it with a knife and fork.

**This recipe is also included in Writers in the Kitchen, compiled by Tricia Gardella (Boyds Mills Press, 1998). Diane offers this preface:

My mother regarded cooking as an unnecessary evil. Rheumatic fever in her childhood left her without a sense of smell or taste, which was helpful when changing diapers for five kids, but did nothing for the subtleties of food preparation. Her own personal diet consisted of Velveeta cheese with Ritz crackers and Pepsi spiked with Port wine; supper for the rest of us was usually hot dogs and burnt french fries, or meat loaf made from ground beef and oatmeal. Period. I know we had salt in the cabinet — we used it to melt ice on the front steps, but if we had anything like garlic or basil, it never found its way into the meat loaf.

Sometimes she made something delicious, like peaches on toast. It appeared whenever the market had a run on overripe peaches, which were free. I’ve made it with whole grain bread and Pam instead of margarine, but the original is still better.


Visit Diane’s website for a full list of all her wonderful books, and if you missed it, check out the in-depth interview.