Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals
Jennifer Welborn (author) Rozillia MH (illustrator)
Waterbear Publishing, LLC 2022
Jennifer Welborn, a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), has a B.S. degree in wildlife management (she has worked with moose, coyotes, bobcats, and bald eagles) and an M.Ed. in science education. As an
award-winning science educator, she has taught people of all ages and has written numerous articles, plays, labs, and activities that have been published in scientific journals and textbooks. Two of her professional goals are to educate young people about how to care for the Earth and its inhabitants and to increase representation through education. Jennifer lives with her family in Western Massachusetts where she enjoys going on hikes with her veterinarian husband and their Italian water dog, Bari. Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals is her debut children’s book.
Hi Jennifer, Welcome to Reader Views Kids, we’re delighted to talk to you today! Tell us a bit about Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals.
It’s about a young girl named Rosie who chases her dreams and becomes a veterinarian. Rosie is fascinated by her mother’s work as a veterinarian, and loves to observe and assist in caring for animals. During a break from her endless questioning, Rosie falls asleep and dreams she encounters a variety of animals, each suffering from a common childhood illness. Rosie applies her expertise to heal each animal.
What was your inspiration behind the story?
About five years ago, my husband, who is a wildlife veterinarian, sent me a photo of a baby giraffe who was being treated at a nearby veterinary hospital. The giraffe had a neck bandage and I thought about how awful it would be to have something wrong with your neck if you were a giraffe. So, I asked my husband if giraffes get sore throats and he said, of course!
Then, I started to think about other animals with exaggerated or distinctive body parts who might also have afflictions that are common in children. It turns out that, for example, rabbits do get earaches (otitis), pigs do get stomach aches (gastritis), elephants do get stuffy noses (rhinitis), etc. I thought to myself that this is a children’s story waiting to be written. There are animals that seem really different from people yet they have the same afflictions. These commonalities make the book very relatable to children.
Children have booboos, stuffy noses, bumps, ear aches, skinned knees, and rashes, to name a few. And kids are often made to feel better using nasal sprays, hot or cold packs, bandaids, and even the suggestion to lie down and get rest!
What do you hope children will take away from the book?
There are many takeaways. As a science educator, I want children to be introduced to the idea of veterinary medicine as a STEM career. If children don’t have pets, they would not necessarily know that there are animal doctors. Currently, the U.S. is facing a severe shortage of veterinarians. There are roughly 135,000,000 companion pets in America, and fewer than 60,000 veterinarians to keep them healthy. I also want children to see many examples of empathy and learn that they have more in common with animals than they knew. I want children to also see that sometimes animals can be helped using natural methods that are also used to heal people.
What is the main message you want to impart to young readers through the story and illustrations?
The main message I want to impart is that young readers should be observant, be curious, ask questions, respect living things, and seek safe ways to help them, if needed. As our planet continues to become a challenging place to exist for many species of animals, it is important for everyone, including children, to use what we know or find innovative ways to safely help animals.
How did you come up with the characters and storyline?
Overall, the story is based on my husband, who travels to see his patients by motorcycle, ATV, and helicopter (but not by scuba.. at least not yet)! I wanted the main characters to be female since I did not have female characters as role models in science picture books when I was little and I LOVED science. Rozillia, the illustrator, chose to portray Rosie and her mom as females of color because she too loved science as a child and never saw science-themed picture books featuring Black characters. She wanted them to specifically be African American because she identifies as African American.
Tell us about Rosie. What motivates her in the story?
Rosie is a curious, self-confident, and bright kid who looks up to her mother and feels special when her mom lets her come into the veterinary exam room on occasion. She loves to assist her mom and asks questions to learn different ways people help animals who are sick or injured, and why those ways work. Her mom responds to her questions and Rosie takes it all in. This information empowers Rosie to make choices and problem-solve in new situations (if even in a dream) and use her power to help animals feel better. Rosie’s dream allows her to explore her hope of being a veterinarian when she grows up.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
The most challenging aspect was writing a STEM book that was interesting, informative, and engaging for a younger audience (ages 4-8). I was a middle school teacher for over twenty years and I have a lot of experience writing and publishing educational and engaging content for that age group, but not for younger children.
How did you ensure the book was both entertaining and educational?
I know several veterinarians who advised me and also gave me resources to help ensure the story was educational. To make it entertaining, I used afflictions and remedies that children could connect with but then made the story intriguing through the ways Rosie travels and the variety of patients she meets. Up until age 8, children will follow along and then are surprised at the end when they find out it was all a dream. Right around age 8, children will start to say, “That’s not possible…she can’t really be doing that!”
What research did you do to ensure the book was accurate with regards to veterinary medicine?
I consulted with veterinarians and used the following print references: Miller, R. E., & Fowler, M. E. (2015), Fowler’s Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine (5th edition) and The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Animal Care Manual provided to me by the San Diego Zoo. This comprehensive manual is informed by veterinarians, scientists, nutritionists, reproduction physiologists, behaviorists, and researchers.
What do you think sets “Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals” apart from other children’s books?
First and foremost, there are very few informational fiction books for kids about veterinary medicine. And, there are even fewer ones whose lead characters are females of color. The ones I’ve seen are either completely fictional or are content heavy and appeal to kids who are already interested in veterinary medicine. With Dr. Rosie, I wanted to introduce kids to veterinary medicine as a profession, but also have a book that is engaging to all kids and has enough real science in it to make it informative and educational. As I mentioned, the story is based on and informed by real-world veterinarians, who may, in fact, choose natural remedies for minor afflictions. This is part of a large-scale effort to decrease the overuse of antibiotics. My dog was recently treated by a licensed veterinarian for a small cut on his leg using pharmaceutical grade Manuka honey. Manuka honey is both antimicrobial and hypotonic, in that it draws fluid away from the wound.
How have you seen the book impact children?
Rozillia, the illustrator, and I have given many readings and presentations at bookstores, public libraries, and schools. We have observed many children who connect with Rosie and the story. We have also received photos of childrens’ artwork showing ways they have helped animals. Their adorable pictures were inspired by reading Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals in their classrooms.
What are some of the positive messages you hope to convey through the book?
I hope to convey the importance of observation, curiosity, imagination, and empowerment in
problem-solving. I also hope young readers see the value of empathy and respect for other living beings. Lastly, representation matters; thus a book featuring a professional Black woman and her daughter provides strong positive role models for all children, particularly young girls of color.
How did you find your illustrator?
While I was developing the manuscript, Rozillia MH, the illustrator, was working with me teaching middle school science. She would often instantaneously create whimsical but scientifically accurate illustrations to show students science concepts in clear and simple ways. This was exactly the kind of illustration I was thinking about for the book: whimsical and scientifically accurate. She was a clear choice for the illustrator.
What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?
Although I had been thinking about the concept of the story for over five years, the manuscript was finalized and illustrated during the pandemic. Rozillia made all of the decisions about the illustrations. We would check in with each other via Zoom about once a month and it was SO FUN to see the visual choices she made. Our Zoom meetings were joyous events at a time when there was not a lot of joy.
What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?
Having a story that provides STEM core concepts while still being fun and engaging.
What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?
I typically read nonfiction science books by a variety of authors. Regarding children’s book authors and stories, I have favorites from my childhood and my own children’s childhood (they are 27 and 30 years old). Many of my favorite stories are beloved classics written by well-known authors: A.A.Milne, Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, E.B. White, and Margaret Wise Brown, to name a few. Books that I enjoyed reading to my own kids were authored by: Arnold Lobel, Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola, Barbara Cooney, Jan Brett, Leo Lionni, Sandra Boynton, Mem Fox, Jane Yolen, and Bill Martin Jr.. While writing Dr. Rosie, I have reconnected with children’s literature and have read some amazing books! Some of my favorites are authored by: Mo Willems, Andrea Wang, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Mitsumas Anno, Antwan Eady, and Gail Gibbons.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
I would say I am not so much inspired by individual writers as I am by particular stories. Stories that move me are ones where the text and illustrations work well to portray and validate childhood experiences and feelings. I also value stories that have complexity, where there are a range of lessons and perspectives offered.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
I have two grown children with whom I love to spend time. I also swim on a masters swim team, participate in triathlons, sew quilts, play the piano and flute, and love to go hiking with my husband and our Italian water dog named Bari.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
If there is no wind, row. It is a Latin proverb.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?
Don’t lose sight of your reason for writing your book. Identify what strengths you bring to the process. Seek help/advice from others when you need it. The picture book author community is very supportive and will help you in important, and sometimes unsuspecting ways.
So, what’s next for you?
I just completed a Spanish/English bilingual edition of Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals. La Doctora Rosie Ayuda a los Animales was just released on April 29, World Veterinary Day. I am also working with Waterbear Publishing to develop an educational companion website for Dr. Rosie. It will house integrated, standards-based lesson plans, extensions, and enrichment activities, teacher resources, and information about veterinary medicine. All materials on drrosiehelpstheanimals.org will be free and downloadable to any interested educators. The site will be launched July 1, 2023.
Will we see Dr. Rosie in more adventures?
The book ends with Rosie’s mom inviting her to come along to help a polar bear on an iceberg…that sounds like the beginning of another adventure to me.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CONNECT WITH JENNIFER WELBORN
ROZILLA’S INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/rozilliah/
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