From Words to Pictures: Collaboration, Creativity, & Curiosity: An Interview with Shelley Rotner

From composting to skin color, from seasons to adoption, from bees to A.D.D., Shelley Rotner has created more than thirty unique photographic journeys for children.  With a career spanning over twenty years, her first book, Changes, was published in 1991, she currently has one title due out in fall 2014, and another expected in spring 2015.


Although Northampton is her home base, Shelley has traveled the world as a photographer for the United Nations and continues to work as a photojournalist.  Even with so many children’s titles with her byline, Shelley considers herself first to be a photographer. She intentionally seeks out images that represent the diversity of the world we live in and at times she says she has had to put her foot down with publishers to maintain her commitment to a multbodyactionsicultural portrait.

Before entering the world of children’s publishing, Shelley trained at Bank Street School of Education in New York City, earning dual degrees in early childhood and museum education.  She worked briefly both in Manhattan and in Milton, MA as a kindergarten teacher. When her daughter asked for books she couldn’t find in libraries or bookstores, she and Shelley began making their own books together.

beesNot surprisingly, Shelley’s natural creativity and curiosity lead her onto each new project.  She stands on her head every day in order to get her creative juices flowing (perhaps something we should all try!) and although she describes five-year-olds as her sweet spot and the target audience for most of her books, she herself attended kindergarten for only one week until she was moved up to first grade.shades

Shelley prides herself on saying more with less. Her photos speak for her. Her text is usually minimal and poetic, allowing readers to make their own connections. Through the combination of words and pictures, Shelley Rotner’s books accomplish that rare connection with the reader that few nonfiction texts do.  Collaboration is key to her success, she says; she has collaborated on most of her titles.

However, children’s books are not her sole interest. Currently she is creating breathtaking artworks by painting in oils on her black and white photographs. Check out her website ( to see these gorgeous images as well as to learn more about this prolific children’s book creator.  Shelley is available for school visits and loves interacting with children, especially the young ones.

Suzanne Mathews is the elementary school librarian at the Trotter School in Boston


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