Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Welcome to another interview in our ongoing series. For this interview, we were able to speak with multi-Mom’s Choice Award-winning author Ellie Smith! Ellie Smith is the author of the “Tex the Explorer” series and we wanted to talk to her about her latest book, Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans! In this whimsical young adventure story, the main character, Tex, is a young T-Rex who loves to explore. For his birthday his parents gave him a ship with a submarine. Tex is off to explore the oceans! The “Tex the Explorer” series is also special because the spectacular illustrations that can be found within each book are by Eyen Johnson, Ellie’s old student! Keep reading to find out more about Ellie Smith, Eyen Johnson, and their award-winning book, Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans!
MCA: Hi Ellie! It is so nice to get the chance to speak with you again, and congratulations on your newest Mom’s Choice Award! Can we start the interview by hearing a little bit about both of you and Eyen, including what you’ve both been up to since your last interview in December 2021?
Ellie: I am a retired special education teacher. I met Eyen when he was in kindergarten and by third grade, I realized what an amazingly talented artist he was. When he was in fifth grade we agreed to create books together, once he was an adult. Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans is the fifth book we have collaborated on together.
Since last December, Eyen and I have been very busy. Our Journey to the Oceans book took a lot of research and work. We also have been working on greeting cards featuring Tex.
Eyen and I live about four hours apart now, so it was a real treat that we were able to meet at the Air and Space Annex in Virginia to get some new updated photos of us. One of my grandsons joined us and we had a really fun day at the museum!
MCA: What an amazing and sweet history you two share! We cannot wait to check out those greeting cards. Can you tell us about what the inspiration was behind writing Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans?
Ellie: This is an easy question to answer. The inspiration was my mom! My mother has actually been an inspiration for the entire series as she loves to travel and explore. Her overwhelming love is water and the oceans. She worked on cruise ships for many years as a tour guide, and literally cruised the world. Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans is dedicated to her!
MCA: Mothers can be the best inspiration in all aspects of life! What are some of the key lessons found in Tex the Explorer: Journey to the Oceans?
Ellie: Our goal is that children (and adults) learn from reading our books. For pre-readers, this may just be about the structure of reading a book, turning the pages, and getting information about the story from the pictures.
For early readers, we try to keep the vocabulary simple, but not dumbed down. I think that many adults underestimate what children are capable of reading and understanding, even early readers.
And of course, the key lessons in this book are about the oceans. I know Eyen and I learned about the oceans just by working on this book. Even my mom, who has sailed them all, said that she learned new things from reading this book.
MCA: Why are books about travel and exploration so important to share with young readers?
Ellie: As an educator, I know how important it is that we develop an understanding of other people, other places, our past, and possible future. Living in isolation, without an understanding of where we came from, where we are, and where we are going, contributes to many of the problems we have today. Our hope is these books provide an introduction, in a fun way, to many of these concepts. (I bet you can tell that I would love to see more social studies and science in our schools today!)
MCA: If you could ensure readers of your book walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?
Ellie: Be curious about our world!!
MCA: That is a message we at MCA can surely get behind! What kind of response from readers have you received?
Ellie: We have had a fantastic response. My favorite responses are that the books are engaging for children, and many adults tell us that they learned things reading our books as well!
Eyen found out how engaging our books are when he was invited to read Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars to preschoolers!
MCA: What is next for Tex the Explorer?
Ellie: We have super exciting news about our next book. We have been asked by The Jared Box Project to write a book for them. Eyen and I are so honored to have been asked to do this. We have just started to work on this book, and we think it will be our best book yet. And, of course, it will feature Tex the Explorer! We will be donating the completed book to The Jared Box Project.
The Jared Box Project was started in 2001 by the children of Our Lady of Victory School, in State College, Pennsylvania, in honor of their classmate, Jared. Jared was a brave little boy who battled cancer. Jared always had toys with him when he went to doctors or the hospital and he shared his toys with other children. He also questioned why all children didn’t have toys and games with them when they went to the hospital.
Since the project started, over one million Jared Boxes have been donated to hospitals all around the United States and in several other countries. The gender and age-specific boxes are filled with books, toys, games, stuffed animals, crayons and other “Gifts of Play.”
You can learn more about The Jared Box Project at thejaredbox.org, and look for Tex the Explorer and The Jared Box Project in Summer 2023.
MCA: We cannot wait to read it, please keep us posted!