Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Ellie Smith

MCA Interview Series: Award-Winning Book Series

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! Thank you all so much for joining us today for another very special interview with one of our honorees! For this interview, we had the honor of speaking with Ellie Smith, author of the award-winning Tex the Explorer Book Series! Each book in the Tex the Explorer Book Series follows the journey of a dinosaur named Tex who absolutely loves to explore. Each book is sure to encourage exploration in your little reader while teaching them some very valuable lessons along the way! Keep reading to find out more about Ellie and how her award-winning book series came to be!

MCA: Hi Ellie, thank you so much for joining us today, and congratulations on your multiple Mom’s Choice Awards! Can I first start the interview by having you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ellie Smith with her "Tex the Explorer" Illustrator, Eyen Johnson.

Ellie Smith with her “Tex the Explorer” Illustrator, Eyen Johnson.

Ellie: My name is Ellie Smith and I am a retired special education teacher. I grew up in South Florida and then attended Michigan State University, to be near my grandparents, who spoiled me rotten for four years, mission accomplished.

I graduated from Michigan State University in 1981 with a degree in Special Education. I taught in a Deaf Education program in Houston for two years where I met my husband Greg, who was working for NASA at the time. I took the job when I was told I could live near the Johnson Space Center and date NASA scientists, which I did! I also wanted to defrost after spending four years in Michigan. Two more missions accomplished.

My husband and I relocated to Central Florida where I taught for five years in a Gifted Program. I completed my Masters in Gifted Education at the University of Central Florida. Our son Phil was born in Central Florida in 1985. We then relocated to San Francisco where our daughter Meg was born in 1988.

We made one last move to Maryland, where we raised our children. My husband worked for the Department of Defense and I taught as a Special Education Resource Teacher for 24 years.

We retired five years ago and relocated to the mountains of Central Pennsylvania near Penn State University, where both of our children went to school. This makes total sense, pay out-of-state tuition for your kids, and then move to the state after they graduate.

I now spend my time working in my craft room – making jewelry, cards, scrapbooking, sewing, and quilting. I have a blog about my passion – teaching authentically. And, I write children’s books and books for teachers. My husband and I also love to travel and explore new places.

Both of our children live in Northern Virginia with their families and we travel down to visit them – often! They are each married to wonderful spouses and have two children of their own. Our four grandchildren are now the center of our lives – and why we travel to Northern Virginia often – oh, and to see their parents too.

MCA: The mountains of Central Pennsylvania are gorgeous, what a great place to retire to! Each book in the Tex the Explorer Book Series has wonderful illustrations that truly help capture the story that is being told. What is the special relationship you have with your illustrator of the Tex the Explorer Book Series?

Ellie: While I was teaching in Maryland I met Eyen Johnson. Eyen was in kindergarten when I met him. By third grade, Eyen was drawing absolutely gorgeous and whimsical dinosaurs. He had a natural and engaging talent. When he was in fifth grade we agreed to create books together, once he was an adult. I would be the author, and he would be the illustrator.

I retired and moved to Pennsylvania shortly after Eyen graduated from high school and we began our first book. We quickly developed an easy long-distance working relationship.

Our first book was Tex the Explorer – Journey to Mars. We had a fantastic time working on this book, and it was very well received. The first award we won was a Mom’s Choice Silver Award. We were overwhelmed with excitement.

MCA: That is such a wonderful and heart-warming story! So it was Eyen that inspired you to create the Tex the Explorer Book Series?

Ellie: Eyen loves dinosaurs and I love space and exploration – so Tex the Explorer was born! In every book, Tex gets a birthday gift from his parents (they are very wealthy dinosaurs) that involves his love of exploration.

MCA: What are all the different journeys Tex has been on so far throughout the Tex the Explorer Book Series?

Ellie: Tex the Explorer – Journey to Mars
In our first book, Tex receives a rocket ship from his parents and is off to explore Mars.

Tex the Explorer – Journey Around the Earth
In our second book, Tex receives an airplane from his parents and explores the seven continents of the Earth.

Tex the Explorer – Journey Through the Alphabet
In our third book, Tex gets tickets to a Prehistoric Museum, where he visits an exhibit for every letter of the alphabet.

Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System
In our just-published book, Tex gets another rocket ship for his birthday and is off to explore our Solar System.

We are currently working on Tex the Explorer – Journey to Our Oceans (working title).
Tex gets a ship and a submarine for his birthday and is off to explore the Oceans of the Earth.

MCA: Tell us more about your most recent “Tex the Explorer” book, Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System.

Ellie: This has been my favorite book so far. I love space exploration. Tex explores all of the planets of our Solar System. He also encounters the asteroid belt and some of the planetoids. Eyen’s fantastic sense of humor is very apparent in the illustrations for this book. I have found that if I just give Eyen the working dialog for a page he takes it from there. The less I say the better, as his creativity knows no bounds.

MCA: What kind of response from readers have you received?

Ellie Smith and Eyen when he was in 5th Grade.

Ellie Smith and Eyen when he was in 5th Grade.

Ellie: I had made the promise to Eyen, back in his fifth-grade year, that we would publish a book together. I had no idea where to begin, or how to accomplish this when we started our first book and was honestly nervous about upholding my promise to Eyen. But I believe that when you make a promise you keep it, and with Eyen’s amazing illustrations as inspiration, we forged ahead together to create the first book.

Eyen was very patient with me as I made mistakes and had to ask him to rework illustrations, as I stumbled through the publication process the first time. But we persevered, and we are both so proud of our books and the response we have had.

We have been truly overwhelmed by the positive response to our books. Our first recognition was from Mom’s Choice and we were blown away. Totally 100% blown away! I called Eyen and his mom and told them to sit down, I had such exciting news. We never expected anything like this as neither of us had ever done anything like this before. We have had many recognitions since then, and it never gets old!

We have also heard from parents about how the books work for many age groups and ability levels, which was my intention as an educator. Toddlers love the pictures, while early readers enjoy the books as they learn to read. In the back of the books, we always include more information for more advanced readers and parents. Our goal was to entertain and educate, and the feedback we have had is that we are accomplishing both.
Most importantly, the books have received the seal of approval from my grandchildren.

MCA: If you could ensure readers of Tex the Explorer – Journey Through Our Solar System walk away with one main lesson, what would it be?

Ellie: Eyen always proudly states that we are teaching children to love to read and to love to learn. I think he sums it up perfectly!

MCA: We couldn’t agree more! Thank you for a wonderful interview and we hope you have an amazing holiday! 

You can learn more about Ellie Smith and her award-winning book series, Tex the Explorer by visiting her MCA Shop pages.

Interview With Ellie Smith

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