Ellen Mayer is a writer with a background in early childhood and parent education. She has worked as a researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, studying family engagement in children’s learning. She has also worked as an early literacy home visitor with a diverse community of families, supporting young children in early language development through book sharing and play. Ellen held a writing fellowship for Math Picture Book Authors, from the Heising-Simons Foundation, and is a visiting author with the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative of the Somerville, MA Public Schools. Her books include picture books Rosa’s Very Big Job and Cake Day as well as her Small Talk Books series, which includes A Fish to Feed, Red Socks, Clean Up, Up, Up, Banana for Two, and Twinkle, Twinkle Diaper You. Ellen writes her children’s books to entertain and educate both children and the adults who read to them. She holds an M.Phil. in Sociology from Columbia University.
Hi Ellen! It’s so great to have you join in on my summer interviews, especially because this is a really exciting time for you! Your books for the youngest readers consistently make “Best of” lists and win awards. Your work before becoming an author centered around families and literacy and your books really show the kinds of caring connections that build strong bonds and learning skills. The two careers seem perfect for you, who I know as someone who is a wonderful friend and loves to bring people together. As summer winds down, I wonder if you’d share a special childhood memory with readers.
One of my favorite memories is pulling a wagon with real human cargo the length of a long dirt driveway through the deep woods, wearing no shoes, during a hot New Hampshire summer. That was one of the most gratifying summer things this seven-year-old did!
Each summer my family and another spent our vacation in New Hampshire in two houses on the same road. We were brought together because our mothers were friends from high school and our fathers were friends from college. Between our families there were five children ranging in age from one to seven, and I was the oldest. Halfway down the road, the woods broke to a clearing where my father grew sunflowers. I was in charge of managing and operating round-trip wagon rides to “Sunflower Stop.” When we reached Sun Flower Stop, my passengers invariably alighted to stop and look up in awe at the sunflowers, and I got a much-needed rest.
When it was time for my family to return home to New York City and our friends to Boston after three long summer vacation months, I pulled my wagon into the back of the garage until the next summer. I don’t remember whether I got to take this sunflower back with me, but I like to think that I did.
What a fun and fantastic story! Those must have been amazing summers. Thanks so much for sharing that special memory with us!
I’m excited to get to your books because your latest board book, Twinkle, Twinkle Diaper You!, recently received a national award from the Carnegie Library, which named it one of the Best Books for Babies for 2021! Carnegie Library chose the books on their list because the librarians “believe they offer something special to babies and their grown-ups and will delight and engage babies age birth through 18 months and the adults who care for them.” This is a great description of your Small Talk Books®, which always offer ways for adults and kids to play and learn together while looking forward to a bright future.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!
¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!
Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu
Ellen Mayer’s newest addition to her Small Talk Books® series is a charming story that little ones will eagerly respond to and which can help parents turn diaper time into a joyful experience full of opportunities for language and literacy development. Mayer’s clever take on the kid-favorite Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, is infectious and fun for adults to sing while reading with their baby and while diapering. Sweet endearments, playful words, and even a tummy kiss realistically reflect the loving relationship parents and caregivers share with their little ones.
Children love and respond positively to routine, and the frequency of diaper changing makes this one of babies’ first familiar experiences. Adding parental conversation, songs, smiles, and mirroring of the child’s sounds, expressions, and motions to the dedicated time diapering takes creates a rich educational environment for baby to listen to caregivers and begin the basic foundations of language learning.
Ying-Hwa Hu’s bright illustrations, sprinkled with silver stars that glitter on the page, will delight little readers. Her clean lines and soothing color palette create a pleasing backdrop to familiar details that give adults plenty to point out and name while reading. The centerpiece of each page is the relationship between mother and child and reflects actions, such as making eye and physical contact, that enhance a child’s learning and self-confidence. Hu’s adorable baby giggles and belly laughs as Mama smiles and talks lovingly while changing and then cuddling her little one. The appearance of the baby’s big sister (perhaps still using diapers herself, or recently transitioned to underwear), makes this a book that will appeal to a wide range of ages. The final spread of the baby’s family reading and cuddling together is heartwarming.
In ¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! the story is charmingly translated into Spanish by Eida Del Risco. Spanish verses share two-page spreads with the English translation, providing a rich reading experience for native Spanish speakers, bilingual families, and those parents interested in teaching their children Spanish.
A Note for Parents, Grandparents, and Caregivers by Dr. Betty Bardige, an expert on language and literacy development in young children, is also included in each book. The note reveals the important connection between talking, singing, and playing with babies and their language learning. Bardige goes on to provide tips for interacting with your child and following their cues as well as for how to share this book with little ones.
Ages Birth – 3
Star Bright Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1595728937 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595728944 (Spanish/English bilingual edition)
Read my full review of Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! here.
You can find Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! at these booksellers
You can find ¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! here
Storytelling Math Board Books
Clean Up, Up, Up!
¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up!
Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu
In Clean Up Up Up!, the concept of spatial relations is organically introduced to toddlers through the motions and words used while putting items in their proper place, stepping up on a stool to use something out of the child’s reach, and even when eating. Research shows that talking with children at all ages about math concepts such as positions and locations improves their understanding and leads to better success in school and beyond.
The loving relationship between father and child in Mayer’s early language development book A Fish to Feed, is expanded on here as the same interracial family enjoys clean-up and dinner time. The engaging dialogue between Daddy, Mommy, and their toddler will captivate young readers and inspire adults to continue the story in their own daily lives.
Ying-Hwa Hu’s adorable toddler giggles and plays while soaking up the rich language of positions and locations that the father clearly points to while cleaning up. Little readers will be charmed by the enthusiastic child and the little puppy that follows along. Images of books, toys, washing up, and dinnertime all demonstrate the positions and locations referred to in the story, while other details provide an opportunity for adults and children to expand on the text (the fish from A Fish to Feed swims inside its bowl and balls sit inside a bin, for example). Hu’s vivid colors as well as the smiles and enthusiasm with which Daddy, Mommy, and their child interact make Clean Up, Up, Up! a feel-great educational read.
A note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers from childhood education expert Susan C. Levine on how they can find opportunities to talk about spatial relations during everyday activities is included. Gender neutral clothing and hairstyle as well as an absence of pronouns makes this a universal story.
Clean Up, Up, Up! is also available in a bilingual Spanish/English edition: ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up! translated byAudrey Martinez-Gudapakkam and Dr. Sabrina De Los Santos
Ages 1 – 3
Star Bright Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1595728012 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595727589 (Spanish/English edition)
Read my full review of Clean Up, Up, Up! here.
Discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books on her website.
To learn more about Ying-Hwa Hu, her books, and her art, visit her website.
Adults will have fun sharing “Wash Up, Up, Up!,” a song inspired by the story, with little ones as they wash their hands! The lyrics are also available for download and printing. Listen and sing along here:
You can find Clean Up, Up, Up! at these booksellers
You can find ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar!/Clean Up, Up, Up! here
A Fish to Feed
Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu
Dad plans a fun trip into town with his young child to buy a pet fish. He says, we will get “‘a fish to swim in our bowl. A fish we can look at and feed.’” The pair are excited to go together and have time to “‘walk…and talk.’” The two head out and soon pass a store. In the window the child sees a T-shirt with the picture of a fish on it and points. “‘Look—fish! Fish! Fish!’” Dad reinforces the observation using complete sentences that model conversation and increase his child’s vocabulary—“‘Yes, I see the fish on the T-shirt too.’” He further explains: “‘That’s a fish to wear, not a fish to swim in our bowl.’”
As Dad and his toddler visit other stores, the child finds more fish on a backpack, toys, and other items. When they get to the pet store, the child is excited to find a fish that swims. They take the goldfish home, where it swims happily in their bowl. They’ve found a pet they “‘can love and feed.’”
Ellen Mayer’s story of a dad and his child out for an afternoon together as they look for a pet to love offers adults and children a sweet way to spend time with one another. The story, set in the familiar environments of home and stores and revolving around a close parent-child relationship, will engage even the youngest readers. The back-and-forth conversation between Dad and his child as they shop models ways in which adults can follow a child’s lead while providing language and literacy development.
Ying-Hwa Hu’s illustrations are vibrant and joyful. When Dad bends down to be at eye-level with his toddler as they talk, the close bond between them is obvious in their smiling and laughing faces. The shops are full of colorful toys, clothes, backpacks, and other items that will capture kids’ attention. Spending time looking at each page allows adults and children to point at the various items, name them, and talk about them.
A Fish to Feed contains die-cut holes in the pages that kids will love peering through as they shop along on this adventure to find a special pet.
Ages Birth – 5
Star Bright Books, 2015 | ISBN 978-1595727077 (English edition) | ISBN 978-1595727589 (Spanish/English edition)
Read my full review of A Fish to Feed here.
You can find A Fish to Feed at these booksellers
You can find Un pez para alimentar/A Fish to Feed at these booksellers
A Sneak Peek at the next Small Talk Books® Storytelling Math Board Book, Yellow, Red, Green – GO!
The third book in the Small Talk Books® series (joining Banana for Two and Clean Up, Up, Up!) to focus on math talk, Yellow, Red, Green – GO! is based upon work supported in part by TERC under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation for the Storytelling Math project.
Yellow, Red, Green – GO! features the math of patterns for children ages 1-3 and welcomes back the interracial family from A Fish to Feed and Clean Up, Up, Up! In the story Mommy and her child bicycle through their neighborhood to Grandma’s house and, along the way, discover lots of patterns – from the traffic lights that each change from yellow, to red, and then to green – to the windows, lights, and doors on each of the row houses on Grandma’s block.
Yellow, Red, Green – GO!, illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu, releases in Spring, 2022 in English as well as in a bilingual Spanish/English edition.
You can read a review of Cake Day and find a delicious recipe to make here.
Find my review of Rosa’s Very Big Job and paper dolls of the characters plus clothes and accessories to download and print here.
Read my full review of Banana for Two and find a fun shopping game to play with little ones here.
You’ll find my full review of Red Socks and a fun matching puzzle to do with little ones here.
Family Fun Month Activity
Come Inside! Playhouse
Kids love pretending with their toys in playhouses. With this craft you and your child can make a playhouse with recycled items and lots of imagination. While making the house, talk with your child about the building process using spatial relation words and ask for their ideas on what it should look like.
Once finished, you and your child can make up stories using words that use spatial relations as characters come in the house, go out of the house, peek in or out of a window, sit on the roof, wait under the window, sit next to a friend while having tea, and so much more!
- Cardboard box
- Craft paint
Plus Recycled items, such as:
- Bottle caps for door knobs,
- Small boxes for a chimney
- Use the cardboard cut from the windows to make shutters
- Scraps of cloth for curtains