9 minute read

Shelley Rotner (1951–) Biography

Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1951, in New York, NY; Education: Attended Syracuse University Extension Program, 1972; Syracuse University, B.A., 1972; postgraduate study at Columbia University, 1977; Bank Street College of Education, M.A., 1979.


Photographer, writer, and educator. Aggasiz Community School District, Cambridge, MA, photography instructor, 1975; Learning Guild, Boston, MA, photography instructor, 1975–76; Lincoln Community School System, Cambridge, MA, photography instructor, 1975–76; International Center of Photography, New York, NY, assistant photography instructor, 1977; Bank Street School for Children, New York, NY, photography instructor, 1977–78; U.N. Photo Library, New York, NY, photo researcher, 1977–78; International Center of Photography, New York, NY, curatorial assistant, 1977–78; American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, photography instructor, 1979; United Nations and UNICEF, New York, NY, photographer, 1979–. Exhibitions: Photographs exhibited at galleries and museums in Holyoke, MA; Springfield, MA; Boston, MA; New York, NY; Seattle, WA; and Portland, ME, including American Museum of Natural History and International Center of Photography.

Honors Awards

Grand Prize, Natural History magazine photo competition, 1979; Third Prize, World Photographic Society, 1983, for color photographs of children; Northampton, MA, Arts Lottery, 1984, 1985; Grand Emmy Award, Polaroid Corporation, 1986; Parade/Kodak award finalist, 1988; First Prize, Zone Gallery, Springfield, MA, for color portraits.


(With Marjorie N. Allen) Changes, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.

Nature Spy, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.

Action Alphabet, Picture Book Studio, 1993.

City Streets, Orchard (New York, NY), 1993.

(And photographer, with Ken Kreisler) Citybook, Orchard (New York, NY), 1994.

(And photographer, with Ken Kreisler) Faces, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.

Wheels Around, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

(And photographer, with Julia Pemberton Hellums) Hold the Anchovies!: A Book about Pizza, Orchard (New York, NY), 1996.

(And photographer, with Richard Olivo) Close, Closer, Closest, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.

Boats Afloat, Orchard (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Cheo García) Pick a Pet, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.

(And photographer, with Steve Calcagnino) The Body Book, Orchard (New York, NY), 2000.

(And photographer) Parts, Walker (New York, NY), 2001.

(And photographer, with Ken Kreisler) Everybody Works, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.

Lots of Feelings, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.

(And photographer, with Gary Goss) Where Does Food Come From?, Millbrook Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.

(And photographer) Senses at the Seashore, Millbrook Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.


Lots of Moms, Dial (New York, NY), 1996.

Lots of Dads, DK (New York, NY), 1997.

About Twins, DK (New York, NY), 1999.

The A.D.D. Book for Kids, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2000.

Feeling Thankful, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2000.

Lots of Grandparents, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2001.

What Can You Do?: A Book about Discovering What You Do Well, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2001.

Good-byes, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.

Something's Different, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.

Many Ways: How Many Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions, Millbrook Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.


Ellen Jackson, Sometimes Bad Things Happen, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.


Shelley Rotner worked as a teacher, a photographer, and a curatorial assistant before she became involved in the creation of children's books. As she once told SATA: "After several years as an educator both in the classroom and in museum settings and after the birth of my daughter, I started to think about ideas for children's books. My daughter always loved to look at books and as she grew I started to think and write about the subjects that interested her." These subjects have varied from families and traditions, to feelings, to machines. As both an author and a photographer, Rotner has worked on many titles for young readers that celebrate differences or answer common questions asked by children.

Rotner's early works combine action and description with vivid photographs, sometimes taken by Rotner herself. Her book Action Alphabet helps young readers identify verbs; each letter of the alphabet is matched up with an action shown in the accompanying photograph. Annie Ayres recommended the title in her Booklist review, commenting, "Consider P for Purchasing." Another of Rotner's early titles, Wheels Around, describes both wheels and vehicles, from bicycles to dump trucks. Rotner focuses on variety, showing a wide range of machines that make use of wheels. Horn Book contributor Elizabeth S. Watson considered the title "a neatly crafted, spectacularly graphic study of wheels and the vehicles they support." As Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman noted, "eager vehicle-watchers will love the action" in the book. Like Wheels Around, Boats Afloat shows young readers a variety of sailing vessels, from canoes and jet skies to larger motor boats. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, called the title "clear and well composed."

Parts, which features both Rotner's words and photographs, is a puzzle book wherein readers try to identify a whole object from the parts shown in the photograph. Designed for the pre-school audience, the book is structured as a guessing game. "Sharp, colorful close-up pictures fill the pages, while a snappy text offers hints about the answer," wrote Beth Tegart of School Library Journal. Carolyn Phelan wrote in Booklist that the "guessing game approach, the familiar objects, and the clear colorful photographs … make this fun."

Fellow writer Sheila M. Kelly teams up with Rotner for a number of titles, Rotner serving as photographer and coauthor. Their Lots of Moms is a photo-essay about the loving relationship between mothers and their children. "The photos … emphasize the intimacy of the mother-child bond," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who noted the racial diversity of the featured mother-child pairs. The coauthors continue their collaboration with Lots of Dads, this time celebrating the father's role in the parent-child relationship. "Whatever kind of dad a kid is blessed with, he can be found in this utterly winning photo-essay," wrote GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist.

Siblings are the topic of Kelly and Rotner's About Twins. The text explains how twins are different from other types of siblings, and features many portraits of twins of different ages. "The photographs will compel youngsters to study these children and note their differences," commented Kathy Broderick in a review for Booklist. Rotner and Kelly have also written a title about grandparents in Lots of Grandparents, as well as a book focusing on diverse family traditions with Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions. Booklist writer Carolyn Phelan found the latter title to be "a fine visual introduction to a basic American freedom."

Kelly and Rotner also offer advice to children trying to understand Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), wondering how to describe what they are thankful for, hoping to discover their own talents, or dealing with a change in their family life. The A.D.D. Book for Kids uses quotes from children who have A.D.D. and describes symptoms of the disorder, as well as strategies to cope with it. "Crisp, clear, well-chosen photos … make for an eye-catching and uncluttered format," commented Kay Weisman in Booklist. Feeling Thankful encourages children through words and pictures to identify the things in their life they have to be thankful for. "Overall, an appealing selection," Karen Scott said of the title in her School Library Journal review. Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper commented on the "very crisp, joyful pictures," and noted: "There will be a myriad of ways to use this."

What Can You Do?: A Book about Discovering What You Can Do Well helps young people identify their strengths. "The message [everyone is good at something] comes through strongly," wrote Booklist contributor Kay Weisman. In Something's Different, Rotner and Kelly describe the thought process of a boy whose parents are struggling in their marriage and may be preparing to divorce. "Hand-tinted photos capture the boy's changing emotions," Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld noted of the artwork. Linda Beck, writing in School Library Journal, felt that the book takes "an interesting approach to an issue not often explored in juvenile nonfiction."

With cowriter Julia Pemberton Hellums, Rotner celebrates America's love affair with pizza in Hold the Anchovies!: A Book about Pizza another title featuring Rotner's photography. The book follows the process of making a pizza from scratch, and includes a recipe for basic pizza at the end of the book. Readers will "feast visually on this scrumptious treat," wrote April Judge in Booklist. With Richard Olivo, Rotner designed a skewed perspective book, showing household items at three different distances. The extreme close-ups show a microscopic view of the object. Lolly Robinson, reviewing the title for Horn Book, praised the book's "striking presentation." Though Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman felt that the concepts might be difficult for young readers to appreciate, she nonetheless noted: "once they get the idea … they will have fun discovering the hidden worlds around them."

Cheo García worked with Rotner on Pick a Pet, a picture book about a girl named Patty who imagines what type of pet she would like to have. "Kids will like the animals, both real and fanciful," assured Booklist reviewer Denia Hester. With Steve Calcagnino, Rotner has produced The Body Book, which describes the parts of the body and what they do. Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan called the book "upbeat, brief, and to the point."

Along with her work as a photo-illustrator and writer, Rotner offers presentations to schools, taking listeners through the process of making a book "from start to finish," according to her home page. She makes her home in western Massachusetts.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Wheels Around, p. 475; April 1, 1996, review of Lots of Moms, p. 1369; August, 1996, Annie Ayres, review of Action Alphabet, p. 1903; September 15, 1996, April Judge, review of Hold the Anchovies!: A Book about Pizza, p. 244; April 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Close, Closer, Closest, p. 1336; August, 1997, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Lots of Dads, p. 1904; November 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Boats Afloat, p. 499; June 1, 1999, Kathy Broderick, review of About Twins, p. 1835; July, 1999, Denia Hester, review of Pick a Pet, p. 1954; March 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Body Book, p. 1246; April 15, 2000, Kay Weisman, review of The A.D.D. Book for Kids, p. 1549; December 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Feeling Thankful, p. 716; April 15, 2001, Kay Weisman, review of What Can You Do?: A Book about Discovering What You Do Well, p. 1562; June 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Parts, p. 1895; March 1, 2002, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Something's Different, p. 1144; October 1, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions, p. 70.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1997, review of Close, Closer, Closest, p. 294; April, 1999, review of About Twins, p. 292.

Horn Book, January-February, 2006, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Wheels Around, p. 93; May-June, 1997, Lolly Robinson, review of Close, Closer, Closest, p. 311.

Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1996, review of Lots of Moms, p. 79; May 6, 1996, review of Lots of Moms, p. 79; November 25, 1996, review of Colors around Us, p. 77; November 2, 1998, review of Boats Afloat, p. 85.

School Library Journal, December, 1998, Stephani Hutch-inson, review of Boats Afloat, p. 112; May, 2000, Christine Lindsey, review of The Body Book, p. 164; July, 2000, Martha Gordon, review of The A.D.D. Book for Kids, p. 97; December, 2000, Karen Scott, review of Feeling Thankful, p. 136; May, 2001, review of Parts, p. 133; September, 2001, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of What Can You Do?, p. 222; August, 2002, Linda Beck, review of Something's Different, p. 179; February, 2003, Lucinda Snyder White-hurst, review of Sometimes Bad Things Happen, p. 132; July, 2003, Daryl Grabarek, review of Everybody Works, p. 117; October, 2003, review of Something's Different, p. S28; April, 2004, Phyllis M. Simon, review of Lots of Feelings, p. 142, and review of Everybody Works, p. S18; October, 2004, review of Lots of Feelings, p. S24.


Shelley Rotner Home Page, http://www.author-illustr-source.com/ShelleyRotner.htm (February 12, 2006).

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