Seeing yourself in a story: Amherst teacher helps launch career of young illustrator 

  • Jennifer Wellborn (left) and Rozillia MH (right) seen together in the classroom at Amherst Regional Middle School.  Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wellborn

  • An illustration of a whale from “Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals.” Photo courtesy of Rozillia MH

  • An illustration by Rozillia MH shows Dr. Rosie treating an octopus for a head injury.  Photo courtesy of Rozillia MH

  • An illustrated scene from “Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals.” Photo courtesy of Rozillia MH

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2020 12:37:25 PM

Children’s book illustrator Mahdia Rozillia Hunt, who goes by her pen name Rozillia MH, said that growing up, she was an avid bookworm. But in the books she read, there weren’t many characters who were girls or young women of color like herself.

“I was a big Harry Potter fan. Books were my absolute world,” said the Belchertown resident. “One thing I noticed was I’d read all these fantastic books, and none of the main characters represented me, even though they were fantastic. I still love them to this day, but I don’t feel like they represented me or other girls of color.”

So when she got the chance to illustrate a children’s book about a character who looks more like her, she embraced the challenge. Rozillia MH was working as a paraprofessional in the classroom of ​​​​​​Jennifer Wellborn, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Amherst Regional Middle School, when Wellborn asked her to illustrate her forthcoming children’s book, “Dr. Rosie Helps the Animals.” 

“When I asked the kids to do an assignment that required some drawings, Rozillia immediately produced this very cute little picture of a girl looking up over a counter,” Wellborn recalled. “Within minutes, it was colored, and I looked at it and said, ‘Do you want to illustrate a children’s book I’m working on?’” 

Rozillia MH, 24 and self-taught as an illustrator, was surprised by Wellborn’s invitation. 

“You have dreams but never think you can act on your dream,” she said. “It was an opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is publish a children’s storybook … I feel like this book will really help me get off the ground.”

The book follows the story of veterinarian Dr. Rosie during her visits with her patients, some of whom include a rabbit with an earache, a crocodile in need of some dental work and an octopus with a bump on its head, Wellborn said.

The character of Dr. Rosie takes partial inspiration from Wellborn’s husband, Dr. Carlos Gradil — a wildlife veterinarian, she said.

Wellborn said the book also promotes women pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“It’s showing girls in a professional setting,” Rozillia MH added. “I like magical and fantasy stuff, but I also like that we show a professional in her everyday life ... I think children, especially girls, should see that.”

The GoFundMe campaign is called “Rozillia’s Dream,” and “it’s to highlight her,” Wellborn said. “This is the beginning of her career. This is to help launch her career and get her noticed out in the public in terms of being a really promising young illustrator.”

For Rozillia MH, there was a slight learning curve when it came to improving her illustration skills. Animals can be a challenge to illustrate, she said.

“I haven’t been working because of COVID-19, so for the most part I’ve been home,” Rozillia MH said. “And the more I practice, I’ve been progressively getting way better than before. The illustrations are coming along, but it is taking time because I have to keep going back and tweaking them.”

The writer-and-illustrator duo have been collaborating together remotely for the book since the onset of the pandemic in March, Wellborn said. They plan to have the illustrations for the book finalized by early December and will be self-publishing via CreateSpace.

For Rozillia MH, “Dr. Rosie Helps The Animals” represents a fulfillment of bringing a woman of color to a lead role through this children’s story.

“Just having girls see themselves in different types of stories, whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, STEM, fiction, nonfiction — that’s always been my biggest thing,” she said. “I just want to bring that more to attention and make it normalized.”

For more information about “Dr. Rosie Helps The Animals,” or to donate to the GoFundMe campaign, visit .gofundme.com/f/rozillia039s-dream.

Chris Goudreau can be rea che d at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com. 


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