This 11-Year-Old Wants to Go to BU’s Goldman School of Dental Medicine: She’s Written a Picture Book to Help Pay for It
If all goes according to Elizabeth-Jade Beattie’s plan—and talking with the 11-year-old, already a picture book author, leaves you believing she can bend events to her will—she’ll graduate with the Class of 2034 from BU’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.
In January, the tween from Beverly, Mass., self-published The Elephant Dentist through Amazon. Its 24 pages, illustrated with chalk pastels by her mother, Amanda, tell the story of a pachyderm named, not coincidentally, E.J., who abandons her job as a chef to become a dentist. Proceeds from sales (totaling more than 200 so far) go into the real E.J.’s college fund, which includes graduate school: SDM.
In a summer dress adorned not with floral patterns, but rather teeth and smiles, E.J. recently sat in the office of Joe Calabrese, SDM associate dean of students, explaining both her fascination with dentistry and why she’d like to pursue it at BU. It’s hardly the family business. Mom Amanda is a photographer (hence her lending her artist’s eye to her daughter’s book); her husband, Dexter, works in building maintenance. Amanda’s own dad, she says, “is the closest thing [to a dentist in the family], and he was a microbiologist.
E.J. says she’s always loved dentistry, going back to age two, when she examined the inside of her grandmother’s mouth (“I think I may have been playing dentist or doctor”). While many children fear a visit to the dentist—OK, many adults, too—E.J., the oldest of three siblings, schedules cleanings on her birthday as part of the celebration. It helps that her own dentists are not only kindly but have let her help clean her mother’s teeth.
“She was, like, four,” Amanda says, “and [the dentist] was letting her do the suction in my mouth. And actually, it was better than the hygienist.”
E.J. wrote The Elephant Dentist in part as Novocaine for her peers’ fears. “I want to have it in every dentist’s office,” she says, “so then kids can read it while they’re in the waiting room and be, like, ‘Oh, the dentist isn’t so scary.’” In the book, the elephantine E.J. tires of her café job and pursues dentistry despite others’ discouraging refrain, “Elephants can’t be dentists!” If this reminds you of Herbie the elf-dentist in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television classic, that show is one of the real E.J.’s favorites. (Mention of the annual special draws a weary smile from Calabrese. Dentists hear a lot of Herbie jokes.)
She found him and the Goldman school because of a summer disappointment: “There’s no such thing as dental camp,” E.J. says. With that warm-weather dream impossible, her mother contacted dental schools last summer to see if they could schedule a tour for E.J., reaching out to institutions in New England and New York City. “It was pretty much just me googling random places and throwing out darts, and seeing what hit,” Amanda says.
In Calabrese, who is also an SDM clinical associate professor, the e-dart hit a kindred soul. “I was in first grade when I told my parents I wanted to be a dentist, which is odd, admittedly,” he says.
“I was moved by the level of interest for somebody so young. You don’t often see dental students come to us and say, ‘I was interested in dentistry as a seven-year-old or eight-year-old.’” Her talk of dental camp made him muse, “Oh my God, do we have to get a camp” at SDM?
While he didn’t build her a campfire, he did give her a personal tour, including the Simulation Learning Center, where students practice being dentists. “I really liked looking at all their dentist tools,” E.J. says.
Calabrese also made a critical suggestion about filling that college fund. When he talked to them about the jaw-dropping cost of graduate school, Amanda joked to her daughter that she better bone up on her clarinet practice to find a paying gig for her education. Calabrese caught E.J.’s less-than-enthused facial reaction. He knew she and Amanda had put together a Shutterfly version of The Elephant Dentist as a fun mom-daughter project.
“Sell the book,” he suggested.
Publication earned E.J. coverage from local newspapers and radio; her state representative sent her a copy of one story with the comment, “You are becoming quite famous.” The articles in turn prompted invitations to read the book at school classes and to do a signing at the Barnes & Noble near her home. In one school, she displayed a project she’d done for her own class about acid stains on teeth and whether Dunkin’ or Starbucks coffee stains worse. (Hint: it’s the one with the mermaid logo.) She even read to an audience of 300 as a keynoter at a Lynn, Mass., reading festival.
Of course, youthful career plans can change on a whim. Might E.J.’s dental dreams be replaced by something else some day?
“People go, ‘Oh, she wrote a book,’” Amanda says. “I said, ‘You know, next week, she’ll want to be a waitress, so I’m not going to hold my breath.’ But she has incorporated different [possibilities] into keeping dental. She liked going in and talking to students, so she said, ‘Maybe I could teach dentists.’”
In fact, she likes kids so much, her mother says, that “she just went for a CPR class on how to babysit kids, when she’s not even old enough to be home alone yet.”