By Margaret Frymire
Ten schools in Hoover and Chelsea had the opportunity to host author-illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt thanks to community sponsorship and Usborne Books,.
The Atlanta-based writer and artist visited the schools to read her new book, “Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster,” share her artwork and encourage the students to follow their dreams.
Michelle visited Deer Valley Elementary, Riverchase Elementary, Trace Crossings Elementary, Mt Laurel Elementary, South Shades Crest Elementary, Green Valley Elementary, Our Lady of the Valley, St. Francis Xavier, Chelsea Park Elementary and Chelsea Park Intermediate between October 22-26.
At her visit to Deer Valley Elementary, Michelle began her presentation with her own story. She said she discovered her love for art at age 4 when she stumbled on a stack of drawing paper as she was sneaking around the house after bedtime. She covered all the paper with her drawings, she said.
Upon seeing Michelle’s artwork and after a bit of chastisement for her mischievous behavior, her mother took her to the art store for supplies to cultivate her talents, Michelle said.
Michelle continued drawing and painting throughout her childhood and into college. As she told the students about her journey to becoming an illustrator, she showed them her original paintings. The children gasped in delight when she showed them a giant canvas portrait of a Great Dane she had painted for her mom.
Deer Valley Elementary librarian Raquel Lieber was thrilled that Michelle brought her original paintings to the school visit.
“That’s a positive difference. That really sets (Michelle) apart,” she said. “The kids respond so well to art.”
Michelle explained that her books are born from characters she originally paints on canvas. After sharing her artwork, Michelle read the elementary students her new book, “Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster.”
The book tells the story of a little boy who is too afraid to do anything because something scary could happen. Michelle uses the story of Jonathan James to encourage children not to fear the scary “what ifs” but to keep pursuing their goals, hopes and dreams because something good could happen, too.
Kelly Ackers, an independent education team leader at Usborne Books said she likes the message of the book.
“This book sends a great message to kids learning about not to worry about the negative ‘what ifs’ in life,” Kelly said.
Michelle also told the children how several publishers originally turned down her books, but she kept pursuing her dream of becoming a published author-illustrator until she achieved it
At the end of her presentation, Michelle had each group of students raise their pinkies and promise to follow their hearts and their dreams even when they seem scary.
The students at Deer Valley spent the week before Michelle’s visit prepping for her arrival. The kindergartners and first and second graders all did projects in the classroom relating to Michelle’s newest book.
Penni Koch, a library aide at Deer Valley Elementary said the students get excited about the author visits while preparing for the event.
“One of the most exciting things we do is the prep work to get ready for our author visits,” she said. “We had the kindergartners make ‘what if’ monster hats. The first-graders came up with questions to ask. And the second graders drew pictures. That way, the kids really know what’s happening when the author comes.”
Between the prep work of the school and Michelle’s engaging speaking style, the students remained attentive to her story. They reacted with great enthusiasm to all her questions, and many told the author-illustrator stories of their own.
The schools were able to host Michelle at no cost because local businesses sponsored the educational event. The Holiday Inn in Hoover provided lodging for Michelle free of charge for the week of her school visits. Vision Gymnastics, the Parent-Teacher Store, Stephanie Fisher Photography, Chelsea Animal Hospital and Rockett’s Bug Juice Garden also sponsored the visits.