That was one of the first things author and illustrator Mike Artell told the students at Feelhaver Elementary School Wednesday afternoon. Artell, a New Orleans native, has visited the Fort Dodge schools before, but last year, he had to speak with the students virtually due to COVID.
“It’s just so much fun now to be back in person in schools,” he said. ”The last two years, I’ve done a lot of Zoom calls and it’s fun, but there’s nothing like in person. Like today while we were drawing, one of the little girls, I was watching, and she drew it and then her jaw dropped. She couldn’t believe she had done it. That’s such a special thing.”
Artell started his career drawing cartoons for magazines and card companies.
“One of the greeting card companies had a children’s book division and they asked if I would like to illustrate a book,” he said. ”That was fun. Then I told them I had some ideas of my own and asked them to take a look and they liked what I proposed so they published three of my books, then they published three more of my books, and three more, so it was really great .”
Artell has published around 50 books with a wide range of topics from simple biology, how to draw, and classic stories with a Louisiana twist.
“Over the years, I would talk to aspiring authors and they will write from their own inspiration, which is fine, but my inspiration was paying my daughter’s tuition,” Artlell said. ”So instead of just writing from my own inspiration, I would talk to teachers and librarians about what kinds of books they needed. They would say they needed simple biographies or something like that and so I would write a simple biography and then my books would sell. I still wanted to write great books, but I wanted to write great books that would sell.”
Artell said that after a few years, a publisher approached him about speaking at their conferences.
“Of course, the conferences are full of teachers and they would ask me to come to their school,” he said.
Artell is still publishing books occasionally, but he said he really enjoys doing school visits.
“The last books came out in 2020,” he said. “But at this point in my career I’ve got a lot of books and I’m just enjoying the school visits.”
This past week Artell visited the Early Childhood Center, plus Butler, Cooper and Feelhaver elementary schools. Today he will visit Duncombe Elementary School.
Artell starts his visit by introducing himself to the students and sharing some of his books including pictures from his science books, jokes and tongue twisters, and an excerpt of “Petite Rouge” read with his authentic Cajun accent. Lastly, he presents step-by-step instructions on cartoon drawing to show the kids that they can draw if they try.
Typically around this time of year, the Fort Dodge Community School District brings a children’s author or illustrator to the elementary schools to visit with students. The Fort Dodge Senior High School Alumni Association pays for the visits.
Sondra Homstrom with the Alumni Association said, “The Authors Program was started by a librarian, Carol Porter, of the Fort Dodge school system. She requested after her passing from her that memorial monies and monies from family and friends would be used to continue bringing authors to the students of Fort Dodge. When that money was depleted the Fort Dodge Alumni Association continued the program by paying the author’s fee as well as purchasing copies of their books so the students would be familiar with the author when he or she visited the schools.”