Nancy Carlson, the author and illustrator of dozens of children’s books, spent Tuesday at Riley Elementary School in Great Bend. Carlson also visited Otis and La Crosse on Monday and will be in Hoisington on Wednesday.
Carlson said she doesn’t read her work when she visits schools, except when she’s talking to preschoolers. Instead, she talks about the process of using her imagination and experiences to create a story with words and pictures.
“It’s good for kids to see a real person does this – and maybe they can do it someday,” she said.
The fifth- and sixth-graders were also invited to bring pencils and paper for a drawing lesson.
“This is kind of a big deal that you’re drawing with me,” Carlson said. She usually restricts her art lessons to older audiences, she said, but if the students were willing to pay attention, she would help them draw a few animals.
Rule One: Don't Erase
The first rule, she told them, is “don’t erase.”
“If you become a perfectionist you’re not going to get it done and you’re never going to get better,” she said.
Everyone started with an abstract doodle, just to warm up. Soon they were drawing Harriet, a golden retriever who stars in several of Carlson’s books, and then Loudmouth George the bunny other animals.
“I suggest you start drawing every day,” Carol said. “Do a doodle a day and you’ll become a much better artist, I guarantee you.”
Carlson loves writing as much as she loves drawing. An art major from Minnesota, she illustrated her first book 40 years ago and since then has written and illustrated 66 more published books. Her latest is called, “Sometimes You Barf.”
“Boy was this fun to illustrate!” she said.
The ideas for Carlson’s books often came from her own experiences.
“Everything that happens to Harriet in these books happened to me, when I was little,” she said. But the stories don’t always stay true to life. “Harriet’s Recital” is about a bad case of stage fright that Carlson experienced as a girl. In the book, Harriet overcomes her stage fright and dances successfully and proudly at her ballet recital. “I used my imagination and changed the ending,” she said.
Her books carry messages about self-esteem, doing the right thing and being kind to others. “Get Up and GO!” is about “my favorite subject,” she said, “getting off the couch, turning off the TV and getting outside and exercising.”
She’s also illustrated the book “It’s Okay to Ask!”, written a team of experts to demystify disabilities. The 30-page book features five children with visible physical challenges, such as using a wheelchair.
As the title explains, the book teaches kids it’s OK to ask about disabilities and illness. “If you start talking to someone, you just might become good friends,” she said.
Carlson showed how illustrations are as much a part of a story as printed words. In “Harriet’s Halloween Candy,” “she eats an entire bag of Halloween candy in one afternoon.” Carlson doesn’t write that Harriet feels sick, but draws her with a green face and has Harriet grimace when Mother tells her it’s time for dinner.
Artists are often asked where their stories originate. Carlson tells children, “It takes something you all have – something you use in your brain.” It takes imagination.
Now that Riley students can draw Harriet and Loudmouth George, Carlson encouraged them to experiment.
“Every single person here has their own style,” she said. “That’s why art is so great! I would be excited if you would create characters of your own.”