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David LaRochelle Award-winning Author and Illustrator

David LaRochelle Award-winning Author and Illustrator

David LaRochelle, an award-winning author and illustrator, didn’t always want to be a writer. “When I was very young, what I wanted to be was a dragon. Then I realized that was not a possible career choice, so I chose something more realistic: I wanted to be a dinosaur. Then, after that, I moved to balloon man. Finally, I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist like Charles Shultz.”

In pursuit of his cartooning dreams and the hope of working for Hallmark cards, LaRochelle majored in art and English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. With a bachelor’s degree and a portfolio in hand, LaRochelle made his way to Hallmark for an interview. “They said ‘no, we’re sorry but we don’t think you can draw well enough.’” When his future career ambitions were thwarted, he despondently wondered, “What am I going to do next?”

As a child, LaRochelle was the one who would go back to class after school to see if the teachers needed help. As the years passed, he was always drawn to elementary school. So when his Hallmark dream was crushed, LaRochelle returned to school as an elementary education major and eventually made his way back into the classroom as a full-time teacher. “I have such respect for teachers. I think there are very few professions as important as teaching, and I wanted to do something important like that which would impact kids in a positive way.”

It was during his time as a fourth-grade teacher that LaRochelle was discovered by an editor at Carolrhoda Books. On the side, LaRochelle had been doing some writing and illustrating and sending his pieces out to local children’s magazines and to contests. One such piece was a short story entitled A Christmas Guest, which he would read to his students every year. One year, a friend and colleague asked for a copy to read to her first-grade students. Though she did read it to her class, she also called an editor at Carolrhoda and read it over the phone. “It was a way you never go about getting a book published! But the editor listened and said to send it in, and that became my first book.”

“I have such respect for teachers. I think there are very few professions as important as teaching.”

After achieving tenure as a teacher, LaRochelle decided to take a leave of absence to determine whether or not he could make a go of writing books—that was 25 years ago. “When I decided not to go back, it was a very tough decision that I literally cried over. I was very disappointed in myself, but now I realize that I am still teaching and I am still in the classroom through my school visits.” He also participates in mentoring activities for young people such as the annual Young Authors Conference sponsored by Success Beyond the Classroom (SBC).

LaRochelle has three new books being launched in 2013: How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans (illustrated by Mark Fearing), Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure: 50 Flaps to Flip! (illustrated by David LaRochelle), and MOO! (illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka).

After achieving tenure as a teacher, LaRochelle decided to take a leave of absence to determine whether or not he could make a go of writing books—that was 25 years ago. “When I decided not to go back, it was a very tough decision that I literally cried over. I was very disappointed in myself, but now I realize that I am still teaching and I am still in the classroom through my school visits.” He also participates in mentoring activities for young people such as the annual Young Authors Conference sponsored by Success Beyond the Classroom (SBC).

LaRochelle has three new books being launched in 2013: How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans (illustrated by Mark Fearing), Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure: 50 Flaps to Flip! (illustrated by David LaRochelle), and MOO! (illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka).

With How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans (Dial Books, 2013), LaRochelle had very little contact with his illustrator during the process of creating the book. However, he couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome. “Mark took the idea and brought all his creative energy to it. The best part, without a doubt, is how the beans look in the book. To look at their faces and their antics in the background, I still go back and find new things every time I look.” With LaRochelle’s other two new titles, he had much more contact and collaboration with the illustrators.

(book spread from Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure)

Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure (Sterling, August 2013) is LaRochelle’s first attempt at writing and illustrating a book. Though it took five years from start to finish, he is pleased with the end result—50 fun flaps throughout the book that change the images on each page. With MOO! (Walker Childrens, October 2013), he had intended to self-illustrate the book. He was very excited about the challenge of writing a one-word book and had sketched out an example including illustrations. However, around the same time, he received a postcard announcing an art show for his friend Mike Wohnoutka. On that postcard was a cow, THE cow that LaRochelle envisioned for MOO! He approached Wohnoutka about the possibility of working together, and it took off from there.

Currently, LaRochelle is working on another picture book for Chronicle as well as several new picture book ideas. He has also been developing a middle-grade novel that will soon be ready to send to an editor. Though he has no plans to write another young adult novel following the success of Absolutely, Positively Not, he believes in never saying never. “Picture books still remains the genre that speaks to me most.”

 

Jeff Kinney Award-winning Au

Jeff Kinney Award-winning Author and Cartoonist

 

Who would have thought the adventures and misadventures of an average middle-school boy would be so popular? Definitely not Jeff Kinney, the author of the bestselling “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series (Amulet Books). A writer, cartoonist, game designer, producer, and one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2009, Kinney’s name is well known among readers of all ages. It wasn’t always so.

As a criminal justice major in college, Kinney first ventured into cartooning with the Igdoof comic strip published in his campus newspaper. The strip was so successful that he decided to be a cartoonist; but finding cartooning success after college took longer than he expected.

“I plugged away at my Wimpy Kid concept for about eight years before I dared to show it to anyone,” said Kinney. But once Wimpy Kid made its print debut in 2007, the demand only increased. Currently, with more than 85 million books in print and three Wimpy Kid movies, Greg Heffley is probably the most popular, extraordinary, “Wimpy” kid ever.

For those who are unfamiliar with the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” stories, they chronicle the events and thoughts of a perpetually befuddled, preadolescent Greg Heffley. Greg just never seems to fit in no matter how hard he tries. From dealing with his older and younger brothers to making and keeping friends to adapting to the complexities of middle school (and girls), Greg regularly has more misses than hits.

“In a sense, Greg is my alter ego. But he only represents the worst parts of my psyche, and those are exaggerated for comic effect,” says Kinney. “I think Greg is a sort of snapshot of my middle-school self. Hopefully I’ve come a long way since then.”

“I am very grateful to teachers and parents when they put one of my books into a kid’s hands.”

Kinney never intended for the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” ideas to become so popular with younger readers. In fact, he actually began writing the comedic stories for his adult siblings and himself while raising his family and working his “real” job designing and developing online games. He is quite pleased, though, to contribute to building a love of literacy in kids while they are younger. “I feel that if a kid reads one of my books and gets some laughs, the message to them will be clear: Reading is fun.”

In November, the eighth book in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series will be published by Abrams’ Amulet Books. Additionally, products inspired by the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series will be introduced via a partnership between Amulet and Galison/Mudpuppy and Kinney himself. With the line of products, Greg Heffley fans can be equipped with journals, notebooks, and other items to track their own adventures—both awkward and awesome.