Pop quiz! Drawing by illustrator Derek Anderson | Chanhassen News
Derek Anderson’s illustrations for children’s books are exuberant, lively and energetic, filled with lovable characters that any child would be happy to befriend. Anderson, an Iowan native who now lives in Minneapolis, is living his childhood dream of being an artist. In addition to illustrating books for children’s writers, Anderson branched out, writing and illustrating his own books as well.
It wasn’t easy to get into the business, says Anderson. It takes persistence and self-confidence.
One of the things Anderson enjoys doing when he visits classrooms and talks to students is show them how an author / illustrator takes an idea and develops it over time into a finished book. He enjoys showing off his first sketches and how they change as he works on an idea.
“It’s a creative process,” said Anderson, “and it takes time. It’s fun to let kids see what it takes to tell a story and it doesn’t happen all at once. .
Anderson is a popular speaker and travels frequently across the country, visiting schools, speaking at book fairs and conferences. We managed to catch up with him and ask him a few questions.
Q: What is the first drawing that you “exhibited”?
A: When I was in kindergarten, I drew the first picture I can remember. It was a pencil drawing of the Easter bunny. It was the first time I had intended to draw something and the image ended up looking like what I intended to draw. I was so proud of it that I presented it to my school principal who hung it on his office wall for the rest of the school year. It was a huge moment in my life. It was the first time that one of my drawings had been exhibited anywhere. I knew I would be an artist after that.
Q: Do you remember your favorite children’s picture book and your favorite chapter book when you were growing up?
A: “Danny and the Dinosaur” by Syd Hoff sparked my imagination. Who wouldn’t want to spend a day with a dinosaur? And Bernard Wiseman’s Morris the Moose was another favorite. I loved how literal it was and the humor was so straightforward. The first book chapter that I remember that touched me deeply was “A Summer to Die”. by Lois Lowry. It is about a young girl who has cancer and who had cancer last summer with her family. I was nearing the end of the book and had to go with my mom to a class one night she was taking so I brought it. When I read the end, I had tears running down my face. I was desperately trying to hide them so my mom and her classmates couldn’t see.
Q: Have you ever met your favorite illustrators / authors?
A: I have met so many talented authors and artists from all over the United States and beyond. I had the opportunity to meet Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, in 1994. I was silent. He had been a childhood idol from my early days. I kept thinking, “This is Charles Schulz. This is the guy who created Snoopy!
Q: What is the most common question children ask you when you visit classrooms?
A: They always want to know where I get my ideas from. I can’t think of another question that has been asked more often. The truth is, ideas are everywhere. As writers and illustrators, we just practiced looking for them.
Q: Do you remember the funniest question you have ever been asked?
A: There have been so many fun questions over the years! Kids want to know everything, what the world was like when I was a kid, to why I made Hot Rod Hamster orange. One of the most surprising questions I can think of came from a first grader. She wanted to know why the books had to end. It’s an amazing spirit at work! I told him if the books didn’t stop they would be too big to carry.
Q: You designed such a cool bookmobile for the Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa. Will you ever design a similar bus when you go on guided book tours or go to book fairs, conventions or schools?
A: I was delighted to create the artwork for the new Ames Public Library bookmobile. I grew up in Ames and this city is so special to me, but it was not easy to create. The bookmobile is 30 feet long, 11 feet high, and required a tremendous amount of work. It’s always good to do things outside of your comfort zone. It challenges you and forces you to stretch. While I enjoyed the experience and the bookmobile turned out even better than I could have hoped for, I’m in no rush to do it again. I’ll be busy creating fun new characters and worlds for my books!