My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)

I really love teachers. My mom and aunt and grandmother were teachers. Many of my friends are teachers. And I’ve had dozens of truly remarkable teachers throughout my life. So it might seem strange that I’d celebrate teachers with a children’s book about a monster teacher. But that’s what I did. Let me explain.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was a surprising act of kindness, from a primary school teacher who I thought was a monster. I was a sensitive little kid at the time, and my teacher was strict, and humorless, and tougher than anyone I’d ever known. I was convinced she didn’t like me, and I was stuck with her for an entire school year.

But then one day my teacher became very interested in one of the drawings I’d made in class. The drawing was of a country road lined with telephone poles, all of which got smaller and smaller as they faded toward the distant horizon. My teacher was especially interested in the fact that I’d drawn the scene in one-point-perspective. I’d never even heard of one-point-perspective, I just drew the scene as I imagined it. But my teacher was so impressed that she immediately took my drawing to the art teacher and the principal, and insisted that I be placed in our school’s advanced art program. Thanks to my “monster” teacher I began taking advanced art classes, taught by a high school art teacher, surrounded by other young art students. And just like that, I felt like a real artist.

The timing could not have been better. You see, that was the year my parents split up. It was a complicated situation. But when life was tough I had my art to keep me company. The self-confidence I gained from feeling like a real artist was invaluable during those years. And I might not have developed my artistic skills, or a sense of confidence, if not for my monster teacher.

Here’s one of the earliest sketches I made for this book. Ms. Kirby looked very different back then. And the art was similar to that in my book Children Make Terrible Pets.

I can recall plenty of purely wonderful teachers from my childhood. I could have easily created a sweet story about a wonderful teacher doing wonderful things. But I wanted to challenge my readers’ idea of what it means to be a teacher. I thought a story about a difficult teacher and a difficult student working through their differences would be more surprising and funny and honest, and would better reflect the unexpected little life lessons that often happen between teachers and students.

I had fun imagining Bobby and Ms. Kirby interacting in the park. And I tried to think of what might get them to let their guards down.

I tried to come up with a natural series of events, that would lead Bobby and Ms. Kirby to see each other in a different light.

I needed to make sure my story ideas were on target, so I started asking people about their own experiences in school. I asked teachers how they handle difficult children. I asked children how they handle difficult teachers. I asked my friends about their experiences in primary school. People had a lot to say. And their words helped me refine my ideas.

The story I decided to tell is about a gruff teacher named Ms. Kirby, and a sensitive kid named Bobby. We see the whole story from Bobby’s point of view. In the beginning, he imagines Ms. Kirby to look like a monster, so we see her as a monster. But then Bobby bumps into Ms. Kirby in the park, and the shock of seeing her outside of school helps him realize that she’s not just a teacher, she’s a person. And just as my teacher seemed less like a monster after helping me, Bobby’s teacher looks less like a monster as he slowly learns that she isn’t so bad.

I loved how Bobby and Ms. Kirby were so awkward when they first saw each other in the park. But I needed to rethink Ms. Kirby’s facial expression.

In this sketch Ms. Kirby’s facial expression tells us that she just wants to be left alone. And her big, goofy hat reinforces the idea that she has a life outside of school.

 

I didn’t like this first experiment with the final art, and I decided to rethink how I was doing things.

I began simplifying the color and design.

I ended up with a clean, simple art style, which helped me focus on the delicate details of the story.

 

It’s a tricky operation, creating a story about a little kid and a monster teacher. I wanted both of my characters to be flawed but likeable. I took inspiration from a thousand different experiences. The words went through countless revisions, and the art has changed considerably over time. But after tinkering with my ideas for several years they finally turned into a visual story I thought my readers might appreciate.

And now the book is finished. It’s entitled My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.). I hope you enjoy.

 

NOTE: Happily, the feud between Amazon and my publisher is over. However, I’d still encourage you to buy my books from an independent bookseller by clicking the Indiebound link below.

Indiebound.org

Categories: Book Production, Books, Classroom, Creative, Illustration, Uncategorized

14 responses to “My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)”

  1. Since I was a freshman in High School I’ve been keeping up with your work. Your ability to wow the audience with visuals while also tuning in on just the right word to make someone giggle is what I love about it all! This looks like another great addition, and I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for posting a bit of your process, keep up the great work!

  2. Cathy Bonnell says:

    I hope you had the chance to thank that early teacher. So often we teachers never know how our words & actions affect students–we can only hope it is something positive that student will remember later in life.

  3. Rebecca Van Slyke says:

    I am SO buying this book to read to my second graders on the first day of school!

  4. I love the whole concept of “Monster” teacher and how she is redeemed in the eyes of her student when she becomes human to them. I look forward to reading this one. Thanks Peter!

  5. Thanks for sharing the “story” behind the story!

  6. Peter, I just love hearing about your creative process and I think the book looks so fabulous. I’m a huge fan of Mr Tiger and I’m sure this book will be fantastic as well.

  7. Great story, and very relatable. Teachers are such a huge part of a child’s life, but I love how you tackled the story in such a humorous way. The artwork is awesome, but seeing the process is awesome too. My kids and I will be on the hunt for this book!

  8. I can’t wait! I will be using this in my new K-5 Art program that I start up this year!

  9. This is AWESOME Peter! Love seeing and reading your artistic and thought processes. Amazon or no amazon, I’m sure this will be a huge hit in the classrooms from the US to China (you should come back and visit again!)

  10. suzanne deck says:

    Everyone else has spoken my thoughts and written my words! Love your process and sharing of the background! Can’t wait to get the book! Such a great perspective!

  11. Tina Cho says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your story behind the story. That’s so neat that your “monster” teacher inspired you!

  12. violette says:

    I love this post – the story of this teacher and seeing your process (I’m such a sucker for process pictures) and what love you have for your subject. Thanks so much for sharing this – I can’t wait to read the book and look at the pictures! 🙂

  13. Roxanna says:

    I walked into a bookstore… Your book just captured my attention. I am currently an early childhood education student, and I am sure this book will be my company for many many years, I really love it.

  14. We have an annual “Fathers and Friends” day at our school. Last year I read this book to the kids and they all got to fold (and fly!) your paper airplanes in the library on this special day. It was hilarious watching the fathers, friends and kids carefully folding and revising their airplanes to get the maximum distance. Great book, great activity!

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