Principal’s Corner: Minnesota author-illustrator an inspiration to all

Published 9:22 am Monday, March 5, 2018

Principal’s Corner, By Tonya Franks

Albert Lea’s elementary schools were very fortunate this week to have visiting author and illustrator, Mike Wohnoutka, present to our students. Mike is a Minnesota native who grew up in Spicer. He now resides in Minneapolis with his wife and two children. 

Tonya Franks

As I looked across Halverson’s media center, Mike had everyone’s attention. It didn’t matter if you were in kindergarten, second grade, fifth grade, a teacher, para or principal — you were captivated. He hooked in students with his stories and allowed interactive opportunities that engaged their minds.

He shared that he loved to read growing up but thought books just magically appeared. He didn’t realize that authors and illustrators existed. As a young boy he had lots of energy. His teachers recognized his energy and led him to the arts as a creative outlet. As educators, it is important for us to build relationships with our students. Relationships are a valuable piece of education that allows us to reach the whole child — not just the academic child. It is important to identify student interests and what motivates them. Mike’s teachers did this for him — they tapped in to his interests, which allowed him to pursue a career path he loves. By schools inviting authors and illustrators to present, we recognize the importance of literacy and the arts in our schools and classrooms. The authors and illustrators are able to share their knowledge with students about opportunities available to them if that is what they are interested in.

During the presentation, Mike allowed students to participate in illustrations.  He asked guiding questions that helped develop the character he was illustrating. He made connections to art techniques, such as lighting, shading and perspective. He also discussed with students that while he is writing a story, he always thinks about who the story is about and what the problem and solution will be.  Finally, he shared with students that persistence and determination are very important. As an author-illustrator, he sends his work to an editor for feedback. It will often come back with a list of recommended changes. While he may not always like that he has to make changes, he recognizes in the end that his book is better after the changes have been made. He makes real-world connections for the students that allows them to see the importance of not giving up.

Thank you to Halverson, Hawthorne, Lakeview and Sibley parent-teacher organizations for recognizing the value of an author-illustrator visit and for funding this amazing event for our students.

Tonya Franks is the Halverson Elementary School principal.