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Bad grades, fibs led to success for children's book illustrator



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Lake Orion resident Matt Faulkner, who illustrates and writes childrenís books, is a very expressive and entertaining storyteller. (click for larger version)
February 22, 2012 - As a kid, Matt Faulkner didn't get the best grades in school and he liked to tell wildly, imaginative fibs to his mother.

But if it weren't for those experiences, the Lake Orion resident wouldn't be the person he is today, which is a highly-successful illustrator and author of children's books.

"If you don't feel good about what you're doing right now, if you get bad grades sometimes, don't worry about it. Me too. But look what I'm doing now, I write books," said Faulkner as he addressed all of the first and second-graders from Daniel Axford Elementary.

DA students took a bus ride over the Oxford High School Fine Arts Center Feb. 15 to hear Faulkner speak about his career and creative process, plus receive some words of encouragement and advice.

Since 1985, Faulkner has illustrated and written more than 35 children's books including A Taste of Colored Water, The Pirate Meets the Queen and The Monster Who Ate My Peas, the latter of which he read to DA kids.

As a child, Faulkner liked to draw, but it was his mother's encouragement, or rather punishment, that set him on the path to where he is today.

Faulkner loved to constantly tell his mother outrageous fibs such as stories involving his teacher being a 10-headed alien from Pluto. His mother, tired of his lies, gave Faulkner a pad of paper and a pencil, and required him to draw for 30 minutes every day when he came home from school.

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Daniel Axford second-grader Maria Raab admires the sketch illustrator Matt Faulkner made of her. (click for larger version)
"When you come home, all you can do is draw, no talking, no TV, nothing," Faulkner said. "And that's really how I learned how to draw. I taught myself how to draw."

He encouraged DA students to follow their passions. "If you love to dance, do that. If you to do math, do that. If you love to sing, do that," Faulkner said. "But the important thing is don't let your brain get sucked out by the TV or computer games all the time. They're fun, but if you want to get good (at what you love), you've got to practice."

For those students who aren't doing so well academically, Faulkner urged them to not give up because, based on his experiences, things will get better.

"I have to be honest with you, I was not the best student," he told the audience. "I was the last kid in class to learn the alphabet. I didn't know how to do fractions . . . Division and multiplication drove me crazy. I took a long time to learn how to read, too. I didn't get great grades."

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"Now, I have over 35 picture books that I've written and illustrated and I balance my own check book sometimes," he continued. "If you have trouble in school, all you have to do is remember, keep at it. I didn't quit and I kept doing what I like to do, drawing and telling stories. And I got better at math and writing."

Faulkner advised DA students, particularly those who have nightmares, to keep a sketchbook beside their beds, just like he does.

"I have the best medicine for bad dreams," he said. "Keep your sketchbook next to you and when you have bad dreams, grab it, turn the light on and do a drawing."

He had a nightmare that involved a mama kangaroo and her baby being chased by an alligator. When he woke up, he sketched a picture of the kangaroo.

About a month later, a children's magazine called him and asked if he could illustrate a kangaroo for its cover. He submitted the drawing from his dream, the magazine liked it and used it. The next thing you know, he received a check for $1,000.

After telling this story, Faulkner asked DA students, "Who in this room would like to have my job?"

A multitude of little hands immediately shot into the air.

"That's what I thought," he said.

To learn more about Matt Faulkner and his books, please visit www.mattfaulkner.com

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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