Children's book illustrator wows students

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Illustrator Michael P. White amazed Pierce Street Elementary School students with his airbrush and sketch pad and engrossed them with his creativity and outgoing personality Wednesday.
White walked the students through three drawings – a chicken, a beaver, and a shark – while the students followed along on their own paper. He even took suggestions from the students and incorporated them into the drawings.
For instance, a regular beaver was given a shock of blonde hair and a microphone, becoming “Justin Beaver.”
“The weirder the idea, the better,” he told them. “Dr. Seuss, Spongebob, they all started with a pencil and paper just like you have.”
White encouraged the students to be spontaneous and not worry about being perfect. He said his own teacher 28 years ago made him throw away his eraser, showing him that when worry is taken off the page, ideas come flying out. If nothing else, White wanted the children to know that they can do whatever they want if they aren’t afraid to try.
“There are as many ideas as stars out there,” he said, “and nine times out of ten, theirs are better than mine.”
Pierce Street third-grader Jordan Warren said she liked White because he was silly, as she held her drawing of a shark eating ice cream.
The credit for bringing White to Pierce Street goes to Amy Chiles, the school’s media specialist. Pierce Street is a model school for the Mississippi Arts Commission’s arts integration program in which teachers use the arts to teach each subject.
“It helps them get involved as opposed to just sitting there,” she said. “We sing and dance, and when they can apply what they have learned, they retain the information better.”
White’s career as an illustrator began at an art show in his hometown of Atlanta, when children’s book author Carmen Deedy lost her earring. The earring was given to her by her children for Mother’s Day, and it happened to roll into White’s tent. She saw his art and wanted it for her book “The Library Dragon.” The next thing White knew, he was being published.
Since then, White has illustrated four books, the latest of which is the sequel to “The Library Dragon.” Currently, he works for Peach Tree Publishing. The company works closely with artists and illustrators to match them together on a book-by-book basis.
“They get [the illustrators] in a room and say ‘We have a book about polar bears, draw us five polar bears,’ and based on what we bring them, they pick the artist they feel is the best fit for the book.”
riley.manning@journalinc.com