Author brings Cajun stories to Suffolk

Published 11:04 pm Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Students at Creekside Elementary learn to draw with author and cartoonist Mike Artell, who visited three Suffolk schools Wednesday. “This is a picture of me in college,” he joked.

Students from three elementary schools were regaled with tales of creepy crawlies and taught how to draw sharks when an award-winning Louisiana author visited Suffolk Wednesday.

Mike Artell, author of popular children’s books spanning a variety of topics, including “Petite Rouge,” “Jacques and de Beanstalk” and “Three Little Cajun Pigs,” visited Northern Shores Elementary, followed by Hillpoint and Creekside.

As the titles suggest, many of Artell’s books have a distinctly Cajun flavor. Also an illustrator, cartoonist, musician and storyteller, he lives near New Orleans, drawing on that area’s French Creole culture.

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For instance, “Petite Rouge,” based on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, takes place in a Louisiana swamp instead of a European forest, and the bad guy is an alligator, not a wolf.

“Everybody in my story talks funny because everybody in my story is a Cajun,” Artell told Creekside students. “They came from Canada a long time ago, and they talk funny.”

Artell encouraged the kids to attempt some gnarly tongue twisters, including “One really wide red whale” and “Red letter yellow letter” — try saying those three times fast.

Leslie Hamrick, media specialist at Hillpoint, said all the school’s second-graders and one fourth-grade class were entertained by Artell’s funny voices, cartooning examples and stories about life in the Cajun south.

“We have never had an author visit at this school before,” she said. “This is my second year in the library.”

The three schools’ media specialists worked together to arrange the visit, she said.

Back at Creekside, Artell spoke about his other books, including on outer space, the weather, insects, word sounds and cartooning.

These days, Artell illustrates his books on a tablet connected to a computer. He showed the students how he does it, and they happily drew along with him — only with pencil and paper — drafting a flag flying in the breeze, a man standing on a cliff, someone lost in a maze, and a fearsome shark.

Artell made it look easy, and his young art students managed to produce work pretty close to his own.

Students who had pre-ordered books had them signed by Artell, and he spoke about new projects he’s working on, including a book of poems, his first chapter book and a graphic novel.