7 questions with … illustrator, children's author Jonathan Miller during Beaumont stop – Beaumont Enterprise

It all started with a love for making paper art and a friend’s dachshund.

Illustrator and children’s author Jonathan Miller has been doing the job full-time since 2008, when he created the character of “Sammy the Wonder Dachshund,” an internet fact-checking canine.

Now, “Sammy” stars in four books, all written and illustrated by Miller. 

The illustrations are created by cutting out and layering construction paper to create images that children can replicate.

Miller, who is from Charleston, South Carolina, travels to various states throughout the year speaking to schools.

Last week, Miller stopped in Beaumont to speak to Legacy Christian Academy, St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica School and St. Anne Catholic School with a U-Haul loaded with hundreds of books to share “Sammy” and his adventures with students.

We spoke with Miller to discuss his inspirations and process.

Q: How did you get into writing and illustration?

A: The illustration came first. I was making paper art and that all started with a turkey Thanksgiving Day card that I made for a friend’s Thanksgiving, and I had a lot of fun making it. So, I started making other cards and smaller pieces of art out of paper.

Then, it just kept growing and growing until eventually I was making art out of thousands of pieces of paper.

I was looking for a way to get my art out in front of as many people as possible and then I met a friend’s dog Sammy, and I realized that I could write a book about a wiener dog that works for the internet and then more people will be able to see my artwork. So, art was the first thing and then Sammy inspired the books themselves.

Q: What led you to decide that you wanted to create children’s books as opposed to graphic novels geared towards older audiences?

A: Small, like kindergarten, first grade students learn art by doing collage and I (thought) all students will have some kind of connection to this type of art because they learn this, too. So, I thought a picture book illustrated that way would be the best way to go about it.

Q: Were there any artists in particular who informed your style or inspired it?

A: I grew up drawing Garfield, Snoopy and Calvin and Hobbes and different comic strip characters from the newspaper every Sunday, and I think that made me a better artist.

When I was a kid, Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite authors because he drew his doodles and stuff in his books, too. I’m one of those kids that grew up with a lot of Jim Henson movies and stuff like that — (he) was a big inspiration for me growing up, too.

Q: From writing to illustrating, about how long does it take you to complete each book? Do you find that you generally write the story first and then do the art for it? Or does it work the other way around?

A: It’s about 90 days’ worth of work from start to finish. I have to write and rewrite and illustrate and do a little bit of computer work I have to do to get the books ready to copy.

I write a rough draft and then I’ll draw all of the pictures for the book — like a storyboard basically. Then, I’ll start to make a couple of pictures and I’ll rewrite my story and I’ll make a couple of pictures and rewrite my story, I go back and forth doing that until the book is finished.

Q: You told me a little bit about your friend’s dog Sammy and how he kind of inspired you to start writing, but tell me a little bit more about how you developed this character. He’s an internet fact-checker — where did that come from?

A: (I was) just thinking about things that teachers would do with their students and they could use my books as like a tool. Small kids, when they start school, they have to learn internet safety and I thought that having Sammy be a fact-checker, that’d be something that’d be relatable to them.

The teacher could take my books and be like, ‘Not everything we see on the internet is correct, right?’ You have to make sure the information is coming from a good source, make sure that everything you read on the internet, you don’t just believe.

I didn’t really see a lot of books that had an internet theme to them. I just thought it would be a good instrument to teach kids about when they’re on the internet.

Q: What did your friend think of you using their dog as your main character?

A: They’re pretty cool with it. I get hundreds of emails a year with people sending me pictures of their dachshunds and want me to put their dogs in my books. My fourth book is like a family tree book to incorporate other people’s dogs. Sammy’s owner loves it.

For their wedding, ‘Sammy the Wonder Dachshund’ was actually listed that way on their little brochures that they give people at the wedding that (lists) the wedding party. He was the ring bearer for their wedding.

They like it — it’s made a lot of people happy putting their dachshunds in my history book.

Q: I know that you travel quite a lot to schools. What do you enjoy the most about visiting those schools and getting to talk with students about your books?

A: The questions kids ask me are always great. I always hear some really funny, entertaining things. But the best thing about it is talking to the kids and showing them a real-life implementation of what their teachers are trying to teach them in class — about why it’s important to edit, rewrite your stories.

I just like to try to show them a real-life version of the things their teachers are trying to teach and instill in them in school. When the kids love the books and they get all excited about them, it’s a fun job, it’s different every day which is important to me.

I get to travel, which I love. The best thing is when these kids enjoy the books because it makes all the nights I’m up, one o’clock in the morning cutting paper out and gluing it down well worth it. It’s a very rewarding job on top of being a fun job, too.

Bonus: What’s a favorite story you have from visiting a school — either like a reaction that a student had or maybe a funny question they asked you?

A: There’s thousands of these. I hear all kinds of stuff — one that’s always stuck out is that a kid asked if I was rich, and another kid interrupted and he goes, ‘Nah, of course he’s not, look how he’s dressed.’ Kids don’t have any type of filter, so it’s funny to hear.

I got an email the last time I was in Texas in February doing school visits and a mom emailed me and said, ‘We’ve had a dachshund in our house for seven years, and my son never knew it was called a dachshund until you came to his school and explained that dachshunds are weenie dogs.’ I thought that was kind of funny to hear.

I get emails from parents saying their kids come home and start making paper art, start writing stories and stuff — those stories always make me feel really good to hear, that the kids saw the presentation and then were inspired by it, too.

To check out Miller’s “The Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Dachshund” books, visit sammydogbooks.com.

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