Cooke students learn about writing, illustrating…and monsters

Cooke Elementary School students had a very exciting day Monday, March 18. Daniel Jude Miller, a children’s book author and illustrator, came to visit and talk about writing and illustrating books. Miller let the students in on a little secret, right from the start: the secret to becoming a good artist is practice.

The author stands on a stage with balloons to his left speaking to the students
Author Daniel Jude Miller talks to students at Cooke Elementary School.










“Practice a little, you’ll get a little better,” he said. “Practice a lot, you will get a lot better.”

Miller said his first love was drawing from when he was a very young kid. He even showed some of his drawings to the group – sports figures and ninja dinosaurs were just a couple.

The author, a man in a pink shirt, holds up a blue monster he created
The author holds up the monster he created for the Monster Project.

“I never traced any drawings,” said Miller. “You don’t learn from tracing. I would copy and I made mistakes. But you learn from your mistakes.”

He went on to study art at the School for Visual Arts in Manhattan where all he did was art. No science or math. Just art.

“I did thousands of drawings,” Miller said.

His three (so far) Monsters in Manhattan books are a hit with many students and librarians, including Julia Serrano, Cooke’s librarian. Miller explained that these books are about a boy named Mike who lives in Queens. His school vacations aren’t the best because of the visits of his awful cousins who are obnoxious, mean and rude. Mike takes them on a tour of all that the city has to offer, including the ghosts that live at all of the city’s famous landmarks.

A large group of homemade monsters, some with party hats, bright green, hands out wide.
Here are some of the 96 monsters created by Cooke Elementary students. They were very creative and detailed, said Julia Serrano, the Cooke librarian.

From these books, Miller has launched the Monster Project, where students create their own monsters made from everyday materials that might otherwise be recycled or tossed in the trash: plastic bottles, shoe boxes, old CDs, jars, socks – anything that could be part of an interesting monster.

After building their monsters, students then wrote his or her story, a biography of the monster. They included what the monster eats and drinks, if he is a good monster or bad one, silly or serious. They named them and were encouraged to be detailed in their stories. And they were.

On display in the Cooke library are 96 monsters, crafted by students as part of the project. It is an incredible array of creativity.


A group of monsters made from recyclable objects
More monsters. One that even glows.

Miller also had the students participate as he read from his very first book, “Everybody Wake Up!” about a little girl who made sure everyone was awake when she was. This group was enthusiastic when their time came to shout, “Everybody wake up!”

Miller confessed that he writes his books a little unconventionally, starting with the end first! He then rewrites, and rewrites again and again before reading it out loud and then giving it to a friend to read.  He has written 15 books but has published five so far. He said it takes him about three to four months to write each story, but up to a year to draw the illustrations.

When he is not writing his books, Miller said he likes to travel to schools to talk to students about writing and drawing. He presents at about 40 assemblies each year, spreading the word about writing, drawing and reading. Students in every grade were able to hear his message at Cooke.