‘Mr. Wolf’s Class’ author draws stories from his own classroom

Aron Nels Steinke uses his own life as an elementary school teacher to inspire his art as the author of the Mr. Wolf’s Class series. 

Steinke will share how he does that in Open Book: Aron Nels Steinkethe next installment in Sno-Isle Libraries 2021 online author event series. Steinke’s virtual visit is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 26. The online Zoom webinar has space for 3,000 attendees. 

Steinke said he’s always loved to draw and grew up reading all kinds of comics. 

“It wasn’t until I had finished animation school that I started telling my own stories through comics,” he saidI found that comics were the perfect way for me to make my own movie. A movie that’s read on paper with lines, form and color, where the reader controls the pace of the story. I make comics for kids because I love inspiring kids to read. 

Steinke started making comics in 2006, thanks to a grant from the Xeric Foundation, a private, nonprofit corporation founded by the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to give grants to comic book creators. In 2015, Steinke and his wife, Ariel Cohn, won the Best Publication for Early Readers Eisner Award for their book The Zoo Box.” 

Mr. Wolf’s Class” follows the exploits of a classroom of anthropomorphs and their teacher, Mr. Wolf, who happens to be a wolf. The series includes “Mystery Club,” “Lucky Stars” and “Field Trip.” The first three books have been cited by the New York Times and the Chicago Public Library and have won the Washington Library Association’s OTTER AwardOregon Spirit Honor Award, Kid’s Comics Choice Award, Beehive Award and Harvey Award. 

As a teacher of second- and third-graders in Portland, Ore., Steinke can draw from a lot of experience for his stories. Some real-life classroom shenanigans have made it onto the pages in fictionalized form, he said. 

I combine my lived experience with my imagination,” Steinke saidIn the first Mr. Wolf’s Class book, Penny goes missing when she falls asleep in a large cardboard box. That’s partly made up and partly true. I have had students momentarily go missing, such as when a student goes to the bathroom without telling anyone, or went home early without notification from the office, or when a student didn’t come in from recess. So, I know how it would feel to have a missing student. But I’ve never had a student fall asleep in a cardboard box. 

Laughter also plays major role for Steinke’s stories because I love to laugh, he said. 

I love to make other people laugh possibly even more. I try really hard to make readers laugh when they read my books. I try to write situations that have experiences that are unique or relatable for teachers and students,” he saidHere’s a situation: After class is over, Mr. Wolf finds a note on the ground. What should be written on the note? How can you make that funny and tell a story?” 

Steinke draws inspiration from other creative types. 

I’m always inspired by the work of other people,” he said. “When I read a book or watch a movie, or listen to music, I get inspired to want to make work. I’m skilled at writing and drawing comics so that is how I choose to express myself. I can’t stop wanting to create.” 

Steinke admits there was a gap in his knowledge of one vital book he never read as a child, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. 

I knew that I was missing something,” Steinke said. “After I graduated from animation schoolI started reading the picture books that I felt I missed as a kid. That’s when I finally picked it up and then went down the rabbit hole of Sendak’s career. 

To see recommended books lists, other author stories and upcoming Open Book events, go to sno-isle.org/openbook.

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