Local brings imaginary worlds to life with his stories.
Author, illustrator and Edina resident Derek Anderson is a natural creator. Beginning his journey in first grade, he recalls the first time he set out to draw something and it turned out as planned—it was a picture of the Easter Bunny. Wanting to showcase his creation to the most important person he could think of, he gave it to his school principal—who laminated it and hung it up in his office. “It launched me in ways you couldn’t even describe. It changed the trajectory of my life,” Anderson says. From that moment on, he became the class artist.
Anderson took on his next project with gusto. Assigned to draw and write about a boat, Anderson opted for a drawing and story involving a pirate ship, to differentiate himself from his classmates. “It was my first entry into making things up and creating my own world, and it just grew from there and I never stopped drawing or writing after that,” he says.
In college, Anderson created a comic strip for Iowa State’s student newspaper; since childhood, he had aspirations of being a cartoonist. But during college, his mom (a teacher) came home from a reading conference with stacks of picture books, which sparked Anderson’s interest in being an author and illustrator. “There is a difference seeing the books as a grown up and creator versus being a part of that world as a [young] reader,” he says. “I love the absolute freedom that exists [in children’s books].”
However, his journey to literary success wasn’t an easy one. For nearly a decade, his creative pursuits were reserved for the nights and weekends, outside of his day job. And even when he began pursuing it more seriously, he received nothing but rejections—hundreds of them. “Becoming published is probably the hardest thing I have ever done,” he says. “It was impossible, but I just knew it was going to happen because I was not going to give up.”
All the hard work paid off. Anderson published his first book, Ready? Set. Raymond!, in 2002. Since then, he has illustrated over 30 children’s books and has authored 14 of those. “It is amazing to be able to create worlds. We [authors and illustrators] don’t have special effects budgets,” he says. “If I can draw it and paint it, I can make it real. I can make [stories] come to life for a reader, and I love that.”
A Slice of Home
Inspired by his own experiences, Anderson finds ways to incorporate the communities that kept him grounded in his stories.
Anderson is always on the search for unique names for his characters. One day, he found inspiration from a handful of Edina street names, which he used as character names in his book Benny McGeee and the Shark: We Are Famous! One of the characters is named Dewey Hill (after Dewey Hill Road), and his classmate is Delany Gleason (after Delaney Boulevard and Gleason Road). “It’s a fun way to include pieces of where I live in my books and these imagined worlds,” Anderson says.
In each of his books, Anderson subtly incorporates an illustration of the Iowa State University Campanile bell tower from his hometown and college alma mater in Ames.