Children’s author and Decatur transplant Michelle Nelson-Schmidt said her husband often refers to her as “a butterfly that flits around not worrying about anything.”
“My husband is a computer software engineer and he’s always worrying about the worst case scenario, ‘What if this happens? What if that happens?’ So, I painted him a picture of this little green monster to bring to work with him,” Nelson-Schmidt said.
She told her husband that anytime he worried, he should tell his little ‘Whatif’ monster to be quiet. That was several years ago and now Nelson-Schmidt is bringing the little monster to the pages of a children’s book.
Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster will be released June 1, and Nelson-Schmidt said it is the book she was always meant to write. She said every person has a little voice inside his or her head that asks the question, “What if I fail?”
The beginning of the book depicts a small child climbing a tree, with the little Whatif monster on his shoulder whispering into his ear, “What if you fall?” Rather than continue climbing, the boy gets down. Throughout the rest of the book, Nelson-Schmidt said he is plagued by the monster until realizing he has to make peace with it and asks, “What if the best scenario happens?”
Nelson-Schmidt has been traveling around the country talking to children about her new book and encouraging them to follow their dreams. So far, she has given 56 presentations at different elementary schools.
“I tell them about being 4 years old, which is when I figured out I wanted to be an artist,” Nelson-Schmidt said. “Then about how in high school I was really good at math and science and my parents encouraged me to study science in college.”
Nelson-Schmidt said after several years in college she wanted to go to art school, which her parents didn’t support. She said she followed her dreams to become an artist and tells each group of children to follow their heart in everything they do, even if they’re afraid or the Whatif monster gets in the way.
“In every presentation I ask the kids to do a pinky promise with me, and to promise me they will follow their dreams, and when they do, to call me someday. I’ve probably got about 12,000 pinky promises out there,” Nelson-Schmidt said.
After attending art school, Nelson-Schmidt spent 10 years working as a graphic designer for Georgia Perimeter College. During this time she began painting pet portraits as a creative outlet in 2002 and selling her work at local festivals.
After seven years painting animal portraits, Nelson-Schmidt began working on picture books, Dogs, Dogs! and Cats, Cats! Since publication in September 2011, both books made children’s book publisher Kane Miller’s Top 25 best-sellers list, selling more than 3,500 of each title in just three months.
“I thought, ‘There is still a lesson to be learned from the Whatif monster. Why don’t I let him come to life and teach that lesson himself,’” she said.
Although Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster is geared toward children, Nelson-Schmidt said it deals with topics everyone can relate to: fear and anxiety.
“A lot of people say they want to start buying it for graduates. At the very end of the book the Whatif monster realizes that everything doesn’t always turn out bad,” Nelson-Schmidt said.