Artist and children’s book author Michelle Nelson Schmidt shows fourth and fifth-grade students at Holy Spirit Elementary one of her first paintings she did in high school.
Artist and children’s book author Michelle Nelson Schmidt shows fourth and fifth-grade students at Holy Spirit Elementary one of her first paintings she did in high school.

November 16, 2016

Michelle Nelson-Schmidt was 4 years old, drawing on a sidewalk with chalk, when she, “knew with everything inside of me” she was an artist.

But it took her 31 more years of hard work, heartache, rejection, failure and finally triumph for her to truly realize her dream of writing and illustrating her own children’s books.

She has now been published six times since 2011 and is working on her seventh book “Cordelia.”

“That’s what I want to pass on to these kids. They need to know to never give up and it’s never too late to live your dreams,” she said on Tuesday after speaking with students at Kuemper Catholic Schools’ Holy Spirit Elementary Center in Carroll.

From high school to art school to a graphic design job, Nelson-Schmidt has always had art in her life, but she says she always felt like something was missing.

In 2002, while working as a graphic designer in Atlanta, Nelson-Schmidt decided to draw a portrait of her yellow Labrador.

More than 800 pet portraits later she’d almost turned it into a full-time job, but something was still missing.

“I decided doing children’s books had always been my dream and I was going to go for it,” she told the students. “It took a lot of hard work and three years of people telling me I wasn’t good enough until I got published.”

“Dogs, Dogs” and “Cats, Cats,” her first two books, were fairly simple reads. Once “Jonathan James and the What If Monster,” a story teaching kids to reject all the negative “what ifs?” in their lives and focus on the positive, was published in 2013, Nelson-Schmidt knew she had a message that would travel.

She now spends 15 to 20 weeks each year speaking at schools and libraries.

“Kids need to know that they’re in charge of making the lives they want to live,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but if you’re willing to work as hard as it takes, for as long as it takes, you can do almost anything.”

She even goes as far as sharing the “Secret of Life” with the students.

“Tell your brain that there’s nothing that will stop you from doing this thing you want to do,” she told the fourth- and fifth-grade students. “If you really mean it, you’ll find out you’re much stronger than you ever thought you were. You can push yourself harder than you thought you could — and you’ll get there — I’m proof of that.”

Nelson-Schmidt says choosing a favorite book is like choosing a favorite child — impossible to decide.

She’ll be attempting her first “chapter book” (children’s novel) for her next project.

“It’s really daunting,” she said. “I’m used to writing these books that are 500-800 words, but now I’ll be writing closer to 20,000 to finish.

Nelson-Schmidt will be at local schools on Wednesday and Thursday. She’ll read and sign books for the public at the Carroll Public Library beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Nelson-Schmidt’s books can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and locally at www.ReadUsBorne2me.com. More information and products can also be found on Nelson-Schmidt’s website, www.whatifmonster.com.