Teachers ‘Toon Too! Getting to Know: Aron Nels Steinke

Kids love to make comics. As an art teacher, I see them drawing their favorite characters or creating their own almost every day (even if it’s not the assignment!).

Confession: sometimes us teachers like to make comics too. I first learned to draw by copying Batman. Now I’m working on my own graphic novels! Another fellow teacher/author/cartoonist, Aron Nels Steinke, has created a wonderful series called Mr. Wolf’s Class. I talked to Aron about what it’s like to both teach and ‘toon.



JR: When did you start creating comics?

ANS: Like you, I was really into superhero comics as a kid and really loved to copy the artwork. But the work I was copying seemed so complex and intimidating (muscles and shading) that I really could figure out how to manipulate the characters, so I rarely drew characters with my own poses. Even when I made up my own characters I would basically copy the poses from the books I was studying and change the uniform or hair style, etc. I didn’t draw and write my own stories until I was an adult, after I had training as an animator, an experience that gave me lots of practice drawing and not being precious with my artwork. The first real story I wrote and drew in comic form was done with tiny simple drawings. I had adopted this style because I wanted to focus on telling the story, rather than letting myself get bogged-down by the details of drawing, as I had in the past.

I see kids making their own comics today totally free from the drawing hangups I had as a kid. They just blaze ahead and create stories. I really think it’s the influence of today’s middle grade graphic novels like Mr. Wolf’s Class. Get a kid who has read through all the Dog Man or Raina Telgemeier books and they’ll be off creating their own comics in no time.

I love that you feature a teacher who is caring but real, nerves and all. How much of Mr. Wolf is you?

Mr. Wolf is a fictional version of myself, so he’s maybe ninety-percent me. Yes, he makes mistakes, but he is learning and growing and wants to do his best. Unlike Mr. Wolf, I do not wear ties and nicely-pressed and tucked-in shirts to work each day, and I certainly don’t have pointy ears, sharp teeth, and a snout.


The students of Hazelwood School seem very real too (despite being animals). How did you create the class?

I started working with children over ten years ago, and over time I’ve come to know lots of great kid personalities and voices. Mr. Wolf’s Class truly began as an autobiographical comic strip called MR. WOLF. As a way to protect the identity of my students, I drew them as animals and then, born out of those comic strips, was the desire to make a full-length graphic novel for kids. I wanted to make a book that my students would love and appreciate. The characters in Mr. Wolf’s Class may have all started out with a personality germ, inspired by real kids, but over time, they have evolved and claimed a unique life of their own.

Not to boast, but I get recognized all the time at the mall. Not for being a famous author, but as a teacher! (“Mr. Roth, what are you doing here?”) Do you have brushes with educator or author fame?

I did a comic strip about this once. Yes, when you’re a teacher you get noticed and recognized by the people in your school community all the time. It is a lot like being a mini-celebrity. It’s fun to run into students at the grocery store, or out and about, and it can be quite a shock for the student. Once when I was teaching preschool, I ran into a family of a two-and-a-half-year-old I was teaching. When the boy saw me, he must have had quite as shock as he reacted by quickly sinking his teeth into his father’s arms. The fourth and fifth grade students I teach today are usually quick to share and start up a conversation if I see them out and about. It’s a little different now with the pandemic, obviously. We’re all starved for real human contact, so it’s even more exciting to see people and connect when we do, even at six feet distance and with a mask on.


The outdoor world, particularly the woods, plays a big role in your series. What role do you hope the great outdoors plays in our students’ lives?

            I grew up on eleven acres in rural Washington State, where I spent my childhood roaming the woods and fields, picking huckleberries and hazelnuts, and falling asleep to the howls of coyotes. When I’m in nature I feel an immediate and spiritual connection to the universe. For me, there’s nothing better than being in the middle of an old-growth stand of cedar, hemlock, and douglas fir, surrounded by giant ferns, salal, and big leaf maples dripping with moss. In my latest Mr. Wolf’s Class book: FIELD TRIP, students spend the night in an old-growth forest and experience that beauty first hand. I hope the reader is inspired to get out to appreciate and protect the natural world.


Any advice for kids who are working on comics of their own?

Make real, physical copies of your comics with a photocopy machine or a scanner and printer if you can. Fold and staple your books and give them away to friends and family. Share your work with other people. You’ll only get better at making comics by making lots of comics. Try making a comic about yourself. Try to avoid writing and drawing a really long story until you’ve done lots of short-story comics first. Practice, practice, practice, and keep at it. If you need to start with stick figures, that is just fine. Don’t overthink your work. Just begin.

Great advice, Aron! Thank you so much for the awesome interview.

Mr. Wolf’s Class can be found wherever you get your books. I got Field Trip at Politics and Prose (DC) after Aron’s (virtual) event there: https://www.politics-prose.com/book/9781338617634

Check out Aron’s site at https://www.mrwolfsclass.com/

Art Blast! Fun Lessons for Kids and Aliens #10

Your Own Secret Code


Can you solve a famous art mystery? If so, please tell me what this says:


Give up? I give up, too. It’s a painting by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, in which he made up his own symbolic language. Did he tell anyone what it means? NO! So frustrating. And without a key, like the Rosetta Stone which was used to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, we may never know…

However, I DO know what this one below says. Can you figure it out? Hint: each thing represents one letter. (spoiler alert: answer key below)

Did you decipher it? Try this one:

Like Kandinsky, I’ve created a code of my own (mostly using symbols based on book and movie characters I like). Technically, it’s a cipher, not a code, because each symbol represents one letter. Possibly the most famous cipher in history is the Caesar Cipher, in which each letter of the alphabet shifts over by the same amount (A=B, B=C, C=D, etc. or A=C, B=D, C=E, etc.)

Ready to create an alphabetic cipher/code of your own? Here’s a key to fill out (or draw a grid or rows how you like):


You can make it kind of easy (like mine) or nearly impossible (like Kandinsky’s). The main trick is to come up with a symbol or letter to replace each letter of the alphabet. The symbols you use can be regular shapes, made up shapes, things that start with that letter, characters, or anything that works for you! Note: don’t make it too hard to replicate, you’re going to have to draw each symbol many times if you want to write something. Do you know an alphabet other than English/Latin (A, B, C…)? You can make a cipher for those letters too!

The final step is to share with a trusted friend, so you can write to each other in code. If you want to write me in my code, here’s my key (can you figure out why I used each symbol?):

My two codes said: ART IS THE BEST and BE GOOD TO EACH OTHER.

If you like codes and ciphers, here’s a cool article by children’s book author Kevin Sands.

Always Be Creative and Have a Blast!

Beep Says Yay to You!


Another Art Blast soon….

Art Blast! Fun Lessons for Kids and Aliens #9

Make Art with Stuff


True or False: You need expensive art materials to make art? And the answer is: FALSE. False, False, FALSE!

Art doesn’t come from having fancy paints (though fancy paint is nice). Art is born when you put your creative mind (your imagination) to work (effort).

I bet you can create some fun arrangements using ONLY objects you have in or around your home right now. (Important note: As always, safety first! And please get permission before you collect things, and put them back just as you found them!)

Here are some examples that I made. Can you name all the objects? What can you make?





Hey, mini-Beep wants to try the skateboard, too! YES, you can also use stuffed animals, toys, Legos, blocks and so on as part of your artistic arrangements!


Can you also draw as part of your art? OF COURSE! Check out this awesome slideshow that art teacher Kimberly Mueller made of her 3-6th grade students’ found object illustrations:

Finally, what about natural objects, like rocks, shells, sticks and so on? GO FOR IT! One of my favorite artists in the world, Andy Goldsworthy, makes most of his art when he goes outside and is inspired by natural materials to arrange and build ephemeral sculptures (ephemeral means they aren’t meant to last). Here are a few of his artworks:



Pretty amazing, huh? Just remember: You can make art anywhere!

Always Be Creative and Have a Blast!

Beep Says Yay to You!


Another Art Blast soon….

Art Blast! Fun Lessons for Kids and Aliens #8

Weave Off!


Last week, you learned how to weave on to a cardboard loom. Now, if you wove to the end, it’s time to take your weaving off the loom. Weave on, weave off, weave on, weave off, wax on, wax off (huh?). Have no fear, even Mini-Beep, who’s all tangled up, can do this if he follows the steps!


1. First, a tip: if your weaving is bending in towards the middle, it may because you’re pulling too hard at the end of each row. Pull gently to keep the guitar strings straight.



2. If you get all the way to the end, congratulations! If you look closely though, make sure you don’t see any of the guitar strings poking through. If you do, it means you didn’t smoosh enough. Do that now, and keep weaving!


3. Now you’re at the end! Great job!


4. To take the weaving off the loom, turn to the back and peel off the three pieces of tape.


5. Next grab and pull one of the loose ends of yarn out of the slot. Then pinch the loops and pop them over the tab (teeth as I called them before). They may be a little tight, it’s okay to pull hard and bend the cardboard.



6. Once you’ve popped the loops off, the weaving should pull free from that side. Now pop the loops off from the other end. There’s no tension, so these should be easy to remove.



7. And now it’s off!


8. But wait: a few more tips about how to neaten your weaving. The first thing I like to do is to push (smoosh) the yarn up to the top of the loops so it covers them.


9. You can also tie the little ends from your last piece into a knot if you want, and you can trim the loose ends. However, be very, very careful to NEVER, EVER, EVER cut the loops or the guitar strings inside. Those are holding your weaving together.


10. Good news: the cardboard loom can be reused. If you make another weaving, you can tie the loops from one end to the loops on another to make your weaving longer. Keep going and you’ll make a scarf!


Even with only one, you can wrap it around your wrist and tie it to make a wrist band. Or even a little blanket for your little friends! Super bonus if you keep weaving and make a blanket for you!


Always Be Creative and Have a Blast!

Beep Says Yay to You!

More soon…