Children’s author Derek Anderson visits the Roosevelt


Derek Anderson traces his roots as an author and illustrator right to Roosevelt Elementary School in Ames.

“That’s where I wrote my first story and drew my first picture,” Anderson said ahead of an Aug. 6 tour of The Roosevelt, the condos that were developed in the closed school.

“I always talk about my sophomore teacher, Ms. Block, every time I go out to talk – and I talk all over the United States. The teachers here have had an impact on me and I want the kids to know that,” he said. “I even dedicated one of my books to Mrs. Block.”

Anderson, 53, remembers drawing a picture of the Easter Bunny when he was in kindergarten.

“I was so proud of it that I reported it to Mr. Berhow, the manager. I gave it to him, he laminated it and hung it on his office wall,” Anderson told a group of condo owners before the visit. “It made me think I was going to be an artist.”

Now, Anderson is a New York Times bestselling illustrator living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Children's book author and illustrator Derek Anderson visited The Roosevelt on August 6.  Roosevelt Elementary School, where Anderson drew his first picture and wrote his first story, was converted to condominiums after the school closed.

Anderson knew from elementary school that he wanted to tell stories with words and pictures when he grew up.

“Elementary kids are just starting to explore what they’re going to do, who they’re going to be,” Anderson said. “For me, the right seeds were sown at the right time.

“Drawing these images and having them start to unfold the way I want. Being challenged to draw something and write a story about it – that was a highlight for me.

Anderson was a kindergarten through sixth grade student at Roosevelt from the 1974-75 to 1980-81 school year.

As a student at Iowa State, he drew a comic strip for the Iowa State Daily. For a while he thought he would work as a draftsman.

When he was in college, Derek’s mother, Carol Anderson, was a third-grade teacher at Edwards Elementary. One day she came home from work with a stack of new children’s books.

The Roosevelt School, where Derek Anderson attended elementary school, is featured as an illustration in one of the books in his Benny McGee and the Shark series.

“I started looking through the books and realized, ‘This is what I want to do!’ he exclaimed, “They’re in color. Each book can be about different characters, you can tell all these different stories.”

Anderson’s first book was published 20 years ago, and he was in Ames to celebrate the publication of his 29th and 30th books with an event at Dog-Eared Books, an independent bookstore on the main street of Ames.

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The new books are part of Anderson’s Croc and Ally series, with the titles “A Lot to Like!” and “The best in the world”.

The Roosevelt School illustration isn’t the only local reference in one of Anderson’s books. “Story County” is set on a farm and is a nod to the farming history of his family and his wife.

“It was pretty natural for me to make a book about a farm, except instead of corn and beans, I’m having them grow sweet corn and candy,” he said.

Anderson designed the art on the Ames Public Library Bookmobile, which was unveiled in 2014. The artwork features animal characters from his books.

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When an addition was built at Roosevelt in the 1960s, sixth graders created clay animals, which were incorporated into the brick walls.  A photo exhibit of these creations can be found in the hallway of the Roosevelt, and the original artwork is still incorporated into the walls of some of the condos.

Derek Anderson visits the Roosevelt

On August 6, Anderson visited The Roosevelt, along with his wife Cheryl Meyer, mother Carol Anderson, mother-in-law Jane Meyer, and a group of condo owners.

Anderson included an illustration of the Roosevelt school in one of the books in his Benny McGee and Shark series. The book is one of the items in an exhibit honoring the author in the lobby of the Roosevelt.

Built in 1923 and named after Theodore Roosevelt, the school closed in 2005. The school board at the time pointed to declining enrollment in the district, costly repairs needed to the building, and the excess elementary space as reasons for closing.

In 2010, the two-story brick building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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In 2013, local developer Dean Jensen bought the Roosevelt Building and about an acre of land it sits on, according to a 2015 Des Moines Register column written by The Roosevelt resident Dick Haws. The 1.3 acre green space on the east side of the building is owned by the City of Ames and is Roosevelt Park, which includes a stage used during Roosevelt’s Summer Sundays free gigs.

Children's book author and illustrator Derek Anderson shows where his desk was in second grade.

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Fifty-five geothermal wells and new 4-by-8-foot windows were among the building’s updates. It was developed into 20 condos, each with a unique floor plan, using many of the buildings’ historic features, from staircases to chalkboard tops, Haws wrote.

Along with an addition to Roosevelt in the 1960s, sixth-grade students in Glenn Connor’s art class were asked to create clay animals that were incorporated into the addition’s brick walls.

David S. Miller’s metal photos of the 14 animals are displayed in a hallway on the north side of the building. The actual 24 x 21 inch clay animal tiles are still on the walls of the Roosevelt. Three are in the stairwell of a condo, four are on an outside wall, and the rest are on the walls of the condos now on the second floor.

Ronna Faaborg covers business and the arts for the Ames Tribune. Contact her at [email protected]

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