How children’s book author and illustrator Jonathan Miller has made a career creating art, telling stories, and goofing off with kids all day
Jonathan Miller, shown in his West Ashley studio, releases his fifth book, A History of Wonder Dachshunds: Vol. 2, next month.
“One kid asked me, ‘Are you that same guy who sings karaoke songs in cars with celebrities?’” Jonathan Miller recalls. “Another said I looked like Uncle Joey from Full House. And a kindergartner once raised her hand to tell me I looked like a chicken nugget.” Being a children’s book author and illustrator isn’t always easy on the ego—not when your daily gig involves speaking to hundreds of brutally honest elementary schoolers around the Southeast.
“But I’m excited to get back to my seven-year-old critics this month,” says Miller, who in 2008 introduced his series, The Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Dachshund, about a pooch employed as a fact-checker for the Internet. Starting in September, he’ll be reading them a brand-new tome: A History of Wonder Dachshunds, Vol. 2 (Underdog Endeavor Productions, $18.50). This sequel to his fourth book introduces the main character’s extraordinary relatives—from Samesees the Great, who helped design the first pyramids, to a mad scientist who invented the dog treat.
Students at Marrington Elementary in Goose Creek gave Miller more than a couple thumbs up when he shared his Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Dachshund books with them last spring.
As with his four previous titles, Miller made the illustrations for Vol. 2 by layering pieces of construction paper and card stock carved out with an X-Acto knife and detailed with Sharpie markers. It’s a laborious process, taking up to 30 hours per illustration, but one that inspired him to create children’s books in the first place.
“I’d been drawing and painting since I was little but had gotten into paper artwork through making cards for friends,” explains the native of Clover, South Carolina, who earned a business degree from the College of Charleston in 2002. “I was looking for a way to get my art in front of people.”
An idea for a story, Sammy’s Last Week in Charleston, led to a business plan and the inception of his own publishing company. Less than 11 years later, he’s sold some 65,000 books via sammydogbooks.com; local outlets including Blue Bicycle Books and Wonder Works; and schools in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.
“From August to May, I visit seven or eight elementary schools per week, reading to the students and speaking to them about writing, illustrating, and book publishing,” explains Miller. It’s incredibly fun—and fulfilling. “I’ll get emails from parents saying, ‘What did you do to my child? He’s never written a story before,’” notes Miller, who can’t resist sharing his favorite title from a young author: Never Trust a Clown in a Subway. “It lets me know the kids are taking something away from this.”
Photographs by (Miller, book covers-3) MaryKat Hoeser & Ann Schuler & courtesy of (book covers-2) Underdog Endeavor Productions