"The moral of Pete’s story is no matter what you step in you just keep walking along and singing your song because it’s all good."
James Dean, author and illustrator of the "Pete the Cat" children’s book series, encouraged students at First Presbyterian Christian Academy to not let situations in life get them down, at a book reading Wednesday.
Dean visited the school and brought along Pete the Cat, the main character of his stories.
The books chronicle Pete’s adventures with his friends.
Kindergarten and elementary students gathered in the school library to listen to Dean who talked about his life and how he came up with Pete the Cat.
Dean first did what he called an "art history lesson." He held up a picture of Leonard da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which students readily recognized. Dean said when he grew up he was very interested in art and told students to start paying attention to art.
Before becoming an author, Dean was an electrical engineer and always wanted to be an artist, like his father.
"I was pretty good at math. I decided against being an artist because my father never made any money being an artist and he was really good, so I didn’t think I could do that, but then I always wanted to do art," Dean said. "So when I was about 39 I quit my job and very soon after that I drew this picture."
Dean held up his very first picture of Pete the Cat.
Pete the Cat was based on Dean’s real black cat named Pete.
At the time Dean lived in Athens, Georgia, and was painting landscapes and barns.
"Then I drew a picture of my little black cat Pete and that was 1999. Very soon after that all I was doing was making paintings of Pete," Dean said. "I was going to art festivals and I was selling my paintings and then people started coming up to me, telling me it should be a children’s book."
After thinking about the idea for some time and attempting to write a book with wife Kimberly, Dean was approached by musician Eric Litwin. Litwin records children’s music CDs. Litwin had a story idea for a book called "I Love My White Shoes" and wanted to use Dean’s illustration of Pete for the story.
In 2008 "Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes", illustrated by Dean, written by Litwin was published.
Dean then read his latest book "Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes" to students and demonstrated how he draws Pete the Cat using simple shapes.
Pete the Cat walked out to the gasps of children and acted out the story "Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes."
Students had an opportunity to ask Dean questions about Pete. They asked about Pete’s eyes and ears and Dean explained why Pete does not have a mouth.
"The reason why Pete doesn’t have a mouth is because he was a black cat and if you ever look at a black cat you really can’t see their mouth very well," he said.
After the book reading, classes took photos with Dean and Pete. They gave Pete hugs and high-fives.
Dean said his way of becoming an author was unconventional.
"So I feel like I should tell people when you want to do something, you should just go and find a way," he said. "We didn’t have an agent. I never sent anything to a publisher. We did it the most backward way possible. So that’s my message, just go out and start looking for opportunities."
He encouraged people who want to be an artist to just start drawing.
"Not that it’s bad to go to school (for art) but if you can’t go to school you just start drawing and reading. I think you can learn anything from reading a book and I have a lot of art books," he said.
Dean is currently working on six more Pete the Cat books. He said visiting the students was treat because he does not get the opportunity to go out much.