Margi Preus and Chris Monroe - Northland Story Tellers Extraordinaire
The Northland is rich with many talented area authors writing across all genres. Two award-winning local authors who work in young adult and children’s literature, Margi Preus and Chris Monroe, are wonderful storytellers whose fame has extended to wide circles outside of Duluth.
Around the World with Margi Preus
Margi Preus has a varied background in theater, writing and teaching. “Before I started writing books for young readers, I had a lot of oddball jobs: I taught swimming lessons in remote Alaskan villages, was a groom at a horse race track, have been an adventure travel guide, a professional note-taker, a dance instructor, a teacher of fiction writing—also children’s literature—and for a large portion of my grown-up life, the artistic director of a theater company in Duluth where I still live,” she said.
She added, “Writing is now my main job, and I can often be found doing just that in my ‘little house in the backyard.’”
Preus is the author of the Newberry Honor book Heart of a Samurai and other books for young readers, including the Minnesota Book Award winning West of the Moon, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award book “The Clue in the Trees,” part of the Enchantment Lake mystery series. She has written several other stand-alone books, featuring what she describes as “spies, sleuths and scoundrels.”
Besides the prestigious Newberry Award, her books have won other multiple awards, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, been honored as ALA/ALSC Notables, selected as an NPR Backseat Book Club pick, chosen for community reads and translated into many languages.
According to Bookpage, “Margi Preus has a remarkable ability to create fascinating, page-turning stories that transport readers to faraway times and places. . . Preus combines impeccable research with strong characterization and plot—the very elements that draw readers into history and spark the curiosity to learn more.”
Margi does an enormous amount of research for all of her books. Her Heart of the Samurai was inspired by her Sister Cities work involvement and another of her books, The Peace Bell. Research for Samurai also led her to travel back to Japan.
“My ancestors were all from Norway but emigrated a long time ago. My book ‘West of the Moon’ was inspired by my great-great-grandmother’s diary as she emigrated from Norway in 1851,” she explained. “It’s not actually about her, but about a young girl she met on the sailing ship coming to America, a girl traveling all alone with no one to meet her in America.”
Her newest book, Lily Leads the Way is set on Lake Superior where Lily, a little sailboat, must get out of the way of Tall Ships, off the Lake and under the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Preus does virtual and in-person visits to classrooms as well. The biggest praise writers can receive is from their readers. One from a 6th-grade student whose class Margi had visited, wrote her, “Now I like to read because of you.” And another who said, “You inspired me to write my own book.”
“I love to watch kids respond to the magic of reading, and I love being a part of that,” Margi said.
Chris Monroe and the Handy Little Monkey
Christine Monroe is a cartoonist, illustrator and author, known for her weekly comic “Violet Days” which ran for over 20 years in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In 2016, she won an Emmy Award for her animation artwork for "Kevin Kling: Lost And Found.”
“I wanted to be an artist since I was in kindergarten. I remember doing a pencil drawing of a rabbit and thinking ‘this looks so real to me.’”
In high school, she was the art editor The Duluth East High Birch Log yearbook. After graduating, she went on to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. After doing illustrations for magazines, catalogs, and newspapers for many years in the Twin Cities, she decided to move back to Duluth with her young son.
Monroe’s real breakthrough came with her illustrated children's books, including seven books in her “Monkey with a Tool Belt” series. Chris and her son talked about who should be the “hero” of her book and thought a monkey would be perfect. “We discussed that monkeys are funny and that a monkey could use tools,” she said.
At the Lerner Publisher’s blog, Monroe said, “The whole series started when I worked part-time at a family hardware store (Marshall) in Duluth for a long time. I wanted to create a fun character that used tools–I used what I knew and put a creative spin on it. ‘Monkey with a Tool Belt’ stuck in my head as a great title, and a monkey worked well as the character because a monkey has good technical skills!”
Reviewer Jennifer Robinson wrote, “Seussian tools and inventions in a Richard Scarry-like town, delivered with a comic strip flavor via panels and sketches, and featuring a main character who is utterly unique and irresistible, ‘Monkey with a Tool Belt’ is everything that a picture book should be.”
In 2020, Netflix released an animated series featuring Chico Bon Bon. Now in its fourth season, Netflix describes the show as “an ultra-silly comedy for preschoolers about the mechanical world and the way things work. Armed with tools and engineering smarts, monkey mechanic Chico Bon Bon and his Fix-It Force help the people of Blunderburg solve all of their problems.”
Monroe has also exhibited her oil pastel drawings and comics at the Duluth Art Institute, Tweed Museum of Art, Rifle Sport Gallery, WARM, Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Palazzo Sclafani and other galleries.
Chris also enjoys visiting classrooms and sharing her love of writing and illustrating. “I am so fortunate to be one of those people who could follow my dreams,” she said. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I have done the hard work to get where I am. I feel like I have come a long way from weighing nails in a hardware store!”