Natalie's Everyday Heroes: 18-year-old writes 10 books inspired by her life growing up in Racine
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Amanda Billerbeck is a prolific and award-winning author. She's written 10 books so far, and she's only 18 years old. The creative characters in her stories are mostly inspired by her life growing up in Racine. She sat down with CBS 58 to look at how her work has evolved over the last decade.
"So this is Debbity Doodah and the Case of the Missing Smoked Gouda," Billerbeck said, holding a copy of one of her books.
Debbity Doodah is a cat private eye.
"What happened, she asked? The gouda was stolen! Skipper cried," she read.
Debbity Doodah has been solving crimes for years on the pages of Billerbeck's books.
"On the contrary, Debbie said. I know who did it," she said.
Each book is "dedi-catted" to real pets. In this case, her own cat, Debbie.
I'm self-taught," the teen said, showing examples of her illustrations.
Billerbeck started with simple, hand-drawn characters in colored pencil and marker, and now she uses her tablet to create her illustrations.
"It's completely stylized like a comic," she said of her latest work.
Her most recent book is a graphic novel. It's called "Debbity Doodah and the Case of the Jailbreak." Billerbeck has come a long way from her first book that she wrote in the third grade.
"It's also fun to look back and see how my art has progressed," she said.
The Racine teenager started writing and illustrating these books when she was just 8-years-old.
"These are some of the first illustrations I did," showing off her first book. "It was a story about a prince, a princess and a misunderstood spider."
That story won first place in the Mary Jo Nettesheim Literary Competition, which is sponsored by Delta Kappa Gamma, a society for women educators.
"She came with her mom and dad and she was so excited. She was like bouncing around the room and everything," DKG member Julie Trafton remembered about that first award ceremony.
Trafton remembers Billerbeck well.
"I just made a comment that she had so much energy, I wished I could bottle it," Trafton said.
Not long after, Trafton got a package and inside was a bottle of Amanda's energy. She was impressed by Amanda from the beginning.
"Being an art teacher, I looked at the illustrations and I thought, wow, she's really talented for a third grader who can draw like this, and as she's gotten older, her drawings are just phenomenal," Trafton said.
Trafton has watched Amanda's growth, as she's written a book every year since.
"It's pretty unusual that she would have that focus and keep that all the way through 'til 12th grade," she said.
Ten books in all. One, even featuring a chicken named Bruce Wayne. Yes, inspired by vintage Batman she used to watch.
"He's a tap-dancing chicken, wants to go to Broadway. Finds love. Has kids," Billerbeck said with a smile.
That book is published and available on Amazon. A signed copy is also in her school library.
Some of her inspiration is a little unusual for a kid- including Edgar Allen Poe.
"I just kind of liked the gritty, dark atmosphere they had," she remembered about his stories.
Amanda is headed to the University of Wisconsin Stout to study graphic design in the fall, where she'll no doubt keep creating. Her art, always evolving.
"I feel like graphic design is a great way for me to put those skills into practice," she said.
She's also been named an ambassador for the Delta Kappa Gamma chapter in Racine, maintaining a relationship with the organization that helped her start it all.
"If she sets her mind to something, I think she's going to do it," Trafton said.
"I'm able to do something I love, study that and then put it to use," Billerbeck said.
"The Tale of Bruce Wayne" can be found here for purchase.
If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at [email protected].