The Picture Book Project: How a Group of Third Graders Kept the Story of Kindness Going

By Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy (author and illustrator of The Weird Series and Nobody!)

When Tim Francis, counselor at York and Jefferson Elementary Schools in Middlebury Indiana, reached out to thank us for creating The Weird Series, we had no idea that it would be the beginning of a unique student-centered anti-bullying project. The award-winning seasoned counselor explained how the emotional connection that students felt with the characters had made the series “the most requested and talked about books” he had ever seen. Tim felt that the illustrations brought the characters to life and noted that the books had sparked a change in behavior, with many more kids calling out bullying.

After Tim’s students shared suggestions for future books, we came up with a plan: Why not have the students create their own books and keep the story going? With the help of York Elementary School librarian, Paige Palmer, and the creativity and enthusiasm of third grade authors and illustrators, Tim turned The Picture Book Project into a reality. The final result? Two fully illustrated picture books on bullying and a lot of proud kids. We asked Tim and Paige to share their process so that others might add The Picture Book Project to their anti-bullying toolkits.


1. How did The Weird Series play a role in the project?

Tim: The Weird Series engages students in a way that made me think, “I’ve got to do more with this!” Taking kids through The Weird Series gets them excited about thinking in a different way.  Unmotivated, disengaged students who never raise their hands all year in class and struggle to pay attention have their hands up waving in the air begging to be called on!  The students really listened and seemed to connect with the characters and situations and relate them to happenings in their own experience.  After we finished going through the Weird Series we read “Nobody” and the students wanted more stories!

Paige: The kids were really excited to write a story, especially when they found out it was going to be sent to the author and illustrator of The Weird Series. As far as the characters were concerned, the kids knew each character well and when we started discussing what the book was going to be about they would start to reference characters from the different Weird Series books in regard to a situation they were trying to explain. I think they surprised themselves with their ability to tell a story. A lot of them asked if we could do it again because they had so much fun.


2. How did you schedule time to work on the project?

Tim: I have the students for classroom guidance every other week.  I have five third grade classrooms, so I took one session in each room for writing and one for drawing.

Paige: Here at York we worked on the story during our library time. Each class meets forlibrary once a week for 30 minutes. I divided the story between three classes: one class would write the beginning, one class would write the middle, and one class would write the ending.


3. How did you get the collaborative process started?

Tim:  I pulled up a Word document on the promethean board and kids started raising their hands and sharing ideas. My job was to capture the story that was taking shape.  We wrote and edited together as we went.

Paige: I hooked a laptop up to my Promethean board so the kids could see what I was typing as they told me what to type. I am a big supporter of letting kids be as creative as they can be so we "popcorned" out ideas and sentences as we went.

4. How did students decide on the main characters and the plot?

Tim: I met for lunch and conversation with six students who seemed to put the most effort into a questionnaire I used at the end of a classroom lesson.  Together we brainstormed the idea for the title and everyone wanted Emily to be in the book.  Other characters came into play in whole class instruction. One student suggested the name Jeff as a code word for Jefferson.  Another student suggested the name Ty as code word for Tigers (our school mascot) That was impressive to me.  I never would have thought of that!

Paige: We did a recap of what a bully, victim, and bystander were, who those characters were in the Weird series, and what their motivations/resolutions were. Then we did a rough outline of what we wanted our story to be and went from there. I wrote down all the characters and ideas we brainstormed so that each class could see what the other was thinking.

5. What role did you play in guiding students in the process?

Tim: My role was facilitating respectful discussion which was not difficult at all, and limiting the amount of characters and events that occurred.  It seemed it would have been easy for it to turn into a full-length novel!

Paige: I think my biggest role in this was guiding the kids and keeping them on track. As far as the story itself was concerned, I let the kids just flow with it. Each class wrote their part at the same time as the other classes. I made sure to read what the other classes had written to each class as I worked with them so they had an idea of where the other classes were taking the story.

6. Once the stories were written, how did you organize the illustration process?

Tim: Once the story was complete, I cut it into sections, and in the next guidance time I read the story and asked for students to volunteer to draw a picture that could go with that sentence or two.  I told them not all pictures would make it in the book.  Each strip of paper with words had a number, and they put that number on the back of their drawing so I could match them up later.  One day after school, I took the pictures where it appeared kids took the most time and put in the most effort and scanned them on our copier.  I then copied and pasted them into a Word document to finish up the book.  Some kids said they couldn’t draw.  I asked if you could draw a bus?  Or some diamonds for design? So everyone felt they could do something.

Paige: Once we finished the story, I divided it up onto pages the kids could illustrate, then divided the kids into groups so they could work on the illustrations together. It truly was a group effort! Illustrating took another 2-3 weeks.


7. What was the biggest challenge in the process? Did anything surprise you?

Tim: Trying to incorporate as many students as possible. It really wasn’t that big of a challenge for us.  I felt strongly about the importance of the project so it was easy to make time for it.  We all make time for what is important to us. They surprised me with the amount of ownership they showed of the project and how well they listened and worked together.  I was really encouraged by the respect they showed for each other’s ideas and the way they wanted everyone to be involved and included. They wanted everyone to have a voice.

Paige: Time was the biggest challenge! Especially since I still wanted the kids to be able to find and check out books during their library time as well.I found it so interesting the different characters the kids came up with and the situations they put the characters in. I think the one that was most profound to me was they chose to have the principal not believe the kids who were getting bullied. So often we tell them to "Tell an adult! Tell a teacher! Tell your principal!". But what happens if those people don't believe you? It seemed like a very real concern to them. I was also impressed that they chose not to get the bully in trouble for something he didn't do, even though it would have been easy to do so. Kids never cease to amaze me!

We asked the student authors and illustrators to share their thoughts on the project:

“This is a good activity to help students know more about how bullying effects everyone. Writing about it helps you in the real world. Writing helps express your experience.”

“You learn how bullying makes people feel and take time to think about it more.  It helps you understand you can stand up and say no.”

“Don’t be afraid you can’t write a book. Encourage each other. Don’t ever give up.”

“This is a really good story!”

We agree! Congratulations on keeping the story of kindness going. 


YES, book by York Elementary  

Stand Up, Be Strong, You Can! By Jefferson Elementary  

The Last One by Erin Frankel

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 11.42.54 AM.png

While my daughter and I helped tiny hands dip paintbrushes into glue mixture and press colorful tissue paper scraps onto the backdrop of cut-out manger scenes, a man at the back of the church cafeteria took to the stage to remind the children and their parents that they matter. Somos importantes en esta socieded. Somos importantes en nuestra comunidad. A large hand-painted black banner behind a long table of Latino culinary delights, all prepared to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, read: No Mas Deportaciones.

My heart ached and my blood boiled. Everyone should feel important. I wanted to build a perfect manger scene for the people in the room. I wanted them to have everything they deserve. The right to live together as a family in peace, without fear. The right to support their children, the right to healthcare, the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

I wanted to be part of a country that wouldn’t have the little girl or boy sitting in front of me wondering if they are important or wondering if they matter.  I wanted to be part of a world where people aren’t referred to as ‘aliens.’ I wanted to grab the microphone from the man, who by now was playing cheerful Spanish Christmas songs on his accordion, and tell everyone in the room that I care. That we care. That there are so many of us who are ashamed of the inhumanity of laws and directives made by those who never take the time to hear the stories and the anguish of those on the receiving end. I wanted to tell them that we who are human have hearts and will not abandon their cause.

When the song ended, the man spoke again. It was a role-play. A little boy was being bullied at school for speaking Spanish, so remember, he cautioned the children who were just putting their finishing touches on their crafts and enjoying some holiday cake, learn English really well

I helped a little girl peel off the last miniature star sticker on her craft set. Donde quieres poner la ultima estrella? I asked.  She searched for the perfect place to put the star but wasn’t sure. The manger was complete, and the sky was already filled with stars. Even a lamb and a donkey had managed to make it up there somehow. When I turned my head for a moment, she put the last sticker on. Where did you end up putting it? I asked in amazement.  She shrugged her shoulders and smiled. Looking at all of the stars together, she couldn’t remember which one was the last one. But it didn’t matter and we both knew it. Together, they were beautiful.

And so, if you are the last one...

The last one to come. 

The last one to make the journey.

The last one to hope that this land will welcome you.

The last one to speak your language because you are afraid or embarrassed.

The last one to stay at home for fear of going out.

The last one to miss your country even in its disarray because at least there you weren’t different.

Then let me tell you how brave I think you are. Let me tell you that you matter. Eres importante.

And if you have forgotten what it feels like to be the last one. Or if you have been so fortunate to have always had your place in the sky, then I ask you to look down from that high place and see those who might be suffering below, someone in a manger, that might just be the house next door.

If you are the last one to come, I want you to know that this is a more beautiful place because you are here.

We can all make room for one more star. And one more star. And one more star. 

Holding Spaces by Erin Frankel

Once when I was too exhausted to talk about an unresolved issue, too frustrated with hearing myself tell the same story again and again, too convinced that there really was no solution that I felt comfortable with at that moment, a dear friend of mine told me : I am holding a space for you if you ever want or need to talk about it.    Holding a space for me. Holding a space for me.  I repeated her offering several times in my mind. Each time I said the words, I envisioned my friend’s cupped hands outstretched before me. I could sense the rumble of everything going on around her, but that space that she was holding for me was safe, quiet, calm, and most of all…it was  there.  It was there waiting for that moment when I might want to talk or just sit with my emotions. And just like the image I was envisioning, I knew that when I did, I would be nestled in her hands. Even if the world spun uncontrollably beneath my feet, she wouldn’t let me fall. That vision comforted me. Just knowing that the space was there. Just having someone save me a sacred spot. What a beautiful gift.  I thought about the spaces that I hold for the people and things in my life that matter dearly. Suddenly my comforting vision turned into a collage of outstretched hands. Only this time, they were my own. I was holding many spaces, but I wondered if the people in my life felt the same depth of sincerity, the same strength, the same security that I experienced when  I  received this precious offering. When others nestled in my hands, could they feel in their core that this space was just for them? Was I holding them too tightly?  Had I let some people and some things fall through the cracks? And why, I wondered, were some of the hands I was envisioning sealed together in prayer? Who was I no longer holding a space for and was it possible to reconnect? At times, perhaps this person was me. Was I holding a space for myself?  I don’t know the answer to all of these questions, but I am convinced that the spaces we hold for ourselves and others is what connects and sustains us. I hope you find yourself somewhere in this space. I hope I find myself. No matter what you might be struggling with, remember: I am holding this space for you and for me.  I am holding this space. Gently.  Love,Erin

Once when I was too exhausted to talk about an unresolved issue, too frustrated with hearing myself tell the same story again and again, too convinced that there really was no solution that I felt comfortable with at that moment, a dear friend of mine told me: I am holding a space for you if you ever want or need to talk about it.

Holding a space for me. Holding a space for me. I repeated her offering several times in my mind. Each time I said the words, I envisioned my friend’s cupped hands outstretched before me. I could sense the rumble of everything going on around her, but that space that she was holding for me was safe, quiet, calm, and most of all…it was there. It was there waiting for that moment when I might want to talk or just sit with my emotions. And just like the image I was envisioning, I knew that when I did, I would be nestled in her hands. Even if the world spun uncontrollably beneath my feet, she wouldn’t let me fall. That vision comforted me. Just knowing that the space was there. Just having someone save me a sacred spot. What a beautiful gift.

I thought about the spaces that I hold for the people and things in my life that matter dearly. Suddenly my comforting vision turned into a collage of outstretched hands. Only this time, they were my own. I was holding many spaces, but I wondered if the people in my life felt the same depth of sincerity, the same strength, the same security that I experienced when I received this precious offering. When others nestled in my hands, could they feel in their core that this space was just for them? Was I holding them too tightly?  Had I let some people and some things fall through the cracks? And why, I wondered, were some of the hands I was envisioning sealed together in prayer? Who was I no longer holding a space for and was it possible to reconnect? At times, perhaps this person was me. Was I holding a space for myself?

I don’t know the answer to all of these questions, but I am convinced that the spaces we hold for ourselves and others is what connects and sustains us. I hope you find yourself somewhere in this space. I hope I find myself. No matter what you might be struggling with, remember: I am holding this space for you and for me.  I am holding this space. Gently.


C'mon over to the book party and win a free copy of Nobody!

It’s easy! To enter: 

1. Go to the SCBWI book launch page here.

2. Share our Nobody! book launch page on Facebook  or Twitter

3. Sign the Guest Book on our book launch page

4. Include your email address in your guest book message or send by email

5. Be one of the first 5 entries received!

Good Luck! 

By Free Spirit Publishing 2015

Keeping It Interesting with Kelsey Cadahia-Frankel

Next up on our blog series is an interview with Kelsey Cadahia-Frankel. Kelsey worked side by side with her mom, Erin Frankel, to develop the story of Nobody!. Kelsey began her collaboration with Paula and Erin on The Weird Series, when she was only in kindergarten.  Now in 6th grade, Kelsey has lots of experience in the creative process of writing and illustrating picture books. Last year, during the final stages of writing the story, Kelsey met with her mom every week at their favorite cafe to review the story and make additional changes. Her best work was done in the window seat below! Kelsey was a true inspiration for Paula and Erin and was always eager to help out. Look out for this interesting girl…we’re sure you’ll be hearing about her in the future!

Erin: What ice cream flavor best describes your personality?

Kelsey: Rainbow ice cream best describes my personality because I am full of surprises. When people meet me for the first time, they normally pick up on this very easily because I have many surprising things about myself.

Erin: When did you discover that you liked writing?

Kelsey:  I discovered that I liked writing the very first moment I learned to write in kindergarten. I remember we had a daily journal in my class where we would write something interesting about our day, and I always looked forward to this time of the day.

Erin: How was working on Nobody! different from working on The Weird Series?

Kelsey: When I worked on The Weird Series, I was still pretty young so I didn’t collaborate as much on the writing as I did on the illustrations. I drew the words in the background design in Weird, Dare, and Tough. When I worked on Nobody, I participated in the writing much more. My mom and I would sit at our favorite cafe every week and I would help revise the story. This was a very fun experience, and it was also helpful in getting a sneak peek at what the writing industry looks like.

Erin: What are some of the things that you do to relax?

Kelsey: Learning how to be relaxed is a very important skill that I think everyone should learn in life. Some of the things that help me to relax are splashing water on my face or going out into nature. Going outside provides so much relaxation because it is a way to feel free and let all of your feelings out. Sometimes all you need to do to calm down is let your feelings out, so I try to do that as much as possible.

Erin: Do you have a favorite picture of yourself? What is it about this picture that you like?

Kelsey: My favorite picture of myself is below. The reason why I like it so much is because when I took it I felt so alive and free! Every time that I see this picture it reminds me to always look on the bright side of life.

Erin: What makes a nice friend?

Kelsey: For me what makes a nice friend is having someone you can count on.  Friends should always have your back and a great friend makes you feel happy.  One of the most important properties of all friends is knowing that they are nice to everyone and not only you. This matters because if you don’t have a friend that is nice to other people then you can’t enjoy yourself.

Erin: What makes you an interesting person?

Kelsey: What makes me an interesting person is being different in all sorts of ways. I lived in Spain and in Alabama so I have experienced different cultures throughout my life. I’m also interesting because I always want to learn new things and figure out how things work. I have a very strong interest in animal rights, and I have supported many causes because of this.

Erin: Do you have a special teacher who you will always remember? What three words would you use to describe her?

Kelsey: I have a very special teacher and her name is Ms. Evans. She was my third grade teacher and I remember that the first day I got to my new school, she made me feel as comfortable as possible. I have stayed in touch with her all throughout elementary school and now middle school and she has been someone that has always been there for me. The three words that I would use to describe her are thoughtful, astounding, inspiring, and kind. Oops… that’s four!

Erin: What have you done for others recently?

Kelsey: A few weeks ago, I organized an event for charity. I invited my friends over to make welcome bags for children at the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that provides temporary housing for children who are receiving life saving medicine in a place where they don’t live. We delivered these bags, and the kids were very grateful for what we did. I’m also in the process of spreading awareness for animal captivity in SeaWorld and donating to organizations that help this cause. I’m putting together a fundraiser in the fall, so check back for information for how you can get involved.

Erin: Would you like to share something you have written? Do you want us to know anything special about this piece?

Kelsey: In my reading class a few months ago, we read the book Walk Two Moons. A phrase that was repeated many times throughout this book was “don’t lean on broken reeds.” I wrote a poem about this and I think that it illustrates to not rely on something that won’t always be there to hold you up. Here is the piece:

                                                              Leaning on Broken Reeds

By: Kelsey Cadahia


Leaning on broken reeds,

relying on something to hold us up.

A ladder-

or pure hope,

eventually breaks.

A warming hug,

or friendly wink-

makes all the difference.

Sooner or later,

nothing is left.

The reeds snap.

The fall is hard.

What used to be real,

is now all a lie.

The truth hits hard-

like a ton of bricks.

If we fall,

nothing catches us.

The water that sustained our weight

has disintegrated into mid air.

If we hold ourselves up,

the reeds will grow strong again.

Erin: Thanks, Kelsey. That’s so Interesting!

That’s So Interesting! Blog Series Kickoff and Book Giveaway!

When Thomas is bullied by Kyle in Nobody!, he wonders if there is something wrong with him: 

                   What if Kyle is right? What if nobody likes me? What if I am different?

But an observation leads him to wonder:

         But aren’t we all different in some way? Isn’t that what makes things interesting? 

The answer, Thomas, is YES! Our differences make us interesting. We all have something interesting and unique to offer the world. Think about the things that you enjoy doing that make you an interesting person. Maybe you have a hobby that you love? Maybe you have a great sense of humor? Maybe you have traveled to interesting places and met other interesting people? Maybe you write poetry? Maybe you like to cook? Maybe you can speak several languages? There are so many things that make you interesting. 

Now think about how you would feel if someone bullied you about those things. When Thomas was being bullied in Nobody!, he didn’t feel like an interesting person - he just felt sad and worried all the time. Fortunately, he had people who were willing to stand up for him and that made a big difference. I think the people who stood up for Thomas are interesting! Think about it…they did something different. They didn’t just stand by while someone was being bullied. They encouraged Thomas to keep doing the things that he enjoyed and they spent time doing those things together with Thomas. 

How about you? What makes you interesting? 

We want to hear from you, our kid readers, about all of the wonderful things that make YOU unique!  Send us a hand-written letter by June 15th to:

That's So Interesting Contest c/o Free Spirit Publishing 217 Fifth Avenue North, Suite 200 Minneapolis, MN 55401-1299

Be sure to include your name, address, and an email address where you can be reached.

Once all the letters are in, we will randomly select five letter writers to feature on our blog -  and to make things even more interesting - we will give away five complimentary autographed copies of Nobody!

While we wait for your letters, we'll start by introducing you to some of the interesting kids who helped create Nobody!

First up in our blog series is an interview of Ludwig Bryngelsson. He attends 4th grade on the other side of the globe in Malmö, Sweden. Aside from speaking both Swedish and English, Ludwig is a very talented artist. He was a great help to Paula while illustrating Nobody! Thomas, the main character, is a 4th grade boy who loves to draw. Having never been a boy and being much older than a 4th grader, Paula needed a little guidance on how boys his age draw. Ludwig always jumped to the challenge whenever Paula needed help. He drew his vision of a bully, drew all of the inspiration for the bugs and doodles and even whipped out a few self-portraits. All of this helped Paula to leap off and do Thomas’ drawings in her own hand. Ludwig was a true professional and inspiration throughout the process. We can’t wait to see where he is in twenty years!

Ludwig Bryngelsson at work in his studio.

Ludwig Bryngelsson at work in his studio.

Paula: If you could be a sound, what would it be?

Ludwig: I would be "boom" like something exploding.

Paula: What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

Ludwig: The funniest thing that ever happened to me was when I was 7 or 8 and I was trying to tell my mom that I had a loose tooth while she was helping me brush my teeth and my loose tooth flew out of my mouth and across the bathroom floor.

Paula: What do you think your life will be like in the future?

Ludwig: In the future I want to make music and I haven't figured out what I want to study when I get older.   

Paula: Who is your best friend and why?

Ludwig: My best friend is Rasmus. He is nice and we have known each other since we were in preschool. He is probably the first friend that I ever made.  

Paula: What's the coolest thing you saw someone do today?

Ludwig: My dance teacher, Artan, dancing like Michael Jackson. He is really good!

Paula: How would you change the world if you could?

Ludwig: I would make people stop fighting and having wars. 

Paula: What do you think makes you an interesting person?

Ludwig: Well I have a good imagination and my parents come from different places. We live in Sweden. My mom comes from the US but her parents are Cuban. My dad is Swedish and we speak both Swedish and English at home.

Paula: Who is the most interesting person you know? What makes that person interesting? 

Ludwig: My dance teacher Artan. He is a great dancer and he owns real Michael Jackson stuff like a jacket that Michael Jackson used to wear.

Paula: Your artwork is really amazing! What do you like about making art? 

Ludwig: It's fun to do and to take your time and when it's done it feels pretty cool.

Paula: We heard you do some volunteering at your school. We’d love to hear more about it! 

Ludwig: If I see people that are alone in the schoolyard then I can help them find someone to play with. Or if I see that someone that's starting a fight I'll tell a teacher or some grown-up to go stop the fight. So I go around looking at kids and see so they don't start to fight then I tell grown-ups to go stop it. Almost like a good and nice spy. It's called kamratstödjare in Swedish which means like Friends Helper.

Ludwig and his friend Axel on the job as Friends Helpers

Ludwig and his friend Axel on the job as Friends Helpers

That’s so interesting!  We really enjoyed reading about you, Ludwig. Pretty cool stuff!

Readers: Check back in a couple of weeks for our next interview and get those letters in the mail!

Pencils down!

Nobody! is officially done and off to the presses! It comes out May 2015 and is already available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N. I can't wait for the world to see it! I honestly never thought I would reach the finish line as it was like a moving target. Now it's time to celebrate...oh how I wish that Erin and I were neighbors.

Rachael Gazdick - Helping Dreams Come True

Back when Paula and I first met Rachael Gazdick during our college days at Syracuse University, she was already moving mountains on campus and in the surrounding community. Now, as Executive Director of the Colorado "I Have a Dream" Foundation (CIHAD), she is building bridges to brighter todays and tomorrows through leadership and mentoring. The ripple effect of her work with children and young adults is undeniable and inspirational. We hope you enjoy reading about this remarkable foundation and Rachael Gazdick's commitment to making a difference. Thank you, Rachael - for all that you do! 

                                                                    Rachael Gazdick

                                                                    Rachael Gazdick

Can you tell us a little about the work you do at the Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation (CIHAD)? 

The Colorado "I Have a Dream"® Foundation (CIHAD), founded in 1988, is a long-term academic and social mentorship program for youth who live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and/or attend underperforming schools in Metro Denver. Over the last 26 years, CIHAD has developed and fine-tuned a 10-year “hands-on cohort model” for our participants who we affectionately call Dreamers. The CIHAD foundation has impacted the lives of 630 Dreamers through; mentoring, academic enrichment services, social-emotional supports, global cultural exploration activities, experiential learning, community service projects, internship and corporate networking experiences, collegiate coaching and tuition assistance for higher education. Dreamers are currently selected and adopted in the 3rd grade and are provided these services up and through post-secondary pursuits.

At CIHAD, you refer to students as ‘Dreamers’ - what special qualities make someone a Dreamer? 

To be a Dreamer is to be provided the opportunity to become your true authentic self.   We want our students to envision themselves being able to accomplish anything they set their minds to.  Our role at CIHAD is to facilitate that process, ignite our students’ intellectual curiosity, and expose them to the world around them.   

How would you describe the ripple effect that takes place at CIHAD? 

Empowering Dreamers has a positive impact in their homes and communities. On average, our Dreamers graduate at a rate that is double the rate of their peers who grow up in the same neighborhoods and the college going rate is triple that of their peers. High school and college graduation increases economic stability and breaks generational poverty cycles. 

If you could put your experience at CIHAD into one word, like the titles of The Weird Series, what would that word be and why? 

Relentless  - The CIHAD family is relentless in its pursuit of Dreamer success. We do whatever it takes to ensure that they are reaching their full potential.

Did you always envision yourself giving back to your community and helping others? Looking back, did someone influence you in this regard? Who had a ripple effect on you?

Giving back has always been a part of my fabric. Its organic and innate, a quality that my family helped to foster. In our family, it was important for us to always remember where we came from, what our struggles were and to be thankful for a strong family foundation and nurturing community. 

I have always felt that it is important to create and/or co-exist in communities that are supportive, diverse and proactive. In these communities, there are many influential people who provide the group with wisdom, resources and guidance. I have learned greatly from these teachers and have made it my life mission to carry forward our collective wisdom. 

What is your favorite quote about kindness?

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

What advice would you give to a child who is involved in bullying? 

Both the bully and the recipient need to be supported and understood. It is important to get to the root cause of the conflict and develop an intervention strategy. 

I would tell the bully that his/her behavior is equally hurtful and harmful to his/herself and to the person being bullied. You only have one reputation and our world is so interconnected that your reputation will follow you for a lifetime. If you want to be respected you must show respect. 

If a child were being bullied I would encourage them to express their emotions around the experience and encourage them to share their experience with a caring adult.  I would also remind them that no one has the right to take away their dignity and self worth.

What do you want people to know about The Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation? 

I want people to know, that what we do at CIHAD Foundation, works because it is a long-term commitment, which enables us to build deep meaningful relationships with our Dreamers and their families. There are no quick fixes for systemic problems, we understand that, and we tackle it head-on.

School Visit to the Lynbrook Kindergarten Center

I would like to thank the Lynbrook Kindergarten Center for having me come for a full day visit this week! There were hundreds of 5 yr olds and I loved each and every one. I read all three books to each of the classes and did a fun art activity on expressing emotions in characters. It was also really rewarding to talk the the kids about bullying and building confidence. What a wonderful experience. Special shout out to Emily Polokoff for helping put the event together and for assisting me.

School visit to the Oliver Street School!

I would like to thank Ms. Rodrigues' 4th grade class at Oliver Street School in Newark, NJ. It was the most fun class visit ever! I shared the process of making picture books and my love for drawing and the kids asked millions of brilliant and insightful questions. They filled me up with tons of inspiration for our next book (which begins now!).

Each student received a copy of each book thanks to the non-profit literacy organization Kids Research Center (KRC). 

Many thanks! Paula

The Meaningful Work of Marlene Veloso

I wrote a blog post several weeks ago - You Never Know, by Erin Frankel - which resonated with many readers. Feedback was so positive, that it got me thinking about why that particular piece touched so many people. Perhaps the awareness that our acts of kindness and generosity can be truly meaningful to another human being gave readers pause for reflection. To consider that you never know what someone else has been through or is going through is, in itself, an act of kindness. You may not know what someone else brings to the table, but your decision to bring kindness can have a profound impact on what that person takes away and, in turn, passes on. 

Paula and I have decided to host a series of interviews on our blog that highlight this ripple effect that occurs when kindness is spread from person to person.

To start the series, we interviewed Marlene Veloso, Executive Director at the Kids Research Center, a children’s literacy non-profit based in New York City. Kudos to Marlene for sharing her passion with others and making a difference. 

Marlene Veloso, Executive Director at Kids Research Center 

Marlene Veloso, Executive Director at Kids Research Center 

How did the idea for the Kids Research Center come about? 


A few years ago, I was working as a literacy specialist in New York City and saw a need for programs that engage children in interactive, literacy activities, that incorporate parents into the curriculum, and create an environment where reading is valued, encouraged and fun. I spoke to a few friends that shared my passion for literacy and we put together our first event, a book drive that generated 250 books for children. 


If you had to pick one word, like the titles of the Weird Series, to describe the work you do at KRC...what would it be and why? 


I think the word would be “motivate.” Our parent workshops motivate parents to read with their children at home. Our literacy programs motivate children to ask questions and think critically. Our reading rooms motivate and enable children to research topics of interest. Our book drives motivate people to help others. 


What was your experience with books when you were growing up? 


I loved books and stories. I especially liked series, like The Berenstain Bears and Sweet Valley High. I enjoyed those characters and wanted to spend more time with them. I’m sure the readers of The Weird Series can relate.


What is a good age to start reading to our children? 


You can start when their babies. Infants love books that are musical so pick books to read that have rhythm and rhyme. I recommend “Jazz Baby” by Lisa Wheeler. For toddlers, it’s great to read books that depict their every day lives. Books on bedtime routines, using the potty, or being dropped off at school help them make a connection between stories and their world. 


The work you do at KRC is so meaningful. Looking back, is there one particular memory that means a lot to you. 


I have several and they’re all moments when I see our work having a positive impact. When a struggling reader finds the courage to read aloud in class, when an immigrant parents tells us that we have given her the confidence to read to her children in English, when children run into a reading room that we just set-up, eager to see what books we’ve stocked on the shelves – those moments are priceless!


What do you hope to achieve at KRC? What is your vision for the future? 


Our goal is to inspire children to ask questions, think critically, engage in reading, and create meaningful work. To do that, we must continue to deliver consistent, quality programs.

Is it true that we might find some books written by you on the shelves at KRC in the near future? Tell all! 


Yes, I’m excited to tell you that I have two books coming out in the fall of 2015 with Free Spirit Publishing. The books are part of a baby board book series for ages 0-2. I had a lot of fun writing these books. I think babies are intelligent and innately curious so I really enjoyed creating a series that celebrates a child’s natural desire to explore, discover, and learn.


What advice would you give to a child who is involved in bullying? 


To find courage – we all have it. It’s doesn’t have to be a big act of courage. A lot of times, small acts lead to a big change. Like in “Weird,” when Luisa decides to put her polka dot boots back on. Or later, when she continues to tell jokes and raises her hand in class. These are small acts that led to a big change in how she felt about herself and how Sam responded to her.


Luisa, Jayla, and Sam in the Weird Series each have a visual element that represents their stories and who they are. What would your visual element be if we wrote a book about you? 


I love reading, writing, and learning so I think a book would best represent me. In fact, my friend recently got married and gave all her bridesmaids personalize necklaces. Mine had a book charm. 

Thanks Marlene, you are an inspiration to all! 

You Never Know, by Erin Frankel

As I stood in line at the grocery store, I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I knew my eyes were red and puffy from crying, and I also knew that any little thing would set me off again. I had just got word the night before that one of my dearest friends had died and I was struck with grief. The otherwise merely annoying computerized self-checkout voice seemed exceedingly insensitive as she ordered me to ‘place the item in the bag.’ She may have said please, but I didn’t hear it. Self check out had been a bad choice. My mind was miles away, and even the mundane task of finding my rewards card and placing the item in the right bag was just too much to handle. But she just wouldn’t let up. ‘Please remove any unwanted items from the bagging area.’  Oh, shut up! I wanted to shout. Can’t you see I’m having a hard day? Cut me some slack and just let me get out of here. But then came a gentle human voice, “You doin’ ok, ma’am? Here, let me take care of that for you.” With a few clicks on the touch screen, the grocery store worker finished bagging my items and walked me to the door.  He had done it. He had given me just enough understanding and compassion to make my eyes well up with tears again. But I was grateful. I’m sure he wondered what was wrong with me as I hurried on my way. Chances were good he’d never know. 

And that got me thinking about how we really never know what any one person may be going through on any given day. We never really know how vulnerable a person may be feeling. We never really know what a person’s ‘moment before’ may have been.  I brought that awareness with me as I struggled to get through the other parts of my daily routine. In the midst of sadness, how was I experiencing the way others treated me?  What I discovered gave me pause for thought. I realized  that ‘little touches’ seemed to touch me more. 

The driver who signaled for me to take a parking space that he had been waiting for, which I had inadvertently started pulling into...

My daughter asking me if I would like a warm milk with honey...

The lady at the bakery who held the last loaf of my favorite bread for me...

The typically chatty mother who stood by me at school pick up and didn’t say a word...sensing my need for silence. 

These small gestures felt like gifts. Gentle reminders of the kindness of the human spirit that holds us up when we are down. They didn’t take away my grief, of course, but they didn’t add anything to it either. I wondered how different a day it would have been had the man at the grocery store yelled at me to hurry up and move the line along? Or if the man at the parking space had beeped furiously at me and shouted choice words out the window?  How much darker would the world have felt had the people who I interacted with on that day not chosen kindness? 

Just a few days later, I went for a nature walk. The bitter cold of winter - a perfect match - for the bitter feelings I was experiencing as my initial sadness turned to anger and questions of why. I crossed paths with an elderly gentleman who I encounter on occasion at the park. He always walks his dog alone, and there seems to be a certain sadness about him.  He isn’t a man of many words, and when our dogs stop to play for a moment, I am usually the one who offers a greeting or a word or two.  I usually just say something little - maybe a comment about our dogs or a simple good morning. But on this particular day, it wasn’t a good morning, and I wasn’t up for small talk. 

But then it occurred to me...




What if I am this man’s grocery store worker?  His parking lot man? His bakery lady? What if my little touch brightens his day and restores his hope in kindness? 

I managed to pull of half smile out of nowhere. Looks like we’re the only brave ones who came out in the cold today. 

It was just about all I could muster up as we crossed paths, but it felt right. Symbolic, somehow. I was sure that we had both been called on, in ways that neither one would ever know about, to be brave throughout our lives. After all, aren’t we all?

The snow fell gently on us as we went our separate ways. 

Have a good day, I called back without turning around. 

You too, I heard him whisper under his breath. I pictured him smiling. 


You never know. You just never know. 


Scholastic Art Magazine Interview

Paula was interviewed as a Textile Designer for Gap in Scholastic Art Magazine's November issue. It is the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show special edition!


Raise A Giant

Help Us Spread The Word! Green Giant is Partnering with PACER'S Bullying Prevention Center and We Day Minnesota to help parents Raise A Giant and put a stop to bullying in their community.

Studies show that an effective way to stop bullying is for kids to simply speak up and say, "That's not okay" when they see bullying happening. Green Giant is asking parents to write a letter to their kids telling them how special they are and encouraging them to be part of the bullying prevention solution by being a giant. Visit and read the letters others have written. Below is the letter that Erin wrote to her daughters. 


Dear Girls,

How is your new school going? Moving isn’t easy but I hope you are settling in and starting to make friends. I know when we were looking for schools together that we were all searching for the same thing. We weren’t looking for the highest test averages or the number of kids receiving reduced lunches… no, we were looking for something different. Something that we knew truly mattered. We were looking for schools where you would feel welcome and where kids would be nice. This was our priority because school is a place where you spend half of your day and feeling happy in that place is what motivates you. It is what makes you want to be in school and want to learn.  I know you know from experience, that it only takes a few kind people, a few welcoming souls, to help with any transition. And unfortunately, we all know that the opposite is true as well. Which is why it takes courage to get out there and open yourself up to new experiences and friendships. I wish it didn’t take courage. I wish kids didn’t have to be told by their parents to be brave when setting off for school. I wish kids could be themselves and stay true to who they are and not change the things that make them special. And so my wish for you is simple. Stay true to yourself. Spread your kindness generously. Don’t keep it to yourself or be afraid of it. Remember, you can be kind and strong. In fact, it takes a special kind of strength, an inner strength, to stand up for the things that matter. So, when I drop you off at school and tell you to ‘go out there and get ‘em,’ what I’m really trying to say  is to go out there and share what you’ve got. Share your love and compassion. And when you see someone who looks like they might be having a hard day…someone who looks isolated or lonely…someone who may even be wishing that they were the new kid so they could have a chance to start all over, then be that person who can make a difference.

P.S:  Remember that simple yet beautiful sign that we saw the other day in that flower garden by your schools?  The one that said:  Be Nice. Be Happy. Be Loved. Well, when we are settled into our new home, let’s make a sign like that for our garden. Let’s add a few words, though.  I suggest this: Be Nice. Be Happy. Be True. Be You. Love and Be Loved.  Now… go out there and get ‘em!

I Love You,



Erin Frankel is the author of Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, an acclaimed picture book series on bullying from Free Spirit Publishing.



Back to School: Setting the Stage for Kindness

By Erin Frankel

For many students, a new school year brings a mixed bag of emotions. While looking forward to new experiences, students are also nervous about new classrooms, new teachers, and the prospect of making new friends. And for students who have been involved in bullying, going back to school means extra worry. What if things are the same as last year? What if things don’t get better? For students who have had a difficult school year, summer often provides the space to disconnect. Setting the stage for kindness in the classroom during the first days and weeks of schools will give students the safe space they need to build connections with other students. It will help them look forward to, rather than worry about, the new school year. Try this activity to help students get off to a kind start:

Our KIND of Classroom

Rather than ‘going over’ classroom rules, try brainstorming expectations for classroom behavior together with students. Reflecting upon and discussing expectations with students will help them see that they are key players in creating the type of classroom that they desire. The type of school year that they have is up to the choices that each and every one of them will make. A kind classroom where students feel safe and supported is the best kind for learning, so why not pose that very question to students. What kind of classroom would you like to have?  Label a poster or classroom display: Our KIND of Classroom. Ask students what type of behavior they would expect to find in a kind classroom. Students are likely to come up with a list of traditional classroom rules that start with NO.  For example: “No talking when someone else is talking.” “No pushing and shoving in line.” Encourage students to consider what they can do as an alternative to all of the things that they can’t do. Prompting students will help them come up with alternatives. “So, if we don’t talk when someone else is talking, what are we doing?”  You’ll be amazed to see how No talking becomes Listening, and No pushing becomes Respecting. Exploring alternative words together will help students build a working kind behavior vocabulary, which will define your classroom throughout the school year. Students will enjoy decorating their Our KIND of Classroom poster or display with the can do words they’ve come up with. Younger students can draw images that represent the words while older students might have fun bringing in collage pictures.


You have now set the stage for the kind of classroom you would like to have. You have discussed and created a list of behaviors that show kindness and respect. Point out that more words and images can be added to the poster or display throughout the school year. Just as we check in with students to make sure that they are learning subject matter material, checking in to make sure that they are making kind choices is just as essential. You can encourage students to make kind choices –Is there a kind choice that you could make in this situation? Point out examples of kind choices when you see them – I noticed you made a really kind choice today. And when behavior falls short of expectations, ask students to reflect on whether or not they made kind choices – Do you think you made kind choices?  Look for ways to make kind choices as a class as well and spread that kindness throughout the school and community! Students will enjoy seeing how kindness grows. 

How will you set the stage for kindness this school year?



Interview Questions for Erin Frankel by Naomi Drew

Ms. Drew is recognized around the world as an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking for schools, workplaces, and families.

This interview was originally posted April 4, 2013 at


 ND: Tell us about the amazing fiction series you've written on bullying for younger kids.

EF: It’s been a wonderful experience working with lifelong friend, Illustrator Paula Heaphy, and Free Spirit Publishing to create the Weird series: Weird! Dare! and Tough!. The books are true-to-life stories of bullying told from three perspectives: the target, the bystander, and the child doing the bullying. Paula and I had our own personal experiences with bullying and we wanted to use our experiences and talents to help make a difference. Weird! tells the story of an amazing little girl named Luisa, who changes everything about herself to avoid being bullied. We wanted to explore the roles that the bystander and the child doing the bullying played in helping Luisa get back to herself. This is how Dare! and Tough! came to life. We let the characters take us where they needed to go, and in doing so, I think the end result is a real sense of learning and healing from all three perspectives.

ND: The Weird series is completely unique in terms of books on bullying for younger children. What can this series help parents and teachers do in a way that no other books can?

EF: Bullying doesn’t involve just one person. The Weird series helps parents and teachers dig deeper into the roles that we all play in putting an end to bullying. The books can be read separately or as a set, and regardless of the order in which they are read, each perspective opens a pathway to the other two books. If children wonder why the bystanders don’t speak up at first, or why the child doing the bullying acts so mean, or how the bullying made Luisa feel, parents and teachers can turn to the other books to help find answers. The stories and illustrations are engaging and true-to-life, which means children will relate to the characters and want to know more about their struggles. Each book includes ‘activity club’ pages and discussion ideas which gives parents and teachers even more ways to explore the topic of bullying with children. 

ND: What are some important things that parents need to know if their child is being bullied?

EF: Here is what I have learned.  Bullying can affect every area of your child’s life. If your child is being bullied, don’t ignore the signs. For example, is your child suddenly more withdrawn or acting out of character? Has your child’s sleep habits changed? Have you noticed any unexplained physical injuries or does your child ask to stay home from school often? Targets of bullying are often ashamed and afraid to speak up about bullying. Help your child open up, and ensure them that things will not get worse as a result of doing so. Don’t assume that things will just get better, you must make sure that they do. Practice confidence building and assertiveness strategies with your child to help them regain some of the confidence that bullying has most likely taken away. But most importantly, see to it that the school’s plan of action to stop the bullying is one that keeps your child’s dignity and safety intact. For example, your child should not be forced to sit down and work things out with his/her tormentor - doing so will only re-traumatize your child.  Also, any physical changes that are made in terms of seating arrangements, class adjustments, etc. should be aimed at the child doing the bullying, not the target. Your child did not choose to be bullied and should not be the one inconvenienced or singled out. Educate yourself on best practices when it comes to bullying and don’t be afraid to share this knowledge with your child’s school. Here are a few websites for starters:

ND: How can teachers and parents help kids resist bullying their peers and classmates?

EF: The greater the empathy, the greater the resistance to cruelty. To build empathy, it’s important to provide children with experiences and opportunities which allow them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Children who bully often experience a disconnect between their behavior and the effect that their behavior has on other people’s feelings. If children can define and understand their own feelings, it will be easier for them to take on another person’s perspective and not only think about someone else’s feelings...but actually feel them. When feelings are put into the equation, bullying becomes less likely.

ND: What can parents do to help their children avoid becoming a target of bullying?

EF: I think it is important to start talking about bullying early on. We need to raise awareness so that bullying doesn’t catch children ‘off guard.’ When asking children how they handled a bullying situation, they often respond, “I didn’t know what to do.” Our reflection and dialogue regarding bullying must be such that children have no question about what to do. And then we need to explore how to do it. We can start by helping children develop a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for. We can also help children develop positive self-talk in order to build confidence or regain confidence in the face of bullying. If we raise awareness early on, and cultivate empathy in doing so, then children won’t have to be ‘on guard.’ They can be who they are within a supportive culture of kindness rather than one of cruelty. They can go back to being kids. 

ND: What else do you want to share with us?

EF: Before writing the Weird series, my understanding of bullying came from personal experiences as a child, mother and teacher. While working on the books, I felt a deep responsibility to further that understanding - given the seriousness of the topic. I turned to the research and experience of individuals who have made a difference in bullying research and prevention. It would be impossible to mention everyone. But if I could share a few with parents and teachers: Barbara Coloroso, Stan Davis, Michele Borba, Rosalind Wiseman, Trevor Romain, and ... Naomi Drew! 

ND: Can these books be used in homes as well as school?

EF: Absolutely. I think the impact of the stories can be felt no matter where they are read. In fact, the series includes activity club pages that are appropriate for either setting. Wherever the books are used, I think the most important part is that children have the opportunity to revisit the characters and their struggles from time to time. So, I would suggest reading the books anywhere, but keeping them easily accessible!

ND: What can teachers do to prevent bullying in the classroom?

EF: They can send a very clear message that bullying will not be tolerated and define expected behavior in the classroom and school. They can put kindness and respect at the top of the list and work together with students to create a shared understanding of what kindness and respect look like. It is important to reflect on the expectations and labels that we may attach to students. If we put students down or treat them unfairly, then students will follow our example.  If we want to prevent bullying in the classroom, we must lead the way by modeling empathy, kindness and respect.  We can provide students with opportunities to do well for and by each other by creating shared projects and initiatives that build friendship and trust.

ND: What can a child do if he/she is being bullied?

EF: First and foremost, they can remind themselves that it is not their fault that they are being bullied.  They can identify caring adults who they feel they can trust and tell them about the bullying. Ideally, that caring adult will be trained to know how to help or how to get the help that is needed to stop the bullying. However, if this is not the case, children need to know that they did the right thing in telling. It is important to reassure children of this and then get them the help they were seeking. It takes a lot of courage for a child to speak up about bullying, so we need to work hard to ensure that a child doesn’t have to look elsewhere for help. We need to be that person - that first person- who not only cares enough to make a difference but knows how.

ND: What are some of the confidence building exercises you recommend in your books?

EF: There are a variety of fun, interactive activities that can be used whether reading the books separately or together as a series. For example, in Weird!, children can join main character, Luisa, in her Confidence Club and participate in activities that work on positive self-talk and confidence building. In Dare!, main character, Jayla, has a Courage Club with activities to help children feel prepared rather than scared when it comes to standing up for someone. And in Tough!, Sam, the child doing the bullying, has a Kindness Club with activities to help children reflect on the impact that their words and actions can have on others. Back matter also includes reflection questions and suggestions for teachers and parents on how to use the series.

ND: If a parent suspects their child might be bullying someone, what should they do?

EF: I would say listen and be true to your instinct. This is important. Just as children who bully may be in denial about their behavior, so may parents. No one wants to think that their child may be bullying someone, but denying that reality denies the child the chance to develop positive behavior and means that the target of the bullying will continue to suffer. Remember, a child may only be experimenting with bullying at early stages and parents have an opportunity to help change gears before more hurt is done for all parties involved. If a child is bullying someone, there is an unsolved problem that needs attention and guidance. Parents will need to build awareness about the hurt that has been caused, help children take responsibility for that hurt, and explore paths to reconciliation.