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March 16, 2021

Crafting with a Purpose

Editor’s Note: Registration for THIS BOOK IS COOL! 2021 will open on March 22.

I’ve always been one to appreciate a creative outlet, but I have a whole new level of appreciation from being part of the behind-the-scenes THIS BOOK IS COOL! activities team. Last summer, I began to assist my mom, who is also a member of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Engagement Team, with a seemingly small project. She asked me to help her assemble some activities that she had selected to correspond with some of the children’s books selected to be part of THIS BOOK IS COOL! We played some music, collected our arsenal of popsicle sticks, playdoh, googly eyes, and colorful pipe cleaners, and got to work. Our ten trial activities were accepted by the writing and producing team, and our mini one-night project grew into brainstorming 100 different activities! Creating these assignments quickly became some of my favorite evenings spending time with my mom.

As we evolved into the crafting duo, we researched the 100 books selected for THIS BOOK IS COOL!, 20 for each grade level, Pre-K through 3rd grade. We identified crafts and activities that would be exciting for the more than 1,000 families and 79 summer camps registered to participate in the program. 

For example, we designed a sock puppet with a paper plate attached for an elephant’s head to accompany Uncle Elephant. We also turned pinecones and some cotton balls into snowy owls for HootThe possibilities were endless! With big imaginations and small fingers in mind, we tried to build a library of varied activities to foster excitement and a love of learning.

While I certainly enjoyed browsing Pinterest for inspiration and drawing cartoon animal faces, my favorite part was imagining how kids would respond to each activity. We carefully selected projects such as writing poetry, drawing in comic strip style, creating paper plate puppets, and many more. We incorporated hands-on building activities which utilized common household items such as empty toilet paper rolls, coffee filters, and ordinary computer paper. I thought back to when I was in elementary school and tried to select activities that I would have gotten excited to try with my own family. I thought to myself, “Will they be surprised? Will the activity be challenging? Will they be proud of their work?”

As the summer continued, we were excited to see the outcomes from the activities and the feedback about THIS BOOK IS COOL! As an Engagement Team member, I went from selecting crafts and constructing demos to packing books to being a family connector where I was contacting parents weekly to see how the experience was going on their end. 

I was encouraged by their reports. A mom shared that her child was showing interest in reading for the first time ever! One caretaker commented that her grandkids eagerly opened each envelope of books and activities that we packaged with care and hoped that they’d love the books waiting inside. The participating families described both the joy and appreciation each book package brought. One of my favorite stories was a parent who shared how her son enjoyed the book Not Norman so much that he successfully convinced the family to get a pet goldfish! Having assembled a tissue paper goldfish just a few weeks prior, I would’ve never guessed a fictional book character named Norman would inspire a little boy like that. The power of reading is real and evident in testimonies like these!

I believe THIS BOOK IS COOL! helped the children and families feel special. The books they received were carefully selected, and their excitement about reading and doing the related activities was palpable. Reading has been very important in my life and in my education, and it is an honor to share the joy of learning with so many families in our region.

I have so many wonderful memories from the first year of THIS BOOK IS COOL!, that I can’t wait to create the new activities for THIS BOOK IS COOL! 2021. They are going to be bigger and better than ever! Together we will work toward our shared aspiration of helping every child read on grade level by the end of third grade.

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