Toronto community literacy hub Story Planet has launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising enough funds to publish a book resulting from a workshop with graphic designer and illustrator Hilary Leung. The eight-week workshop was attended by 12 kids from high-needs schools around the city, who worked with Leung to develop a character named Reggie Rainbow, craft a story, and create illustrations that Leung incorporated with his own drawings of Reggie.
The workshop was the brainchild of Story Planet’s “Alien Chieftess” Liz Haines, who wanted to expand the hub’s offerings to include a longer-form project. After enlisting Leung, illustrator of the Cowboy Ninja Bear series of picture books written by David Bruins (Kids Can Press), Haines reached out to schools that had worked with Story Planet in the past with a specific request for participants. “I wanted … the schools to find kids who would not normally participate in this kind of literacy, either because they weren’t interested or they were distracted, or various things,” says Haines. The idea was to reach kids who didn’t think of themselves as writers or artists, and change their self-perception.
According to Leung, the workshop was a success. The initially reluctant group brainstormed ideas and discovered talents they weren’t aware of or didn’t usually employ. “It was magical to see how each student really owned their work,” says Leung. “The whole program has been a great experience and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”
With a fundraising goal of $12,000 and a deadline of June 16 (just over $3,300 has been raised so far), the campaign is intended to cover the cost of producing 500 hard-cover, full-colour copies of Reggie Rainbow’s Crazy Adventure, which Story Planet will sell on its website and, after the hub relocates to a new home in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood in the fall, its retail store. The hope is to raise enough money through sales to fund other similar workshops down the road, and to create a sustainable self-generating model.
Beyond the practicalities of funding future programming, Haines and Leung say printing the book is important for the kids who helped create it. “Reggie Rainbow needs to be published, because it will validate 12 young authors and illustrators, and that is an amazing thing.” says Leung. “I remember the proud satisfaction of holding my first printed book in my hands. It’s a feeling that I can’t wait to share with all my students.”