Opening new doors and creating new stories

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Matthew Proietti

Two of the founding members of the “Books for Kids” club at WHHS: Shubhra Mishra, ‘21, and Sam Rosen, ‘21.

“I mean Roald Dahl stories are amazing, but oh my God – his illustrator Quentin Blake’s pictures are also kind of one of the reasons I started this,” Shubhra Mishra, ‘21, the founder and president of WHHS’ Books for Kids club, said. Her club revolves around one idea: providing personal, lovingly created picture books for kids at the Children’s Hospital.

Besides an appreciation for the stories she grew up reading, Mishra’s inspiration for Books for Kids came from the children she interacts with outside of school. “I work a lot with kids at my job at Mathnasium, and my neighbors have three little kids that are extremely adorable. And every time I’ve been with them they come up with some wild story that is crazy to try and follow,” Mishra said. She continued, “All kids have these crazy imaginations, and I wanted to translate that to a book, and that’s how the idea was born.”

“When I was really little, I liked this book called Let’s Make Rabbits, where two rabbits are created, one by pencil and one by scissors, and then come to life by eating a carrot,” Sam Rosen, ‘21, said. Rosen is the current treasurer for the club and has been helping Mishra since the club’s founding in the 2018-2019 school year.

“It’s just an outlandish, fun story and thinking about it now reminds me of the books we create for the younger kids,” Rosen said. She was enthusiastic to help Mishra from the beginning because she believed it was such a great idea. Rosen and Mishra were both there to help each other fight through the nerves of pitching the club.

I mean Roald Dahl stories are amazing, but oh my God – his illustrator Quentin Blake’s pictures are also kind of one of the reasons I started this”

— Shubhra Mishra, ‘21

“Originally we were going to work with kids from foster care homes, but there are some privacy issues with that. I was scared that the club would almost not be a thing before we realized that Cincinnati Children’s would be a great place for this,” Mishra said.

Books for Kids works with four to 10-year-old children at the hospital. A team of WHHS students meets with an individual or small group of kids to get the children’s input and ideas for a story of their own. Then each team of artists, writers and editors takes the time to craft the perfect book, meeting again with the kids to present them with their prize after a few months.

“Last year we told the story of three girls and how they fought evil Batman and an evil flying snowman with their special ice powers,” Rosen said about the types of books they create. Both Mishra and Rosen noted that the type of story they’re asked to create varies wildly from kid to kid.

“The book I helped make last year was for a kid that’s passionate about the environment, so we created a story with superpowers and action scenes but also a small, impactful environmental message,” Mishra said. Sometimes it’s difficult to integrate all of a kid’s requests into a single passage, but Rosen said it’s just a matter of finding ways around those problems so everything meshes together.

Creating the illustrations is another challenge entirely. The artists have to take the kids’ requests into account while also having their own consistent style, which often involves the use of various forms of art.

“Last year we had multimedia illustrations. My partner used watercolors for the background, and I drew the characters and effects digitally. I had to put in hundreds of individual dots for the fairy wings. All the girls had to have fairy wings, by request,” Rosen said.

Matthew Proietti
The Intersecting World, written by Azariah Cuff, ‘23, and illustrated by Iris Andrews, ‘21, was created for one of the children in 2018-2019 school year.

“Most of it is working by yourself. Our [club] meetings are usually to set and remind people of deadlines,” Ainsley Lauer, ‘21, the club’s marketing manager, said. Lauer was an author last year and has primarily focused on illustrations this year.

“We’re allowed to do whatever we want creatively, as long as we incorporate what the kids want. It’s a really great surprise when we give the books to them because they’ve pretty much forgotten about it by then. They usually don’t get to see themselves as a hero, too,” Lauer said.

Last year Books for Kids created nine books for 11 kids. This year, the 35 club members are working on 14 different stories.

“If you’re going into art or writing, it’s a great opportunity because it exposes you to working for different age levels. A book for a four-year-old is very different than a book for a 10-year-old,” Mishra said. The independence of the club allows for students to create, on their own time, something that they like and their prospective readers will like, but that doesn’t mean they can slack off on meeting their objectives.

“You get the sense of deadlines and how to keep up on your own part. You learn to stay on pace with your work and do what you need to be doing. It’s the whole process that really brings stories to life for the kids,” Rosen said.

When it came to presenting their final projects to the children at Children’s, Mishra admits she didn’t know what to expect: “It was a big stressful moment, finding the lunchroom and everything. But once all the kids were in and our students started talking to them there were a lot of smiles around the room. They’re eating snacks, they’re talking about their favorite characters and they’re very happy. It’s a good time.”

You can find Books for Kids on Instagram at booksforkids.whhs and online at booksforkids.club/ for more information.