Jan 30, 2020

Teen Scene: Young Local Artists Publish Their First Children’s Book

By Lori Draz

Jessica Birk and Lauren Krasnoff

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day and couples everywhere, we are proud to introduce you to our pair of artists who have also worked together on their own book for children 3 to 7 years old called, “When Ellie Sang a G.” Jessica is the writer, Lauren the artist, and Jessica explains the exciting process of creating a book, making new friends and working together. The book is available at local bookstores, on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Here is Jessica’s story.

It all started with a simple smile and quick “Hi.” Little did we know that in just one year, we would collaborate on publishing a picture book and become great friends in the process.

I still remember the butterflies in my stomach as I walked into college on the first day. As an incoming freshman at Rutgers University, I was beyond nervous but also extremely excited to meet new people. When a mutual friend introduced me to art and design student Lauren Krasnoff, we immediately bonded over our love of art and music. We talked about growing up listening to the Beatles and Phil Collins, and we laughed about the misshapen pots and other art projects we made in art class. I couldn’t help feeling that we were both so lucky to have grown up in households that valued the arts. It was our families, friends and teachers who fostered our passions for drawing, painting, filmmaking and music.

When I went back to my dorm, I began researching music education in schools and was struck to see how many schools have cut funding for the arts. It is estimated that 1.3 million U.S. children do not have access to a single music class. Despite thousands of statistics demonstrating music education’s worth in the development of children, programs around the country were shutting down. Music fosters success in school, improved concentration, memorization and creativity. In addition, I knew from personal experience that without the opportunities to sing in the choir, learn piano, write and play guitar at school, I would be a completely different person today.

Music had given me so much as a child, and I wanted others to have the same opportunities. Then I got a visit from inspiration at 12:30 am in the morning. I edited a short story I’d written during the summer, completely transforming it to one about music. It’s the story of a girl named Ellie who busks on the street. She loves to sing for her community, but she has a small problem: she can’t sing a G- note, no matter how hard she tries. Even though she can’t sing the G, she finds power in embracing her imperfections.

When the story was finished, I asked Lauren if she wanted to illustrate it, and she immediately agreed. Using watercolors and her imagination, Lauren’s lively illustrations made the pages come alive. She expressed the essence of the story beautifully through the colorful vibrancy of her pictures which truly reflect the emotions of the book. Her dramatically active and bright drawings are just like Ellie, the main character in the book, who is positive, energetic and never gives up.

Working together made the project much more powerful than if I had worked on it alone. Lauren and I were new friends, but we learned that we really had a connection as people and artists.

Working together is something everyone could and should do. Whether you’re building a robot, on a sports team, planning a charity event or writing your own book, collaborating with someone creates a third dimension to your project. You may disagree, even argue, but in the end, whatever your work is will be benefitted when you work together.

We found a publisher in England through my mom who helped with the editing and distributing. It was incredible to hold the final product.

The entire process took a year and happened organically. We didn’t expect to publish it; we just wanted to create art we cared about. Arguably, the most important thing we learned through this process was the importance of collaboration. We each used our strengths to create something together. We also reflected on the importance of having mentors in our lives. Without the strong English department at school and the amazing English teachers I’ve had, I would have never thought publishing a book could be possible. And without Lauren’s talented and caring art teachers, she would not have the same artistic expression.

Although it may only be a small picture book, we are extremely proud of sticking with it and finishing it. I know how many of my creative projects I have started and never completed. We are grateful to make a positive impact in our community and hope this book will introduce a little bit of music magic into the lives of children who may not otherwise experience the power of music. Perhaps they will take up an instrument, listen to music, or even write their own small songs.

We would love to meet you and have you see our picture book. Please join us on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 11:30 am at the Barnes and Noble in the Commons at Holmdel. We will be reading the book and talking more about the arts. Have your copy signed or just come by and say “Hi!”