“Lemonade for Lemurs.”
That’s what my co-author, Karen Duncan, wanted to call our book. Although with her fabulous Australian accent, it sounded more like “LEY-mon-ayd foh LEE-mahs.”
Karen was my neighbor then, and we were sitting on the front stoop of my townhouse on the South Side of Chicago, watching our kids hold a lemonade stand.
They had been reading the backside of a box of Panda Puffs cereal and were trying out new terms like “habitat loss” and “extinction.” The five of them – ranging in age from three to eight years old – had decided to forgo more Legos and donate the lemonade stand earnings to World Wildlife Fund in the hope of saving panda populations.
And as the people who clean up all those stray Legos, Karen and I were pretty happy with their decision.
That was summer of 2008, when Hillary was the front-runner for the Democratic ticket and McCain was still going strong. Long before Karen’s husband left his job as CEO of Chicago Public Schools to join President Obama’s Cabinet as Secretary of Education.
“I think we’ve got a book on our hands,” Karen had announced, watching our kids work their magic on innocent passers-by. “Kids naturally want to help out in one way or another. We should write a book about how they can do it.”
It’s stayed true to that original kernel of inspiration from our kids, driven by their interests. Karen and I [pictured] worked on the ideas furiously at our dining room tables, then long distance after her family moved to Washington, D.C. We wanted to create something that we could use as moms – and that we could share with other parents. We knew we weren’t the only ones out there who wanted to help our kids understand where they fit in the world, and that there are things bigger than themselves and the latest sale item at Toys R Us.
There are some great books out there about service learning, like Barbara A. Lewis’ Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference (Free Spirit, 2009), green projects like 101 Ways You Can Help Save the Planet Before You’re 12! by Joanne O’Sullivan (Lark, 2009), and helping others like The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin (Watering Can, 2004).
What we wanted to do with The Good Fun! Book was to target a younger set of kids than teens and tweens, and to meet them on their own turf.
With a subtitle of 12 Months of Parties That Celebrate Service, we tried to make the activities celebratory and creative, pulling from our experiences helping in the classroom. Karen is a former teacher, and we’ve both spent time planning our share of birthday parties, organizing school activities, and brainstorming ways to entertain our kids without breaking the bank.
The book pulls from these ideas and cobbles them together into what we hope are engaging parties that range from helping animals to feeding the hungry. With each party, we offer:
• two service ideas that allow kids to really help their communities;
• one party food item they can make and eat together;
• a craft activity that kids can take home (they are, after all, kids);
• and we spotlight a nonprofit each month and the founder who started it.
When it came time to find a publisher, we knew we wanted to go with a smaller house. While the bigger houses could provide bigger marketing and support for the book, we were told that “these types of books don’t sell” and “the big chains don’t even carry books like these.”
So we presented our ideas to Blue Marlin Publications, a small house out of New York with a big commitment to giving back. Publisher Francine Poppo Rich – who had published fellow Chicago children’s author Beth Finke’s award-winning Hanni and Beth, Safe & Sound (Blue Marlin, 2007) and donated five percent of proceeds to Seedlings Braille Books For Children, a nonprofit in Michigan that sells their Braille books for less than $10 each – had a track record for giving back. It felt like a good fit.
As the book has made its way from idea phase to book stores, Karen [pictured] and I have gotten more excited about ways to engage kids. So we’ve built a website with a tremendous interactive component that we hope kids, parents, and teachers find exciting, too. Blue Marlin has agreed to award $100 each quarter to charities of kids’ choices when they share the parties they throw, whether by sending in a video clip or writing an essay and including photos.
It’s been a thrilling ride so far making this book a reality. Now we just hope kids take the ideas and run with them and, hopefully, have some fun while doing a bit of good.
Karen Duncan and Kate Hannigan Issa stand on a mountain of mulch at a playground build Saturday in Washington, D.C., for the launch of The Good Fun! Book.
They turned out with over 400 volunteers, including four Cabinet secretaries, to help build a playground with the nonprofit KaBoom.