Behind the Book Staff Take a Field Trip

Instead of heading straight for the office on Monday morning, Behind the Book staff saw our friends Patience and Fortitude: the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library. NYPL currently has an exhibition, open until March 2014, called The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. We certainly believe that children’s books matter, and we went to discover what the exhibit had to share.

Volunteer Coordinator Bess Rosenfeld and Executive Director Jo Umans settle into the scenery of Goodnight Moon

Alongside original editions of some of the earliest children’s books, including school primers, fairy tales, fables, and biblical stories, the exhibit features some of our more modern childhood favorites: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandWinnie-the-Pooh, Harry Potter, and The Phantom Tollbooth, to name a few.

The exhibit traces the history of children’s literature and its place in society, from early debates about whether children are better off with stories to teach lessons or being taught straight facts, to the different books that were written for children in various social strata.

Did you know that American public libraries used to have signs declaring, “No dogs or children allowed”? This was before the rise of children’s rooms designed especially for kids to enjoy libraries.

Rad Bradbury’s sentiments regarding libraries are shared by many

We were particularly excited to see several BtB authors featured in the exhibit including Brian Selznick in the graphic novel section and Mo Willems and William Low in the New York City section. Here the exhibit focuses on New York’s “openness to change” leading to a sub-genre about “growing up, venturing out, and becoming one’s own person.” We love bringing books like these to our students living and going to school in our great city.

At the very start of the exhibit, a floor to ceiling sign in bold red declares, “Behind every children’s book is a vision of childhood: a shared understanding of what growing up is all about.” Published literature reflects what society values and believes. And this is why diversity in literature is essential – because marginalization occurs when children don’t see themselves represented in the books they read.

We make it a priority to choose books for our programs that reflect our students’ experiences in some way. It is also why we publish our students’ writing: so they have the opportunity to express their own ideas about growing up and so that they know that those ideas are valued. They have written about their neighborhoodstheir dreams and aspirations, and overcoming fears, all important aspects of childhood.

We had a wonderful time exploring the world of children’s books! The exhibition runs until March 2014, so you still have plenty of time to enjoy it, take your kids, reflect on your own childhood, and remember how the books we love as children shape us more than we may realize at the time.

Behind the Book staff at The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter

By Laurie Beckoff, Program Intern


Creating Our Mission: A Big Thank You To The Design Staff

If you are a dedicated follower of our Behind the Book blog, then you know how proud we are of each one of our students. For the past couple of years now, we have worked with volunteers and designers to create anthologies of all the work our students have done in order to showcase their achievements. Learn more about how our programs have evolved in the video below.

With everyone back with their glowing post-vacay smiles, BtB hosted a small party for those who have made the student books possible: our designers.  With some traveling from as far as Chicago, (Fun fact: we even have a designer in London! – he couldn’t make it) our volunteer designers gathered for wine, snacks, and a meet and greet.

Meeting 2

Grateful to have designers who have generously given up so much of their time into helping us construct our 2012-2013 student books, we couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with, and are proud to display some of their work. (Below)

Scary Fables Cover

Designed by: Amy Wu

Our Dreams Cover

Designed by: Rachel Willey

How War Affects Us All cover

Designed by: Eileen Tong

3rd Grade Autobiographies

Designed by: Lisa Hamilton

Say it loud and proud

Designed by: Cristina Stoll

Working remotely throughout the year, Monday’s meeting was also a nice opportunity for the designers to socialize with the rest of the BtB staff, check out one another’s work, and get fired up about future books and programs for this year. “I really enjoyed seeing the variety of choices different designers made in their books – the fonts, colors, cover designs, and interior layouts – each person brought a lot of creativity,” Sara Reyolds, teaching artist for BtB, had to say about the gathering. If you’d like to see more of our designers’ work, feel free to check it out here.


      Founder Jo Umans along with the Designers

With so much creativity fluttering around us, we know we’ve got our best foot forward this year as we gear up for the start of our C.S. 21 program on September 20th. (More details to come.) But for now, we sing our praises to the lovely designers and volunteers, and thank you guys for continuing to help make Behind the Book‘s mission a reality.

A Big Welcome- And Happy Birthday- To Our Newest Fall Intern

In the wake of her big 1-9 today, we would love to introduce you to one of our fantastic Fall Interns, Laurie Beckoff. (Don’t let the stance fool you, she’s harmless!)


Born and bred in Queens, Laurie Beckoff is a University of Chicago student studying both English and Political Science. Impassioned by both, Beckoff currently writes editorial pieces centered around politics and culture for the University of Chicago online magazine, Diskord. She also has experience as a Greenpeace volunteer, and was a longtime District Office volunteer for city council member Mark Reprin.


With a niche for all things art-related, Laurie is active in the theater as well, performing in the Dr. Who version of The Tempest, in her favorite role as The Queen in Once Upon A Mattress. (Bearing quite an uncanny resemblance to The Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland if we do say so ourselves.)

laurie queen


Given her New York City origin, Laurie first became interested in interning with Behind the Book upon viewing the comprehensive list of books we have used in our programs. “I’ve read a ton of BtB books,” she said. “Growing up, some of my favorite were from Andrea Pinkney, and when I saw her name listed, it immediately reminded me of my childhood.”


fishing day

Wanting to help inspire kids to explore their imaginations the way she was able to, Laurie reached out to Behind the Book. “It reminded me of my childhood,” she said. “That’s all I did growing up was read.”

Attributing her passion for literature to her mother, Laurie remembers fondly the ritual her mother set into place.”When I was around six years old, the first Harry Potter book came out,” she said. “My mom every night would tell my (older) sister and I to crawl in her bed, and when we were all tucked in together, she’d read them to us until we fell asleep.”

In what might be a symbol of the most dedicated fan in all of HP history, Laurie started her own Harry Potter-enthused Quidditch team in High School. “What can I say,” she laughs. “I love the sport.” Now a member of both the Editorial Staff on her college Quidditch team, and serving as the team manager as well, Laurie continues to act upon what first drove her to the fantastical world of reading.


With that kind of passion, we here at Behind the Book are happy to welcome her to our team. Happy Birthday, Laurie Beckoff, it’s great to have you here.

A Warm, Southern Hello To Ring In Fall 2013

Well hi there everyone,

Is it that time of year already? *Whew* time flies. As the heat of our NYC summer begins to fade, we here at Behind the Book are gearing up for the start of what is bound to be our busiest year thus far. With so much to cover, I wanted to take a quick moment to jump in and introduce the new voice behind the keyboard, or in other words, me- Lindsey Hall- the Fall 2013 Social Media Marketing Intern:

Intro picc

(Ah yes, there I am- my first lovely evening here in New York City.)

As a recent English Lit graduate, I set sail for The Big Apple, cowboy boots in tow, after migrating from the Lone Star state of Texas where, yes indeed, there does happen to be quite a lot of these:


(Images courtesy of Anthony and Brandon from Class 5-502 at P.S. 376)

Having now officially nestled into my cozy apartment in Brooklyn, (and by nestled, I mean cramped between the irrational amount of clothes, books, Altoid tins, and other miscellaneous items I originally deemed “too important” to leave behind) I look forward to sharing and promoting Behind the Book’s fantastic mission of combining authors with low-income students to build literacy skills and a new generation of book readers, such as myself.

I first began cultivating my passion for reading as a wee little girl, when after bouncing aimlessly around the house one night (and no doubt taunting my little brother as well), my father, in an exasperated attempt, handed me a first edition copy of this:

Archie Comics

“Try it,” he said. “I used to read this stuff all the time growing up, and it always put me right to sleep.”

Voilà. And like magic, I was hooked. With over 120 issues of Archie and the gang stored away in my childhood closet, the elation I felt at discovering that Archie Comics author, Alex Simmons, has participated in several of Behind the Book’s programs propelled me to reach out for this Fall 2013 Internship.

I could not be happier to be here, to both watch and experience the profound effect I know these authors have on children who might otherwise not have the opportunity to create a written voice for themselves. I look forward to what this semester has in store, and to sharing it with all of “y’all,” as well. (I promise to lose the accent along the way!)

Cheers to starting off this year with a bang, and I know we here at Behind the Book cannot wait to showcase what these kids can do when given a pen, a piece of paper, and an author and teacher dedicated to helping them strengthen their voice.

Who’s Behind the Book? – A Hello – and Farewell!

If you’ve been wondering who’s been behind this summer’s blog posts, fear no more!

JENNA DANOY - headshot

This is me, Jenna Danoy, junior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major at Emerson College in Boston.

Like most of the other interns I’ve worked with this summer, I was drawn to Behind the Book because I believe in the power of literature to mold and shape people from a young age. As a very passionate reader from a young age, I owe a large part of who I am today to the books I read as a kid, and after learning about Behind the Book’s mission to motivate young people to be excited and engaged readers, I became enthusiastic about the prospect of helping someone else discover his or her love of reading.

I learned a lot this summer. I learned about reading engagement, and writing ability, and how important it is for kids to identify with the material they read.

And I learned what it’s like to work with people who are dedicated, who have great ideas, and who care about advancing this company’s mission that they willingly commit large parts of their lives to its betterment, development, and success.

On my last day here, I am glad to have the opportunity to express my gratitude. My time here has been incredible, and I owe it all to the amazing people I met here! Thank you for a fabulous summer.

Who’s Behind the Book? – Meet Ellen!


This is Ellen Brown, our Student Book Coordinator.

This year, we published hundreds of copies of student-written works, and this wouldn’t have been possible without Ellen. In her role as Student Book Coordinator, Ellen has spent countless hours advising and copy editing the work of each professional book designer to create high quality, polished books of which every student can be proud.

Ellen’s addition to the Behind the Book team has significantly improved the process by which we create our books. Along with Sara Reynolds, former Art Director at Dutton Children’s Books, Ellen recruited several professional book designers, and worked closely with them to create beautiful books that supported the themes with which each student book dealt. In the picture above, Ellen is posing with all of the books she helped coordinate and design.

Behind the Book now works with designers from Chicago, Florida, and England, as well as several in the New York area. Each student in all of our programs receives a copy of his or her own book, as do the teachers, principals, and classroom libraries. Ellen’s work has ensured that each student will feel proud, accomplished, and motivated to read and enjoy books by the time the publishing party comes around.

If you are a professional book designer or a design student with InDesign experience and would like to design student books for us this fall, contact Ellen at Check out the books we completed this year here on our website.

Who’s Behind the Book? – Meet Nirav!

This is Nirav Shah, the Advising Chairman on our Young Executive Board.

Nirav has done some pretty incredible things during his three-year tenure as the acting chair of our YEB. Outside of his job as a litigation associate at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLC, Nirav has devoted a great portion of his time to Behind the Book. He originated the role of chairman of the YEB, and helped organize such events as the Behind Brooklyn Scavenger Hunt, which more than surpassed our donation expectations.

On the scavenger hunt, Nirav says that even though it was his idea, its success was due in large part to the enthusiasm of both the other members of the YEB and the Brooklyn bookstore owners who offered up their stores for the event. Nirav’s initial intent in setting the scavenger hunt in Brooklyn was to unite book lovers and the literature-laden culture that saturates much of Brooklyn, and South Brooklyn in particular. Setting it in Brooklyn also allowed Behind the Book to develop important contact with people who share our love of books and passion for literacy.

The scavenger hunt was one of Nirav’s fondest memories of his tenure at Behind the Book. As he says, the event allowed “people to make connections to language and literature” in the same way that Behind the Book builds the connection between the students we work with and the books they read. It was a great way to thematically promote Behind the Book’s central mission.

Nirav also helped institute a shift in the make up of our YEB, from the traditional organization with a single chair and several board members, to a new organization, with co-chairs, chairs-in-training, and advising chairs. Nirav is the first Advising Chairman of the YEB.

In the future, Nirav looks most forward to taking a backseat in the workings of the YEB – as he says, the YEB is filled with a variety of incredible people who work in a diverse array of industries. As they each bring something new and innovative to the table, he is excited to see how the YEB develops and continues to discover new ways of promoting Behind the Book.

His support for Behind the Book extends even farther than his commitment to the YEB Chair position. At [name of event], Nirav pledged to match any and all donations made by his friends, and ended up raising over [amount of money] for us.

In addition to being an incredible asset to Behind the Book, Nirav is an accomplished trivia fanatic – he was a three-day champion on Jeopardy! and won a significant amount of money on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?