Welcome to the Kickstarter campaign for the first book of the Sunshine Elementary chapter book series! This book is perfect for 6- to 12-year-olds and was written to inspire this generation of young readers to handle situations in their lives with kindness and problem-solving skills.
The Story Behind Sunshine Elementary
When my daughter was a toddler, there was no shortage of beautiful children's books available for us to read together. They were often poetically or comically written, adorned with lovely illustrations, and almost always had a positive message. These books reassured her that she is loved. That she is capable. That she could do anything. They reflected the goodness within her and the great potential that lay ahead.
Then, as children tend to do, she got older. She started reading independently when she hit elementary school, which was an exciting milestone! Chapter books started showing up that I had never heard of, borrowed from school or gifted from grandparents. These books were written for her age group and had sat atop mainstream bestseller lists, so I anticipated them being a longer, slightly more mature version of the beautiful children’s books we had come to know and love.
This is where the emoji with the eyes bugging out would go.
As I started getting to know the books that had begun filling up our bookshelves, I was shocked and disheartened by the negative way the children in the stories were portrayed. I saw a pattern of characters hating school, being unkind to their classmates, and generally, relentlessly, misbehaving. It felt to me that the books were trying to appeal to the worst potential in kids, rather than their greatest.
I’m not denying that kids change as they get older. They tend to get a bit louder, messier, more opinionated, and more assertive in elementary school, but they’re also navigating complex social situations for the first time, becoming more self-aware, and testing out their newfound independence. It can be a confusing time for them. But none of that makes them bad. Through all of this, they are still the same amazing, intrinsically kind and capable kids they’ve always been.
We’ve advanced as a society to say, “No More!” to bullying, to be inclusive and embrace all walks of life. As teachers and parents, we work so hard to teach children right from wrong, to be courteous and respectful. We help them to feel empowered, capable, and confident. To be kind. Yet somehow, these values don't seem to be reflected in the mainstream books available for this age group.
Imagine if we used the influence that books have over their readers to inspire kids with examples of positive social interactions, and provide them with tools to navigate challenging scenarios? No drama, no negativity, no fantasy, no outdated stereotypes. Just a fun story of relatable kids going about their day in elementary school being awesome humans to one another.
If the experiences kids read about in books plant seeds, why not plant great ones?
What I did about it. I always tell my kids that when there is a problem, or a need, or an injustice, it is up to us to step up and do something. So amongst all of the existing chaos of life, I started writing. I wrote out of love for our kids and out of hope for their future. I wrote for the kids who have been bullied, so they could see what kindness feels like, and I wrote for the bullies, so they could feel understood, and see other options for expressing their pain. I wrote for the kids who feel different. Whose families look different. I wrote so kids could say, “That’s me!” with pride. To make coming up with kind and courageous solutions to a problem feel normal. I pulled from my own experiences as a child, as a parent, as a kind human, and from observing how amazing the children around me are. What came out of it was this book, and the ideas for a series of books to follow.
So why Kickstarter? We’re all in this together. The raising/teaching of children, the betterment of society, our vested interest in the future. I wanted the journey of this series to start by being collaboratively nurtured by anyone who believes in this cause. It feels right that this be where the seed grows from.
The Story of Sunshine Elementary
The first book in the Sunshine Elementary chapter book series follows the main characters—Hanny, Wilder, Winnie, and Jonah—and their classmates as they journey through an eventful first day at their brand new school by the shore. From meeting their warm, colorful teacher, Mr. Tenderheart, to creating their own class rules, the morning starts off greater than anyone could have imagined… and only gets better from there!
Woven into this fun and heart-warming story are examples of children navigating through situations using kindness and problem-solving skills. When Hanny notices Vida, an Afghan refugee, sitting alone at lunch, she remembers what her mom had taught her: “It only takes one person to make someone not alone,” and shares in a moment both she and Vida will never forget. At recess, when the students discover crystals buried in the ground, it is Vida who makes a drastic gesture to Olive that starts a chain reaction of kindness. It’s no surprise that when the classmates rescue a bird’s nest that’s fallen from the tree, they come together to problem solve using Hanny’s Maker Cart supplies, engineering a pulley to put it back on the branch. The evening ends with the four friends leaving their worries on the shore as they dash into the ocean, side by side, to go surfing.
As an author, I believe in normalizing and embracing the beauty that lies within different family structures, ethnicities, disabilities, and backgrounds, without these being the characters’ defining characteristics. I also believe that children are intrinsically kind, capable, independent problem-solvers, who deserve to be portrayed as such in the books they read.
Finding the right illustrator was a priority for me, as I believe children deserve books with high-quality artwork. I couldn't be happier or more impressed with what's been created so far by our unbelievable illustrator, Amanda Gallant. To give you a feel for the style of the artwork in Sunshine Elementary, here is a sneak peak into Chapter 7: Kindness Matters. In this scene, Mr. Tenderheart's class is making up their own classroom rules when the sweet and shy Olive holds up this pillow to suggest Rule #1.
The first book is already written. I worked with an amazing editor for months to polish up the manuscript. Our illustrator (who happens to be our editor’s sister... how cute is that?! #DreamTeam) has worked her heart out to bring the characters to life, and we're one book cover away from being done with all of the artwork. We have a professional in place to do the final book layout once all components have been delivered. If all goes according to plan (does that ever actually happen?), the book will be ready to go to press by the end of April. I've been researching different options for printing the book and may use a combination of a local book manufacturer (such as to fulfill this order of books) and a print-on-demand service (for once the book is released).
My estimate to ship these books is May, though the determining factor of the final weeks will likely be in the printer’s hands and not my own. I will be sure to send updates as the timeline becomes more clear.
So what happens if we hit the goal? Since my initial, personal goal is to complete the first three books in the series, I'd be thrilled to add stretch goals if we pass the initial 5k goal, which will give me a chance to get started with the editing and illustration process for books two and three. I'd also love to be able to put more marketing and PR behind this first book to help get the series off the ground!
Please note, the physical reward(s) for this Kickstarter campaign (regardless of the stretch goals) are only for the first book of the series.
The vision for the Sunshine Elementary chapter book series is to get the books into the hands of every elementary-aged child, inspiring them with examples of kindness, while raising the bar and setting a new norm for the books available to them. I want this book to spark productive conversations between friends, parents, and teachers, and to inspire confidence in children. I see these books bettering the world around this generation, so that today's kids can continue to grow into the kind, compassionate, problem-solving adults the future is relying on them to become.
Basically, I want to use these books as a vehicle to help change the world. And if we're swinging for the bleachers, let's add in a tv series of Sunshine Elementary into the dream as well.
This Kickstarter is set up to help get the first book of the series off the ground. A lot of initial expenses go into making a book, but fortunately, once it's up and running, we'll be able to make the book accessible to more children by keeping the price of the book low. (As with many Kickstarter projects, the price of the book will be lower when it's available through retail; this campaign is set up to support the launch of the project.)
Here's what the funds will go towards:
Kickstarter video, taxes, and fees
Publicity and Marketing
Production and Shipping
Who Am I?
I'm Nina, a mother of three who somehow manages to push through the chaos of life to do cool things in five-minute increments—like write books! I have an intense passion for experiencing life, enriching others' lives, and getting things done (except for laundry). While this is the first book I've written to share with the world, I've loved writing for as long as I can remember.
So why should you have confidence in me to deliver this message to our kids?
1. I see kids for how amazing they are.
As a parent, I am deeply immersed in the understanding and guiding of my own three children daily. I see and hear about their emotions and developments, while learning firsthand about the situations they're dealing with in and out of school. Being a parent has given me a front row seat to experience how profoundly magical children are, and has also given me reminders of how challenging some parts of adolescence can be.
Along my parenting journey, I became enthralled with Montessori, a method of education that centers around the belief that children are intrinsically motivated, capable, and basically just amazing (exactly in line with my own views of kids). While working as a very hands-on Marketing Director at a Montessori school, I often get to observe the magical moments in these classrooms, where children look out for one another and work together to solve problems, while completely thriving academically. I also work with a nonprofit organization that helps to make Montessori education more accessible in communities around the world.
Even my work as a web developer has given me insightful experiences. The actual reason I went back to school to learn to code was to show my kids by example that we're capable of doing new and challenging things. But it also gave me the opportunity to develop and teach an "Unplugged" Intro to Computer Science curriculum to elementary students. They always blew me away with their innovations when we did problem-solving exercises. And I'll never forget the way they lit up with pride when the algorithm they wrote to get a robot (another classmate) to complete a maze made out of desks actually worked.
One of the most impactful experiences I've had around children came when I was volunteering to help resettle refugee families. I noticed that the kids were struggling with schoolwork and socializing, so I started a weekly program that matched them up with tutors (and their parents with ESL teachers), followed by an enrichment program featuring art, music, yoga, and dancing. I got very close with the many families within the community, who remain my dear friends and teachers to this day. The success of the program surpassed anyone's expectations as we watched the kids get caught up in school and form deep bonds with one another. Getting to see these incredible, bright, fun, resilient children from Syria, Afghanistan, DR Congo, Iraq, as well as the child volunteers from here in New Jersey (including my own), all playing and working together, really solidified the idea that children are amazing humans that we as adults can learn a lot from.
2. I get things done.
I spent my most formative years going to punk shows and playing in a band. Looking back, I'm so impressed that a community of 15-year-olds created a scene of such well-organized and promoted shows, with countless hard working-bands and a tight-knit community that supported one another in a way that I haven't seen since. We essentially became entrepreneurs, fueled by our passion for music, before graduating high school.
It was in this space that I first discovered my own capabilities. I wanted my band to have T-shirts to sell, so I figured out how to design and make them. Then I wanted my band to go on tour. It took months of rejections and hundreds of calls, but I never gave up, and eventually secured enough shows to get us across the country and back. This experience gave me proof that we are capable of doing anything we set our minds to, as long as we don't give up.
Now as a parent in the current state of the world, I have the strongest fire in my belly when it comes to guiding our children. Bringing this book to life, in the hopes of nurturing their amazing capabilities and kind hearts, is not a goal I take lightly. It's going to take a lot of work and perseverance, but my heart is in it and I know I am capable of carrying out this vision. I hope you'll join me on this journey!
Important note: My disheartened experiences with specific chapter books do not mean that there aren't great books out there for kids, written by hard-working authors that really care about children. When we find books that are aligned with these values, let's all do our best to champion, support, and uplift them. Together, we will help make these types of books the norm!
Risks and challenges
While I've tried to anticipate all of the necessary tasks and timelines for this project, as with anything new and unchartered, I also anticipate a learning curve, complete with some setbacks and obstacles. I say: bring it on! Backers will be kept in the loop with full transparency.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)