The advent of Tabula Raisa™ is the classic tale of making something positive from a negative.
The Breakthrough Moment
There had been delays as two illustrators struggled to make room in their schedules. The author, Eric S. Townsend, had a key assignment terminate early in a cost-saving move. He found himself without a backup plan to make ends meet. He chose to do something fresh and different, for an audience that he hadn’t engaged in the past.
He broke out his art supplies and began to draw by hand for the first time in two decades. He created a series of characters. It was November 18, 2014. At first, it looked like it would be a children’s book. It would soon blossom into an early learning suite. He would follow in the footprints of his parents before him who were career educators (60 years of teaching between them).
Tabula Raisa is inspired by the Latin term tabula rasa— or “a clean slate.” Through conversations with friend and James Madison University professor Morgan C. Benton (contributing editor on this and another of the author’s books), an adventure template was produced and refined.
Funding Through Kickstarter
Townsend created a campaign page at Kickstarter to highlight his latest effort and to solicit financial backing. He set the term at 30 days, with an ambitious monetary target of $12,000. He chose one of the toughest times of the year to garner investor attention (Dec 10 to Jan 9) due to three major winter holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years). $12,879 was raised.
Tabula Raisa’s run ended in the “Featured Project” position, with a showcase on page one of the website and a ranking of #1 of 418 publishing projects across 14 subcategories. It was a coveted Staff Pick and listed among Kickstarter’s “New and Interesting” projects. The project even gained an offer from a publishing company as well as additional private investment.
Why Craft Traditions?
Millions practice a craft. It’s a hands-on, meaningful way to trace one’s heritage back centuries (perhaps millennia). Many crafts have their roots in ancient traditions and art forms. Unlike art, which excludes based on genius and innovation, craft includes based on preserving the human story. It’s participatory history.
Children are drawn to the colors and textures. They enjoy playing with their hands and making things. Reservations are low. They’re uninhibited. Exploration and expression are jumpstarted. An engaged mind begins to problem-solve and think critically.
While maturation doesn’t happen overnight, early exposure to the world’s cultures and traditions is a wonderful socializing tool. It becomes a powerful secondary source of education. Children develop a sensitivity toward people of different races, creeds, and origins. They cultivate worldliness. This ease is often overlooked in formal education but becomes an increasingly important skill to possess as collegiate and career years approach.
Developing a Multicultural Tool
Townsend visited the leading bookseller. He asked an associate to pull books on craft traditions and multiculturalism. He was surprised to learn that not a single one was in stock. She could only point to a few independent titles but they would need to be special-ordered. He set out to create a suite that could expand horizons through a young girl (Raisa) with an appreciation for how keepsakes are made. Reaching children during early development allows for a more curious, creative, balanced, considerate, culturally-sensitive, and worldly generation.
In the News
“For every dollar we put into high-quality early childhood education we get $7 back. The society as a whole does better.”
— President Barack Obama
“In this digital age, it’s easy to forget that the young child’s brain becomes organized through hands-on exploration — creating the capacity to acquire complex skills and knowledge.”
— Grand Forks Herald (April 2015)
In 2014, printed kids’ books had their best year ever, with 226 million units sold — compared to 139 million a decade ago.
Children’s book buyers do more than half of their book buying in person, with 56% of purchases taking place in stores in last year’s fourth quarter.
“There’s a strange rise of children’s books for adults. The leading driver is stress relief.”
— The Washington Post
The No. 1 and No. 2 best-selling books on Amazon right now are coloring books for adults. In the UK, five of the top 10 titles are now adult coloring books.
“I think it’s really relaxing to do something analogue — to unplug. Coloring books flex our creative muscles in a way we likely haven’t since our good old paste-eating elementary school days.”
— Johanna Basford for The Guardian (February 2015)
“Why is children’s poetry so invisible? Children respond enthusiastically when it’s read to them. They love the wordplay, rhythms and rhymes. They write their own fantastic poems in workshops.”
— The Guardian
A poet who visits schools can expect feverish sales. And yet, booksellers say that there aren’t many poetry books being published. Book consultants and journalists say they aren’t told about new children’s poetry books when they are published.
Psychologists examine the phenomenal success of the animated feature Frozen, and speak to “‘why kids can’t let It go.”
— CNN (January 2015)
Several themes emerged:
• inter-generational, family-themed message.
• no monsters (kids under 5 aren’t going to have nightmares)
• magical realism (preschooler imaginations respond well to it).
• empowerment (through relating to a powerful character).
• impulsiveness (as in the hit song “Let it Go”)
• liberation (as in the song’s lyric: “happy and free, with nobody bothering her.”)
“By 2060, close to one in three U.S. residents will be Hispanic (up from half that, or about one in six today). The multicultural population is increasingly born in the U.S. rather than abroad.”
— Advertising Age
“There’s a dearth of non-white characters in children’s books and education. Only 393 of the more than 3,500 titles published in the U.S. in 2014 (11%) feature non-whites.”
— Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), University of Wisconsin-Madison
Hispanics and Latin Americans were represented in just 57 titles in 2013 and just 66 in 2014.
Dora the Explorer (a Hispanic, multicultural action hero for children) earns over $1 billion yearly for Viacom. Her count of weekly viewers in the US exceeded Stephen Colbert’s by two-thirds.
— Nielsen (2014 ratings)
American Girl Brands (the leading producer of non-white 18-inch dolls) reported 2014 gross sales were $620.7 million.
“The key to success in the global workplace is being culturally fluent.”
— SBS report Australia (March 2015)
“Cultures are linked to other cultures via individuals, and individuals’ responses to foreign ideas and the social movements that often ensue from those responses can spark cultural change. Cultures often change by borrowing or adapting useful ideas or practices from a foreign culture.”
— SBS report Australia (March 2015)
“A lack of worldliness is clouding our (Americans’) vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies.”
— Salon (March 2015)
“47% of people age 45 and older plan to take a multi-generational family trip within a year. More often than not, the grandchild(ren) will choose the destination.”
— AARP (2015 survey)
In 2015, Smithsonian Enterprises launched a new magazine aimed at cultural travelers. It’s the company’s first such publication in three decades. Smithsonian Journeys focuses on a single destination and features a combination of photos and editorial content pertaining to the destination’s history, food and customs, among other aspects.
“This is targeted to the cultural traveler, somebody that when they go to a destination; they want to do more than just get on the hop-on, hop-off bus. To do that properly, to really delve into a destination.”
— Steve Giannetti, Chief Revenue Officer, Smithsonian Enterprises
The arts, crafts, and handmade goods giant Etsy opened its first day on NASDAQ well above its IPO price of $16 per share. It closed at $30 per share and a $3.3 billion valuation.
“Senior citizens can stave off dementia by participating in arts and crafts. People who exercised their artistic muscle were 73% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment.”
“Craftsmanship is about doing things the old-school way, the slow way, the long way, the stupid way—the way that may not be the most profitable, commercial, or efficient. It has become a movement—a trend—that can obscure the passionate folks that actually make amazing things by hand.”
– Anthony Bourdain for Raw Craft (February 2015)
“Even office mice now come with a narrative of craftsmanship and care.”
— The Verge (February 2015)