Storytelling and Bookmaking at 826

So, I’ve been doing some pretty cool stuff at 826LA! Never heard of it?


Well, once upon a time, there was a Pirate Supply Store located at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco. Little did anyone know there was a secret room behind the store and in this secret room, amazing things were happening (kids were getting help with their homework after school and going there for field trips during the day for awesome writing workshops and all kinds of other cool stuff). Still, to this day, amazing things are happening at 826 Valencia and at locations all over the United States by way of “826 National.”

In the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, there is a Time Travel Mart (a mini-mart for all your time travel needs). It’s behind this mini-mart where I’m getting involved as a volunteer and working to get kids inspired about writing and storytelling.


Mostly, I’ve worked with kids six and seven years old in the Storytelling and Bookmaking field trips. What 826 has designed for these field trips is truly a bit of genius. The kids are told that they are visiting “Barnacle & Barnacle publishers, run by Mr. and Mrs. Barnacle, and thank goodness Mr. Barnacle isn’t in the office today, because he is the meanest boss in the world.” Lo and behold, partway into introductions, Mr. Barnacle’s grumpy voice breaks in over a loud speaker and the pressure is then on to create as many original stories as there are kids in the room, in order to please Mr. Barnacle and keep the lowly Barnacle & Barnacle employees from losing their jobs.

So if there are 20 kids in the room, how will they get 20 original stories? They all write 3 pages as a group (with some help from a “grownup” or two), bringing the story to a cliffhanger, and then each of them writes their own version of page 4, creating 20 unique endings.

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My friend Eric Layer pictured here at far left, co-leading an 826 field trip.

That’s not the whole story, however, and this is where I come in. While they are writing each of their first three pages as a group, I am illustrating those pages — live. I have to time my drawing so that I have just enough information to create an image and have it done by the time they finish their page. It goes pretty quickly and sometimes elements of the story change halfway through a page, so I have to keep my ears wide open while I’m working.

After they’ve finished their own endings (which myself and the other volunteers and staff help out with), they have lunch. By the time they’re done with lunch, their books are printed and bound, illustrations included, each student receiving a copy with their own unique ending and their author picture on the back cover. Like magic!



Here are just some of the “illustrious” titles I’ve had the pleasure of working on: “Eek! No, I Am Nice,” “Shark vs. Coyotes: An Ice Cream Contest,”  ”The Adventures of Mr. Squishyman and Poison Ivy Fairy Girl and the Wicked Lollipop Lunchbox,” and “Watch Out For Mr. Couch!”


A section of "Watch Out For Mr. Couch!"


Mermaid Man and his sidekick Michael the Dolphin confront the evil Mr. Couch's super couch in "Watch Out For Mr. Couch!"


Mr. Squishyman and Poison Ivy Fairy Girl fly through space in their flying saucer made of pizza in "The Adventures of Mr. Squishyman and Poison Ivy Fairy Girl and the Wicked Lollipop Lunchbox."


Alien shark brothers Danny and Sal live in hamburger houses in "Shark vs. Coyotes: An Ice Cream Contest."

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