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Anne Brataas’ Minnesota Children’s Press is growing — and growing up

Nov 07, 2021 08:31AM ● By Editor
When Festival attendees asked about “Ice Cream & Fish,” Brataas told them it was written by 12-year-old Linnea Ljosenvoor and 10-year-old Iris Works, with art by other youngsters at an outdoor book camp sponsored by Brataas’ press in 2020 on Grand Marais’ porches, lawns, playgrounds, rocks, shallows and shoreline of Lake Superior.  Submitted photo

By Rajesh Khanna from Recently Heard - November 6, 2021


There’s lots of talk about synergy in the Twin Cities literary community, with arts organizations helping one another. Sometimes, we don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in Greater Minnesota.

Anne Brataas wants to change that with her Minnesota Children’s Press, based 260 miles away in Grand Marais, with help from her actor/comedian son, Kip Hathaway, and David Unowsky, dean of local booksellers and now a St. Paul-based publishing consultant.

The trio came together on a beautiful October day at the Twin Cities Book Festival at the State Fairgrounds to talk about “An Illustrated Guide to Kip’s Shakespearean Insults!” a quirky little paperback that grew out of Kip Hathaway’s homework-gone-wrong in the eighth grade.

At the Book Festival, Brataas was found at the Minnesota Library Association table, where her press was honored for “Ice Cream & Fish: A Children’s History of Grand Marais, Minnesota,” a finalist in the Minnesota Author Project. She was also celebrating signing a long-term lease for her press to be housed in the old Harbor-House Grille space in Grand Marais, now named Songbird Suites.

“It’s in a prime location that everybody has to pass,” Brataas says happily of the building.

When Festival attendees asked about “Ice Cream & Fish,” Brataas told them it was written by 12-year-old Linnea Ljosenvoor and 10-year-old Iris Works, with art by other youngsters at an outdoor book camp sponsored by Brataas’ press in 2020 on Grand Marais’ porches, lawns, playgrounds, rocks, shallows and shoreline of Lake Superior.

The 35 campers, members of the MCP Story Scouts, ages K-7, researched by interviewing elders and produced this book under the Co-Co book imprint which Brataas calls “a creative, community-building youth-nurturing communication response to the global pandemic of 2020.”

Back at the Book Festival, David Unowsky was talking with potential clients for his consulting business. “I’ve worked for Springboard for the Arts a long time, consulting with writers about marketing and publicity and for the Mayo Clinic and others,” Unowsky said, pointing out that one of the authors he helped, Somalia native Said Shaiye, was at the Festival promoting his memoir “Are You Borg Now?”

Brataas, whose brain is always buzzing with ideas, has hired Unowsky to consult on producing what might be the Minnesota Children’s Press’ first crossover title, “An Illustrated Guide to Kip’s Shakespearean Insults!” A quote on the cover: “Thou Crusty Botch of Nature!” from “Trolius and Cressida.”  Inside are lines such as “Thou Mountain of Mad Flesh!” (“Comedy of Errors”) and “Methink’st Thou Art a General Offense and That Every Man Should Beat Thee” (“All’s Well that Ends Well”).

The little paperback, Unowsky says, could appeal to children, who love Hathaway’s stick figure illustrations, and adults, who will be amused by The Bard’s epithets.

But first, you need some background about Anne Brataas and her children’s press, which has spawned a number of subsidiary activities.  “I want to insulate kids against this sh—– world,” Brataas says. “To get them before social media with positive reinforcement as an alternative to Facebook. I am so aware of how soon that window on their imaginations closes. I want to get adults to value children, because they have so few chances for authentic relationships with kids.”

An example: Brataas’ son Aaron, now working in Denmark, had a stuffed beaver he named Chummy when he was a child. A little boy in her writing class adored Chummy. He jumped into Aaron’s lap and said, “We both love the same thing.”

Brataas is a former Pioneer Press science/environmental reporter (and my colleague). Her columns were gathered in the 1996 book “North Country Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to the Great Outdoors.” She’s the daughter of the late Nancy Brataas, the first woman to seek a state senate seat in her own right, serving District 33 from 1975 to 1992.

Anne and her husband, Charles “Chico” Hathaway, divide their time between their home in St. Paul and Grand Marais.

After working with youngsters for 20 years, including at Macalester College’s Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth,  Anne is adamant about children’s innate potential that only needs to be brought to the surface and encouraged, while always letting them know they are loved.

Brataas holds masters’ degrees in zoology and the history of science, technology and medicine from the University of Minnesota, and a master’s in environmental science from Ohio-based Miami University. Three times she’s won the American Association for the Advancement of Science curriculum writing competitions and still does some freelance work for Mayo Clinic and other institutions.

“I began publishing before I knew what I was doing,” Anne admits, describing herself as “mentor, science writer, mother, disciple to children’s inborn compassionate nature.” She lists herself at the office telephone number as “chief curiosity officer.”

In Grand Marais, thanks to a 2017 Broadband Innovation grant from the Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation, Brataas established one of her first ventures, BorealCorps Scouts, a nonprofit in Cook County that is a children’s digital press corps through which the youngsters write and publish the Grand Marais Gleam newspaper that connects rural Minnesota, on hold now because of COVID.  Another early project for the children was creating health messages about the dangers of vaping.

A LOT OF PROJECTS

In 2019, the Minnesota Children’s Press legally became a nonprofit with a mission to mentor rural children ages 5-15 to illustrate, publish and sell their books, newspapers, websites and other print and digital publishing to fund civic betterment projects.

One of the most intriguing programs under the MCP umbrella is Arrowhead Children’s Publishing Co-op, a pilot project supported by the Blandin Foundation’s Arrowhead Intelligent Region grants, intended to spur innovation in the seven rural counties of Northern Minnesota.

1636219800 114 Readers and Writers Anne Brataas Minnesota Childrens Press is growing
Story Scouts, a publishing program for ages 5-15 that is part of Minnesota Children’s Press, delivered their newest book to stores in Grand Marais in March. They stopped at Drury Lane Books to show “Safe & Happy: A Children’s Field Guide to Thriving in a Pandemic” to store manager Gwen Danfelt. Among the co-authors/illustrators were Leah Blaisdell, age 6, left, Tib Nordlund, 8, center and Tib’s twin brother Ari, foreground.,  Photo: Courtesy of Gwen Denfelt


Arrowhead Children’s Publishing drew 57 children ages 4-10 to MCPs’ summer program with the YMCA. The kids worked on developing a science-based book, “Litter Lab,” using GIS science to map litter problems such as the flow of stuff from Grand Marais that can pollute Lake Superior. Then, the little scientists proposed solutions based on data analysis using an engineering sottware called ARcGis.

“This is a truly 21st century career skill not taught in area schools,” Brataas says. “It primes the youngest learners to be the innovators and leaders mapping civic solutions and co-creating the next generation of Arrowhead culture, technology, economy and quality of life through multigenerational collaborations.”

A partner in this program is 100 Rural Women, an Itasca County organization serving and supporting rural women as they identify, connect and create relationship models of networking, leadership, mentorship and civic engagement.

Another MCP initiative is “A Children’s History of 200 Years of Story Crafting in Cook County: Ojibwe Story Scrolls to Fur Trade Diaries to Broadband,” funded by Duluth-based L.K. Johnson Foundation. The program, through MCP, piloted the concept of local  histories researched, written and illustrated by children in 2020 as a response to the first year of the pandemic. “Ice Cream & Fish” came out of this endeavor and the foundation is funding four more books in the series.

This spring, MCP will host Family Unity Book Workshops in their new space, where there will be collaborative, mentored, storycrafting by children and their families.  A three-generation book about the St. Paul family of Russ Nelson, titled “Marvelous Miss Mabel: Our Pandemic Puppy,” is already in print.

When Brataas teaches and works with kids, she uses what she calls the “Anne’s Teaching Up,” a model that lets kids take the lead instead of having grown-ups tell them what to do.

“Children are creative, curious, competent. Let’s listen to them, from them, their way,” she says.

“It’s so easy to write a book with children third grade and younger. They go so fast. because nobody has told them they couldn’t do it. I tell them to say ‘yes’ to anything that doesn’t hurt you or other people.”

WHO LOVES SHAKESPEARE?

Now MCP is embarking on what Brataas and Unowsky think might be the book that makes it to the big-time.

“An Illustrated Guide to Kip’s Shakespearean Insults!” grew out of Kip’s eighth grade homework assignment by a teacher with whom he had trouble.

1636219800 389 Readers and Writers Anne Brataas Minnesota Childrens Press is growing


“I had found an illustrated guide online and illustrated some insults,” Hathaway recalls. “My teacher decided I had to do it all over because I didn’t follow instructions. It was disappointing. I had worked hard and felt it was a pretty good representation of what the teacher wanted.”

Hathaway and his mother decided to put his subversive little Shakespeare book into print during the pandemic. Hathaway illustrated it with Bob, the spirit-stick figure that showed up in his college application.

“I wrote a foreword telling kids to believe in themselves, trust themselves,” he said. “Sometimes adults can be wrong, don’t have all the answers. My project was a good example.”

Hathaway, 27, lives in his parents’ St. Paul home. He’s a member of comedian Stevie Ray’s Improv company and his theater credits include playing the porter in Wayward Theatre’s “Macbeth,” produced at the James J. Hill House last year.

Brataas didn’t know what to do with this odd book, so she sought help from her friends, New Yorkers Jonathan Weiss and his partner Brenda Marsh. Together they have 85 years of bookselling experience, and Brataas calls them legends in their professions.

Unbeknownst to Brataas, Weiss and Marsh were also friends of Unowsky, which they all discovered when the couple visited the Twin Cities.

Weiss and Marsh, as well as local folks in the publishing world, thought the insult book had potential. Who would help Kip and Anne get it in shape to be submitted to a big publisher? Unowsky, of course, former owner of the legendary Hungry Mind/Ruminator Bookstore in St. Paul.

“I liked the concept (of the Shakespeare book) but it needed refining and broadening,” said Unowsky, who is listed as consulting editor/publishing consultant. “This is like nothing I’ve done before, but I’ve done fiction, memoir, adult books. I understand the principles we need to apply — make it clear, easy to ‘get,’  make sure illustrations match every quote. ”

Hathaway says Unowsky is “a great guy” who helps him “fill in the gaps in the book, stuff we never thought of. He knows what works.”

Although Hathaway spends most of his time in St. Paul, he often gets calls from his mother in Grand Marais asking for help with the kids or illustrating something.

What’s it like to have a mother whose creativity and imagination never stop?

“Well,” Hathaway says diplomatically, “it is easy to get sucked into her projects.”

And it looks as though it’s going to be that way for Minnesota Children’s Press into the future. If Anne Brataas has her way, Grand Marais will become a hub of kids’ writing and publishing.

(Anne Brataas and Minnesota Children’s Press can be reached at 218-387-5666 or [email protected] and minnchildpress.org)


To read the original post and see related stories, follow this link to the Recently Heard website. https://recentlyheard.com/2021/11/06/readers-and-writers-anne-brataas-minnesota-childrens-press-is-g...

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