826Michigan and aliens with indigestion: this non-profit turns kids into authors.

826 Book: Where Is It Coming From?

I have a new book written by kids for kids. Well, it’s cute and charming, and I bought it… so it’s clearly for adults too. The book “Where Is It Coming From?” is the most recent release from 826Michigan, one chapter of a large network of 826 shops all over the country. The shops are actually creative writing and tutoring centers for kids, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside. Each shop is a little quirky storefront and the tutoring center is in the back offices. Michigan’s quirky store? Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair.

Why is a robot store publishing books? The roots of this comes from the first shop, 826 Valencia, in San Francisco. The non-profit’s founder, Dave Eggers, had set-up the first tutoring center in an area in San Francisco that was zoned for retail. The city informed them they had to sell something. So what did the creative sorts come up with? Supplies for the everyday pirate. Oh yeah, I’m not kidding. Friends bought me a fake mustache, a wooden spoon, and a pirate t-shirt when they visited the store. Business BOOMED and the proceeds supported the non-profit. They said the store quickly paid the rent on the whole space.

The shop was so successful they replicated it in other places. A superhero supply in New York, where they have a cape test area, with a fan built in so you can see it waving in the breeze. A yeti research shop in Boston that was so unusual that the cops cased it for sometime before entering inside to ask what was going on. The Boring Store in Chicago is a front for a spy store… they were deep undercover. LA has a time travel convenience store. Seattle has a space travel supply. Washington DC has the Museum of Unnatural History, which gave me this gem:

The Missing Link

The text on the jar says, “Missing Link. Generations of scientists spent their lives searching for it. Now it can be yours.”

All these wonderful stores are just kitschy and enjoyable to me. I’ve worked in and volunteered for non-profits for a long time, so their unique blend of personality and commitment to their mission really strikes a chord with me. I’ve been a long time supporter, visiting half of the shops personally, but also buying the books they publish. They publish books regularly, like the book above, so these kids are PUBLISHED AUTHORS. BEFORE THE AGE OF 18. Isn’t that awesome?! I wish we had something like this when I was a kid.

Some recent and good news is that they’re starting a new store/center in Detroit. The one in Ann Arbor is nice and has done a lot of good, but it’s really pretty far from the Metro Detroit area, so it makes it hard for them to connect with some of the schools in this area that would really benefit from the field trips and one-on-one tutoring opportunities.

They’re working on building the new shop as I type. I hope to be a volunteer. I feel like writing is such an important skill. It gives importance to self expression, builds self esteem, and is a crucial skill for one’s adult life. I love how these shops have focused on that, while having a little fun while they’re at it. It’s just a wonderful thing and I’m very excited that they exist.

 

To learn more about the 826 stores, visit 826national.org. Maybe consider making a donation or buying one of their books!

Tiny art is tiny.

I’m not sure exactly when I started collecting art. Maybe it’s because the internet has helped make art accessible and affordable; providing the means for artists to offer their wares easily. Or to discover craft fairs at the click of a mouse. Whatever the reason, we have a lot of it in our home. None of it is high dollar art. It’s all pieces we’ve collected because we enjoyed them. A variety of things.

I do tend to have a soft spot for microart. It’s like art, but small. Why do I enjoy it so? Not a clue. Small things are cute, as a rule. Possibly by a similar token they are also charming to me. In some of the art I’ve made and collected there is a fair amount of satire and cheekiness. Maybe it plays on the part of my brain that’s tickled by that.

In the following photos I’ve taken, I included a Canadian dime for scale.

Tiny landscapes

The tiny landscapes above were my first foray into microart. The hangers on the back are bent pop tabs. When I came across them at an art show in Houston, I ran to an ATM to get change. They were two for $12 if my memory serves me.

Bunny Sketch and Tiny Candlesticks

This sketch was a gift from my friend Stephanie. It is flanked by two tiny candlesticks made at the machine shop at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI. They change out the machine every couple of year so people can get differently shaped tiny candleholders. One night my husband and I had a fancy date dinner at home and set the table with our tiny candlesticks. We’re dumb.

Tiny collection of art

This is actually a cube that houses a little curated collection of things. It’s such a weird, quirky selection. The book is an old print of the “Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam” I ended up with, likely the only antique we own. The chicken and the egg used to sit next to that hare and a ceramic tortoise (a small nod to animal based quandaries) but he’s on temporary leave hanging out in my terrarium.

Oooh. Here’s the terrarium. Props to Real Simple Magazine for the tutorial. No dime here, but the terrarium is small.

Terrarium

This final picture is of a tiny painting I got from an Art-O-Mat and a photo. Art-O-Mats are all over the country. You pay $5 to a cigarette-turned-art vending machine. You get art. The photo has a slightly different origin. It was in our house when we moved in. Just laying on the mantle. Our house only had one owner, so I have to assume that he is the shadow in the photo and that’s his dog. It was so peculiar… I felt it needed to be apart of my little collection.

A boat and a dog

Go out and enjoy some art. Better yet, get some art. Better yet, make some art.