Did you know that one of the oldest African-American street festivals in the country is held right here in Philly? Or that Fairmount Park is the world’s largest landscaped city park?
A new book with Temple ties is teaching area children about Philadelphia’s culture, history and interesting facts.
P is for Philadelphia, Temple University Press’ first children’s book, was released earlier this month to coincide with Read Across America Day.
The book takes an alphabetic look at Philadelphia and each illustration was drawn by Philadelphia school children.
Each letter represents an aspect of the city: ‘C’ is for cheese steaks and ‘W’ is for Washington Square.
The idea for P is for Philadelphia first came from the book’s executive editor, Micah Kleit.
“I used to work at the University of Minnesota Press, and we did a book like that. At Minnesota, we hired professional artists. So I figured in this case, we could have kids illustrate the books,” Kleit said.
In order to do that, the University sponsored a competition throughout every Philadelphia public school to find the best entries for each letter.
Kleit said that it was a deliberate decision that only public school children were asked to compete.
“It’s a book about Philadelphia, and we’re a public university and public schools are the largest number of schools in the city…We really wanted it to be a public enterprise,” Kleit said.
Kleit added that the partnership that Temple has with the Philadelphia public school system made it easy to work with the schools.
“It’s a good way to showcase public school kids, who often don’t get enough credit for how smart they are,” said Kleit.
The contest was open to students in grades five through eight, and the response was enormous.
Alex Holzman, the director of Temple Press, said that the number of participants exceeded his expectations.
“In the end, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 kids participated in this in one way or another,” said Holzman.
Each district’s art teachers helped to cut that number down to a few hundred, and from that, three area artists were chosen to judge the work.
The book contains 28 student drawings, and each student artist was honored at a ceremony last year.
“[The student artists] just beamed. You could tell it was really rewarding for them,” Holzman said.
Corporate donors, who supplemented Temple Press’s budget, largely funded the book and its surrounding events.
“I recognized right away that if we were going to have an art contest and do all kinds of special things, we needed to have extra funding than usual. We couldn’t just do it out of our regular budget,” Holzman said.
Right now, the book is in the midst of promotion, with readings and book signings planned throughout the city.
Ann Marie Anderson, the marketing director for P is for Philadelphia, said the response to the book has been unbelievably positive. She noted a difference between promoting a children’s book and the scholarly journals that the Temple Press mostly prints.
“When you deal with children books, you have to be visual. We had to do a variety of promotional pieces,” Anderson said.
This includes special readings at Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum and a booth at the Earth Day Celebration at the Philadelphia Zoo.
“This Earth Day is a huge thing. If the weather is good, it really does bring out thousands,” she said.
Each book published at Temple Press can expect about three months of the press’s marketing time, although Anderson says that because of the special interest in the book that time may be extended for P is for Philadelphia.
Holzman said that the response from the University has also been extremely positive.
“[President David Adamany’s] office thought enough of the book to purchase 1,500 of them and give them out to the Chamber of Commerce in March,” he said.
He went on to add that he hopes that P is for Philadelphia will become a standard book for children to use to learn about the city.
“It’s something we’re really proud of,” Holzman said. “[Because] Temple has the whole partnership program with Philadelphia city schools, it’s a great thing for the University to be doing.”
Anderson added that the entire staff was excited about the book-making process.
“It’s such a welcome thing in Philadelphia; it makes you feel good about Philadelphia,” she said.
Emily Catalano can be reached at email@example.com.