Northern Wilds Magazine
Minnesota Children's Press youth club participants call themselves Story Scouts, but instead of selling cookies, they sell the books that they’ve created. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Minnesota Children’s Press fosters creativity

Grand Marais resident Anne Brataas is passionate about teaching and literacy. Armed with an intrinsic motivation to explain the natural world, the former Pioneer Press and Star Tribune science and environmental reporter wants to influence children to be stewards of their surroundings. Through her various engagements with youth while living in the Twin Cities, she quickly realized their deep capabilities and the way she could help them embrace their limitless creativity.

As the children she mentored expanded their minds through written and illustrated thought exercises on topics like ‘what makes a good community,’ Brataas knew there was more she wanted to do. In 2019, she decided to formalize her unique mentorship concept by creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Minnesota Children’s Press is an educational non-profit authoring and publishing collaborative that provides space for child authors, illustrators, designers, and editors to bring their ideas to life. The budding entrepreneurs interview, research, write, illustrate, edit, design, craft, proof, sign off, and publish stories from their perspective on the world around us.

Borrowing from the familiar phrasing of another popular youth group, the youth club participants call themselves “Story Scouts.” Instead of selling cookies, the Story Scouts sell the books that they have created.

“Selling our books helps fund life-improving community projects such as helping kids graduate from college free of debt, or designing more engaging playgrounds of natural, non-polluting and non-toxic materials,” says Brataas. “From our Ice Cream & Fish book revenues through March 2021, we donated to the Cook County Violence Prevention Center, several 12-steps groups, and funds for families facing food insecurity.”

The organization mentors kids ages 5-15. | SUBMITTED

The organization has received a number of grants, including one recently from the Blandin Foundation. With these resources, they will be able to operate the new “Letteracy Deck” in Grand Marais starting this summer. Residents, visitors and passersby are welcome to pause for a moment of reflection and screen-free letter-writing while overlooking Lake Superior. The organization’s volunteers will supply the tables, chairs, space, all the fun papers, cards, inks, pens (even quills), stamps, envelopes and models of letters.

“Our goal is simple: from June 15 through September 15, we encourage visitors and locals alike to pause and reflect while inspired by the majesty of Lake Stupendous—ok, Superior—and let that energy empower them to connect with someone positively,” explains Brataas. “We want people to have a free, open place where they can contemplate beauty and communicate it.”

The Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation of Duluth also supported the group in its quest to write and illustrate a five-book series of 200 years of Cook County history. Starting in 2020, the Story Scouts teamed up with the Cook County YMCA to interview local elders and conduct research at the Cook County History Museum. The fourth book in the chronological series, written about the time period from 1930 to 1980, was a 2021 Minnesota Author Project Award Finalist.

Not even a global pandemic could stifle the creativity and positivity of the Story Scouts. Between March and November 2020, the group produced a work entitled Safe and Healthy: A Child’s Field Guide to Thriving in a Pandemic. Donations from the “sale” of this pandemic project benefit the Litter Lab, a mapping and online Litter Museum designed to reduce public trashiness and Lake Superior pollution. Another grant-funded initiative, the Litter Lab youth participants sorted litter based on its type and GPS location to identify trends. Analyzing the data and reports encouraged the community to brainstorm ways to reduce the pollution. It was also the brainchild of Brataas.

With many, many years under her belt working with youth, Brataas has no shortage of memorable stories. Though every interaction touches her in a different way, there have been some that rise to the top.

“I witnessed the very moment a child understood himself to be an artist and that he could tell stories through pictures. It was one of the best feelings ever—for me and for him,” she explains. “His drawing became the cover of one of our local history books, Berries & Beavers. He was so proud of his drawing. He asked me to keep it for him, and to ‘make sure you keep it up high so it won’t get wrecked.’”

The Minnesota Children’s Press, with Braatas at its helm, has its sights set on the long term. Setting up its Story Scouts for the future by making them more comfortable working and creating in the digital age is paramount. Beyond the collaboration required to write and illustrate a book with other members of the group, the Story Scouts is teaching the children lifelong entrepreneurial skills.

“That’s sort of where all this goes; they’re building a career portfolio whether or not they know it,” she says. “It’s an alternative way to learn important and practical things. These are really problem-solving skills in life.”

More information about the Minnesota Children’s Press can be found at:

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