Thursday, March 24, 2022

#KidlitForUkraine: timeline of a benefit—conceived to streamed in three weeks

On 2/24/22, Russia attacked Ukraine. Less than a month later, on 3/22/22, 28 authors of books for young readers shared stories of hope in a virtual benefit to raise money for children of Ukraine (via Save the Children).

In my initial talk with the two people who would partner with me on this (see below), I advocated for the show to air as soon as possible; I was nervous to do this because it would mean asking a lot of them within a limited time frame. But the crisis was new and raw and I knew it would be easier to secure donations while the invasion was in the news daily. 

Luckily, those two people saw it the same way.

How did so much happen so fast?


  • inspired in part by a 9/11 TV benefit called America: A Tribute to Heroes, I reached out to Rocco Staino, who had covered past efforts I’ve been involved in, to ask for suggestions on how to produce such an event


  • Rocco said Julie Gribble at KidLit TV was interested; I did not know Julie nor had I ever done anything with KidLit TV, but she seemed reliable and I could instantly tell that she knew her stuff


  • Julie, Rocco, and I Zoomed and began to map out details, many of which remained in place till the end (e.g. the concept of a series of authors each sharing a true story of hope in under three minutes, the hashtag #KidlitForUkraine); at first I suggested that we keep most of the cast secret to build excitement when promoting, but then flipped that when I realized that announcing with (most of the) participant names would likely draw a bigger crowd


  • sent first invitation to an author (who declined)


  • reached out to other authors to explain the event, detail video parameters (e.g. do not introduce yourself, simply start telling the story), provide video tips, and ask for participation; gave submission deadline of 3/14; within an hour I got the first yes; I spent the next few days trying to create a lineup of at least 25 authors


  • first video submitted—which made it start to feel more real
  • reached out to a Ukrainian publisher to ask if they could suggest any Ukrainian authors of children’s books to approach (knowing full well they likely had many other priorities)
  • the first author of Ukrainian heritage signed on (found separately from the publisher)


  • asked Mike Curato if he’d design a logo


  • the Ukrainian publisher sent names/emails for three Ukrainian children’s authors interested in participating (though only one ended up being able to submit)


  • Mike sent a logo which became the logo
  • contacted Save the Children to find out how fundraising for them works
  • 16 authors expressed interest so far, but only four had sent videos 
  • (throughout the video-gathering process: had to ask authors to reshoot if wasn’t horizontal, wasn’t a story, sound too low, video too long)


  • Julie created graphics for promotion on social media
  • named the event Stories of Hope
  • Julie and I agreed to post the show online for no charge at some point after the event, primarily for educational use


  • revealed logo to participating authors and potential authors as enticement
  • the 2022 Newbery recipient signed on
  • a high-profile author I really wanted said yes if she could submit video later than deadline, I said yes
  • wrote copy about event for KidLit TV site
  • suggested we use on-screen to identify authors, and only by name (no book titles or other info) 


  • …but only 10 videos in so far
  • the 2022 Caldecott recipient signed on
  • told a Ukrainian author who didn’t think she could make a video in time that she could speak in Ukrainian if it would help—and she did
  • created and published the event on Eventbrite; until the event, all donations would go via this platform
  • set up a Team on Save the Children for donations after the event
  • despite Julie and Rocco’s kind nudge that I make a video, I said I was planning on staying behind-the-scenes


  • Julie designed the lower third (the on-screen graphic that would ID everyone)
  • suggested we start and end with a Ukrainian and mix up the rest (i.e. not run them in alpha order because the uncertainty—including the promise of surprise guests—would build more suspense)
  • the author who got a video extension backed out with regret
  • all but one of the announced cast’s videos had been submitted
  • began announcing on social media
  • the first post-announcement author signed on (I figured once we went public, we would hear from other authors who wanted to contribute, and sure enough we did)
  • proposed the order for authors to appear in the show
  • announced to kidlit press
  • raised $2,000


  • email blast to my kidlit network
  • educators and others asked if program will be available after its initial stream for those who couldn’t watch the scheduled event
  • volunteer translated the video spoken in Ukrainian into English
  • announced on my neighborhood list serv
  • Rocco wrote a proposed intro for the show
  • it was again suggested that I do a video
  • only one of what would eventually be seven surprise guests had submitted video 


  • Jack Gantos, one of the surprise guests, made a video (shot by a student) while visiting an international school in Jordan
  • School Library Journal covered the event
  • used the English translation to create subtitles for the Ukrainian-language video
  • compiled list of people to thank in the credits
  • sent all participants a comp ticket (had to be done one at a time; Eventbrite, please make it possible to enter all comp tickets at once!)
  • announced via the newsletter of my son’s middle school


  • decided to do—and late at night, filmed—a video
  • changed a line in the promotional copy from “Storytellers subject to change. Surprises are likely” to “Surprises are guaranteed” (because we’d received videos from authors who had not been announced)
  • edited out intros (i.e. “My name is…and I’m the author of…”) from 10 of the author videos so each video starts with the start of the story
  • raised $3,500


  • Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC announced to its membership 


  • Julie created lower thirds for all participants
  • raised $5,000


  • Julie announced to KidLit TV mailing list
  • second email blast to my kidlit network
  • Horn Book, Publishers Weekly covered the event
  • Julie created a first draft of the show
  • last video submitted (file under “nick of time”): Peter Reynolds
  • raised $10,000


  • Julie whipped up countdown graphics two hours before the show started
  • at showtime, had raised almost $15,000

As breakneck a pace as this was, it was surprisingly low-stress. Julie was a dream partner—collaborative, responsive, proactive—and the authors were (no surprise) team players. People went out of their way to pitch in. As a result, we delivered on what I envisioned: entertainment + empathy.

Thank you again to all involved.

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