Book series by Carmel Valley kids helps children navigate life’s challenges

By Kelley Carlson

Reflections Publishing, a Carmel Valley-based company, gives children a chance to shine while relating to their peers.

The “Kids Helping Kids Through Books” series is written and illustrated by youths, addressing difficult life situations that others their age may face. Among the topics of these fictional stories are divorce, bullying, death and peer pressure.

In addition, experts — including educators, child psychologists, religious scholars and therapists — provide advice for kids and parents on how to handle such situations in a section in the back of each book titled “4114U (Information For You!).”

“The goal is that hopefully people will read these books before the situation occurs,” said Colleen Ster, president and publisher of Reflections Publishing.

The Carmel Valley resident discovered a need for such literature through her discussions with educators over a 15-year period. During that time frame, Ster served as vice president for The Electronic Bookshelf for five years, instructing librarians and teachers how to use software programs, and was marketing director for Scholastic Reading Counts! in New York City for another five years. Ster asked educators what kind of books they were looking for and, time and again, they reported a desire for materials to help children navigate life’s challenges.

In January 2009, Ster established Reflections Publishing, and created the “Kids Helping Kids Through Books” series.

“The point is to have kids relate to other kids through difficult life subjects, to open the door of communication,” she said.

Any child is welcome to submit a manuscript; guidelines can be found on the company’s Web site:

  1. So far, the average grade level of authors and illustrators has been seventh, and the majority are from Carmel Valley, but contributors have ranged from fifth-graders to high school seniors and live throughout North County.

If a manuscript is accepted for publication, Ster arranges to meet with the writer and provides ideas on ways to improve the story and its character development. After changes are made, the manuscript is given to in-house copy editors. As the final step in the process, children attend workshops, where they promote and sell their work.
Contributing youths and designated charities receive a percentage of the book sales, Ster said.

At the “Read, Write and Draw” Workshops, which so far have been held at the Carmel Valley and Del Mar libraries, the young authors discuss their books and how they came up with the ideas, while the illustrators show the audience how they draw the front cover and chapter titles. The experts who contributed to the books also conduct question-and-answer session with parents and children.

In addition, Reflections Publishing collects jeans at these workshops and donates them to the San Diego Rescue Mission. More than 500 have been gathered so far.

The company’s charitable work doesn’t stop with monetary and clothing donations; it has also given books to the San Diego Rescue Mission, the Women’s Resource Center in Oceanside, and to the first generation of college-bound students at a school in San Juan Capistrano.

“A lot of (the young writers and illustrators) are involved with charity work on the side,” Ster said. “They’re good kids, and they want to make a difference.”

Ster noted that the book writing and illustrating process is a learning experience for the youths, and that they will carry these skills throughout college and into their adult careers. It’s good for their self-esteem, she added.

“I’ve been so proud of the kids,” Ster said. “They’ve taken such ownership (with these projects). They stand up straighter, talk louder and make eye contact.

“It has been an empowering experience for me to be a part of an important social movement and impacting people’s lives,” said Skylar Sorkin, author of “Shining Through a Social Storm,” which addresses relational aggression and bullying. “To set a goal and accomplish it means a lot, especially in the process of writing a book. It takes commitment, determination, patience, faith and much more. I am very honored to become an author at such a young age, it means the world to me. Even better, my amazing parents have been there the whole time for me. By working together, I learned from their experiences to make mine even better! Colleen saw something unique in me and provided an unforgettable opportunity for me to become an author at such a young age!”

Skylar’s mom, Linda Sorkin, was one of the experts who contributed to the book.

“It was an honor and privilege being a part of the team behind Reflection Publishing’s ‘Kids Helping Kids’ project,” said Sorkin, a family therapist. “As a mother, it was amazing to observe my daughter’s hard work in authoring a book on a subject she is passionate about. As a professional, sharing my own wisdom and passion to make a difference in young lives is priceless. Participating as a mother-daughter team for RP has opened an exciting opportunity for us to support others in an empowering way.”

Another parent who assisted his children with the writing process was Dave Franco, who wrote “Scars” — about peer pressure and consequences — with Julian and Noelle.

“Working with Reflections Publishing to create ‘Scars’ was a joy, especially their terrific idea of making it a family affair,” Franco said. “My kids learned a lot about work and themselves in the process. Would I do it again? I was thinking of calling Colleen this week to see if we could start the process all over again. Both my kids and I would love it.”

“Scars” and “Shining Through a Social Storm” are scheduled to be released Dec. 8, along with “Remind Me Again,” about the death of a grandparent.

Other books currently available in the “Kids Helping Kids Through Books” series are “The Real Beauty,” about divorce and moving; and “Face 2 Face,” discussing bullying, peer abuse and cyberbullying.

Books are available for purchase at Barnes & Noble (online and in store), and Follett Library Resources. Paperbacks retail for $16.95; the hardback version of “Remind Me Again” costs $24.95.

Future books in the works address topics such as Alzheimer’s, changing schools, a car crash, self-esteem, adoption and ADD/ADHD. All are due out in 2012, Ster said.