“Whitman Grads Pen Book”

A story by Richard Scordato about our book, as published in the Oct. 27 edition of my old high school newspaper, The Black & White:

For most young children, ancient China symbolizes nothing but a blur of iconic images: the Great Wall, dragons, porcelain figures and emperors. Determined to give toddlers a proper introduction to the social and cultural importance of China, Whitman graduates Lance Kramer (’02) and Steven Weinberg (’02) recently published “Great Ancient China Projects You Can Build Yourself,” a storybook that teaches children about ancient China through interactive, hands-on activities. The book is one installment of a build-it-yourself series of children’s books printed by Nomad Press.

The book includes 25 different projects for children ages nine and up. Activities include creating a Chinese puppet, a compass, a paper snowflake, homemade ice cream and a Chinese string instrument. The book also provides history, trivia and interesting facts about China. Each chapter includes a vocabulary section with meanings of different Chinese characters.

Kramer graduated from Dartmouth College (’06) and worked as a school teacher in Ethiopia as well as a freelance writer in Portland. After two years in Portland, he returned to the east coast to work as a field organizer for the Obama campaign in Virginia and a reporter for the Willamette Week paper in Washington D.C..

Weinberg, who illustrated the book, graduated with a double major in art and government from Colby College and currently resides as an artist in San Francisco. He also finds time to travel the world to expand his artistic vision. “My girlfriend and I traveled for the last two years,” he says. “We lived in Beijing for six months and then in Southeast Asia. We also went to West Africa, and I did a lot of paintings there.”

As long time friends, Kramer and Weinberg decided to collaborate their efforts for the book shortly after the publishing process began. “I was mostly finished with the book when I got Steven involved,” Kramer says. “I self-publish a free arts magazine called Cahoots, and Steven had done some work for the magazine while he was in China teaching. I loved the drawings he did for the magazine. He had an incredible knack for adapting the Asian style but also making it his own.”

Kramer approached the publishing company he had formerly worked for with the original idea for the storybook. “I worked with the publishers in college under a paid editorial internship and had done similar books on different cultures like Egypt, Greece and colonial America,” he says. “We talked about how there was no book from Asia, and with the Beijing Olympics, China seemed like a natural choice. I pitched the idea, and they liked it.”

For Weinberg and Kramer, the creative process proved to be extremely time-consuming. “[The process started] around June 2006, and the publishing company signed me in Sept. of 2006,” Kramer says. “The writing, editing, lay-out and publishing, start to finish, took 2 years. We had a clear goal; we knew we wanted to come out before the Olympics.”

Illustrating the book consumed much of the publishing time. “I heard about the book around October and November,” Weinberg adds. “Around January and February, I did the bulk of the work. This book came out kind of quickly because I hopped on just at the right time. It’s very rare for a book to get published so quickly.”

Kramer and Weinberg became friends while attending Bethesda Elementary School. “We met in second grade,” Kramer says. “We would play baseball together and hang out after school all the time. Since then, we’ve been great friends.”

Kramer worked for the Black & White during his time at Whitman. “I was the Editor-in-Chief of the Black & White, which was pretty essential in starting me off in writing. I wrote a bunch on my own, but when I started writing for the Black & White, I had an editor and a deadline, and my work was read by people other than my friends. I gained self-confidence in my writing through working on the paper, learning how to critique my friends’ writings and understanding others’ criticisms.”

Taking art classes at Whitman helped inspire Weinberg to pursue his artistic career. “I had great art teachers,” he says. “The art department was really strong and it kept me thinking that art was what I wanted to do after graduation.”

Weinberg plans to continue with his artistic endeavors. “I’m working on a graphic novel based off my own travels around the world these past few years,” he says. “It’s also about the friends we met on the way.”

Kramer attributes his personal success to his outlook on being a writer. “Don’t think that living off writing is what it means to be a writer,” he says. “The whole reason I put this book together is because I felt that this was a cool opportunity for people who don’t think of themselves as writers to prove that they can be.”

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