Artist and designer Katie Johnson has a thing for monsters.

Not those of the morbid variety, but the cutesy, kid-friendly kind.


GIF from "Monsters, Inc."

She's always loved the wide-open creative process of dreaming up a new monster and putting it on paper. "It's a fun creative dump," she said. "You can make a monster out of anything. So when I was younger, that was my go-to when I felt like drawing."

Katie Johnson (right) ponders her next monster. Photo used with permission.

Little did she know, monsters would come to dominate her free time as a young adult, too. After college, Johnson started working as a designer with an advertising firm in Austin, Texas. But as a creative at heart, she also wanted to pursue her own projects.

An idea came to her after seeing a photo series called "Wonderland" by artist Yeondoo Jung, who re-created children's drawings as staged, dream-like photographs.

Johnson combined her love of monsters with Jung's idea of building on children's creativity to launch The Monster Project.

Through The Monster Project, Johnson invites elementary students to draw their own monsters. Then professional artists bring their monsters to life.

Getting started wasn't easy because she was the only artist on call. "I did 20 drawings by myself," Johnson said. "It was way too much."

She also wasn't meeting one of her most important objectives: "It was missing multiple artistic perspectives. I wanted the kids to see different ways to be creative."

Image from The Monster Project/Greatest Common Factory/Vimeo.

So Johnson grew a small army of artists to help students discover their own inner artists and see the potential of their ideas. And though they're all volunteers, they definitely get something out of it.

"We have to admit, this isn't just for the kids," says their website. "What a refreshing opportunity it is to be offered a glimpse into someone else's head — especially the fantastically bizarre, unobstructed thoughts of a child. It’s an amazing opportunity."

Here's a sampling from the project's more than 100 re-created drawings:

Re-created by Gianluca Maruotti.

Re-created by Marija Tiurina.

Re-created by Muti.


Re-created by Milan Vasek.

Re-created by Marie Bergeron.

Re-created by JeanPierre Le Roux.

Re-created by Jake Armstrong.

Re-created by Jenya Tkach.

Re-created by Muti.

Re-created by Cream.

Re-created by Charles Santoso.

Re-created by Teodoru Badiu.

Re-created by Eric Orange.

Re-created by Aaron Zenz.


Re-created by Patrick Evrard.

Re-created by Yema Yema.


Re-created by AJ Jefferies.

The project isn't just about drawing monsters. It's about painting a picture of how vital arts are to a good education.

The website explains: "With a decreasing emphasis on arts in schools, many children don’t have the opportunity for creative exploration they deserve. That’s a monstrous trend we would like to destroy."


Image from The Monster Project/Greatest Common Factory/Vimeo.

The National Federation of State High School Associations notes that when state budget cuts are imposed on public K-12 education, "fine arts programs are often an easy victim," especially at the elementary level, when exposure to arts can have the greatest impact on students. That seems pretty counterintuitive when you look at the research.

Image from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

A 2011 report by a committee appointed by President Obama explained that a high-quality arts education can enhance a child's performance across subject areas, boost their self-confidence and motivate them to take on greater intellectual challenges, and even help them develop other important competencies in problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and teamwork.

Johnson wants to make sure it's not just the well-funded schools that have access to her program.

That's why they're working to make The Monster Project a sustainable organization that won't be a cost burden to families or schools, which is especially important since they're targeting schools in lower-income areas that have had to eliminate arts programs to preserve those subjects on standardized tests, like math and science.

In order to fund the project, they're accepting donations and opening an online store, where they'll sell prints and the soon-to-come Monster Project children's activity book. They hope to raise enough money to expand to more schools and launch after-school arts workshops in communities that really need them.

Monsters. Who'd have thought they could be such a force for good?

Watch an introduction The Monster Project:

[vimeo_embed https://player.vimeo.com/video/144159819?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0 expand=1]
Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Family

Two sisters ask their stepmom to adopt them with sweet memory book

"We were already calling her mom because it felt so natural."

Gabriella Ruvolo/TikTok

Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo asked their stepmom to adopt them in a touching video.

Sisters Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo know that they're extremely lucky. Their stepmom Becky Ruvolo has been there for them for most of their lives and it's clear that they're grateful to her for it. On May 9, Gabriella posted a video to TikTok to share the very special way the young women honored their stepmom for Mother's Day.

In the short clip, you can see Becky flanked by the two girls, flipping through a book. On the video are the words "After 12 years… we finally asked our step-mom to adopt us." As Becky goes through the pages, you can see her becoming increasingly more emotional before she gets to the last page. By then, all three of the women are crying.

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