This 2-time U.S. poet laureate wants your help telling an amazing story.

Art can provide hope, community and a sense of purpose.

Illustration by Juana Medina via The Library of Congress

As the son of migrant farmers, Juan Felipe Herrera leaned on that hope as his family struggled to make a living. Constantly chasing the seasons through the unforgiving desert, scalding sun, and suffocating heat, the Herrera family found themselves living in trailers and tents more times than not. This life taught Herrera the value of hard work, and now he's made giving hope, community, and a sense of purpose through his words and his new job.  


Herrera is a second-term U.S. poet laureate and the first Latino to ever receive the honor.  

Photo by The Press-Enterprise via AP.

He has penned 30 books of poetry, novels, and collections. A small sampling of his highlights include "Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems," which won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award. He's been recognized by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the (still-alive) National Endowment for the Arts.

And he wants your help.

Currently, he is writing an illustrated book with the help of all second- and third-graders around the country in order to promote literacy, creativity, and diversity in our all-of-a-sudden tenuous educational system.

Illustration by Juana Medina via Library of Congress.

"The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon" is an illustrated book Herrera is writing and artist Juana Medina is illustrating.

In his words: "Hello! I’m Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st U.S. Poet Laureate. Welcome to 'The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon,' a bilingual, illustrated poem created with the help of artist Juana Medina ... and you. Teachers and librarians, get your second and third grade students 'neonized' and help us tell Catalina’s story to the world!"

What makes this such a special project is that direct input from grade-school children are shaping the story in real time. The first three chapters have come out, and the book has been crafted with help from kids from Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, California, and Massachusetts.

Illustration via Juana Medina via Library of Congress.

What happens next? That's up to you.

Each month, Herrera posts the book so far in visual and audio form and provides a prompt for the upcoming chapter. The February 2017 prompt reads, "Write an enchanted poem — with some Spanish words — that will change the fate of Catalina, her parents, and Tortilla."

Illustration vis Juana Medina via Library of Congress.

But why undertake a challenge like this? "It's always been about reaching as many people as possible, and putting writing on the table of as many families and schools as possible," Herrera told the Dallas Observer last year. "I write for different audiences which could be young adults, toddlers, adults, experimental poets or performance poets. I do all these things because I love writing and because I love people, and not just one group, but all groups."

The timing for fighting for literacy, creativity, and diversity couldn't be better.

With our educational system on an apparent collision course, people like Herrera are part of the solution and the optimism that we can rely on in these times. We don't know how this current administration and its appointees' stories will end, but we can dive into the fictional world of Catalina Neon and, with the help of our children, hopefully find a happy ending for her adventure.

If you're a second- or third-grader: Thank you for reading Upworthy! If you or someone you know would like to contribute to the next installment, submit your ideas here.

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In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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