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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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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When my friend Jenny Levison told me she was launching what she called a "Kindness Tour," in the middle of the pandemic last year, I thought she'd lost her mind.

Levison is a celebrity chef and the owner of five "Souper Jenny" restaurants in the Atlanta area. To say that she walks to the beat of her own drum is an understatement. Once she makes her mind up to do something, there really isn't any stopping her. And she is someone who is committed both in her life and her work to giving back, paying it forward, and helping those who need it -- even if that means renting an RV, covering it with peace stickers, and heading out on the road to give away free food for weeks at a time.

Levison tells me that the first "Souper Jenny Kindness Tour" was born out of a drive to help people having a rough time in 2020. Knowing how hard the restaurant industry was hit and all the people who were impacted by it, she launched a six-week tour from Atlanta to California last October.

"Everyone was struggling and frankly, I needed some hope as well. I called one of my besties and told her what I wanted to do. I wanted to hop in an RV, drive west and start to spread the word that hope and joy were still alive and kindness was the new cool."

She says the first trip was "life-changing."


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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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