Exciting steps toward our Virtual Classroom!


What a week! Story Tapestries just submitted two major grant proposals that, if awarded, will help us take significant strides toward our Virtual Classroom – a brand new website that offers curated arts-integrated lessons and activities for educators, parents and concerned adults.

Story Tapestries is an advocate and a ymca-kids-and-mecollaborator for building a blueprint for success through our network of artists, educators, families, organizations, businesses, presenters and community leaders.  The core principle of what we engage in is Arts Integration which means that we use the arts as a tool to teach with, learn from and develop the community.  We recognize that the keystone in the bridge that we are often building is the arts, but we need to incorporate other pieces of the puzzle (curricula, conflict resolution, financial literacy, community service, etc) to truly create change.   We want our website to be a community resource center – a place for people and organizations to collaborate and connect with a variety of diverse resources.  

The grants we just applied for will help us start building the foundation of our Virtual Classroom, which is our new website.  To take this first step, Story Tapestries decided to partner with a local marketing firm in Maryland, Marstudio, to help us build and design our new framework.  The initial design and building phase for our new website is being tackled from January to June 2017. Then, in July/August 2017 we will be ready to take the next steps toward the Virtual Classroom itself.  Although now that feels like all the time in the world, we know it will be summer before we know it!

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Marstudio is an award-winning and experienced Strategic Branding & Creative Marketing Firm located in Rockville, MD, and they conduct business locally (Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia), nationwide and internationally.  After researching many options throughout the DC metro region, we realized their commitment to local non-profits while bringing a national and international perspective was exactly the fit we were looking for. We’re excited to be able to partner with a local company to undertake this project.

Although our Virtual Classroom can be used as a tool for teaching all curriculum areas, its benefits for STEAM are particularly exciting.   It will encourage familiarity with crucial modern technologies such as computers and tablets, providing opportunities for children in remote or underserved areas to build computer and internet skills while engaging with the arts.


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“Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” – by Mandela Harmon

Greetings Fellow Bibliophiles,

I recently found myself trying to remember what age I was when I started reading for content instead of just for pleasure. You remember it, right? The 5 W’s…and the H of course! Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.


Anyone who has ever had the luxury of spending time with a young child knows that the “Why” is the first question they seem to discover naturally and attach to everything in the universe!

It’s all too easy as a tired, busy, generally overwhelmed parent to answer, “Because! That’s why!”


My mom never had the luxury of a college education, but she was an avid reader and always “self-taught” herself anything she needed to know; and back in my day that meant with books.  She always expected my sisters and I to be willing to find the answers to our questions, and I can still hear her in my head to this day saying, “let’s look it up!” I still don’t know to this day, as she is no longer here to tell me, whether she knew the answer already, or if by looking it up she didn’t have to admit she didn’t know. Either answer works for me as I still always double check what I believe to be true before I share the info with my daughter.ymca-kids-and-me

As adults, we don’t need to have PhD in everything, we just need to take a moment to help our children learn to find the facts; whether we know the actual answer ourselves is irrelevant. It gives us a chance to grow each day along with them.

In the digital age it is easier to just have our children “go look it up”, but there is so much misinformation out there it’s hard to discern fact from fiction.


So, in this blog I’d like to share with you my favorite series of children’s reference books to help you answer the five W’s and the big H, even if you’ve forgotten the answers and don’t want to admit it.

My Favorite Reference Books for the Very Young (Ages 4-7):

I’ve been a fan of the “I Wonder Why?” series by Kingfisher Publishing from the first time my daughter grabbed one off the shelf in a bookstore!  These books cover just about any topic young minds can posit; everything from “I Wonder Why the Sea Is Salty: and Other Questions About the Oceans” to “I Wonder Why the Sun Rises: and Other Questions About Time and Seasons”. I’m not going to lie about this, friends; many of the questions I bumped into in this series I really didn’t know all the answers to, so I’m glad we “looked it up!”



My Favorite History Series for Grades 3 and Up:

I like the “Who was, What is, and Where is…” series by Grosset & Dunlap Publishers. The books explain not only the facts about the topic, but have fascinating single page inserts that address historical facts that help young readers better understand the challenges faced by the subject during the time they lived in. I like that they also include biographies of living figures so that children understand that their present is part of history; ex. “Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?”


I also still adore Mike Venezia’s biography series “Getting to Know…”, with colorful images and playful illustrations, he covers a diverse range of fascinating people; artists, scientists, composers, and more.  They are appealing and less intimidating to reluctant readers, because the layout of the pages is like a picture book, but still has the same value content as the “Who is…” series.

What also make them unique is that they cover a wide variety of individuals not available in the “Who was…” Series: ex. Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer), Diego Rivera (Mexican 20th Century artist), Daniel Hale Williams (1st African American heart surgeon), etc.


Historical Reference for Middle Grade Readers (Grades 4-7):

I love DK reference books, but I have another favorite I swing towards for Ancient History. The “Navigators” series by Kingfisher Publishing is as jam-packed with facts as the “Eyewitness” series by D.K., but the pages are more vibrant and inviting. The books also have active internet links to safe accurate websites; so if the copyright date is old the site will still have new info.


Lastly friends, I ask you, is “The Guinness Book of World Records”, or the “National Geographic Kids Almanac” (insert year) worthy of being called a real reference book? Totally! Both books are great for grades 3-7 and easy to read aloud piecemeal to younger audiences. They are a healthy break from the heavy reading of school. A book of facts that can just be picked up, randomly opened, and enjoyed when you find yourself stranded on a long car ride, or anywhere else you just want to chill unplugged.


Check them out of your local library, or give them to that classmate you don’t know who invited your kid to their birthday party. Your gift may not seem the “Belle of the Ball”, but I promise once toys and crafts end up piled in a corner, that book will find its way into their hands and keep them captivated more often than you think.

Keep learning, keep reading, and most importantly keep making the time to “look it up!” together with the children you love.

Sincerely Yours, Mandela



About Mandela:

Born in Maryland and raised a little bit of everywhere, Mandela Harmon is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and giver of bear hugs who currently lives in Monrovia, Md. Mandela attended Hood College to work on a degree in philosophy. She is a lifelong bookworm, and has worked in sales as a children’s book specialist on and off for 15 years. She likes blustery snowbound days reading by a fireplace drinking Earl Grey, hot.

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Learning Through Stories with Carrie Sue Ayvar

-Written by Yvonne Oh


“I just love stories!” says Carrie Sue Ayvar, award-winning storyteller and longtime friend in a recent interview with Story Tapestries. She was explaining her enthusiasm and love for storytelling.


Carrie Sue remembers telling and listening to stories since she was little. Her inspiration to become a storyteller comes from her grandfather whose stories she listened to while visiting him during summers.  “If I came to him with a problem or something, he always had a story to tell. That’s how he encouraged me to figure things out,” she says.

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She is a firm believer of using her art to educate and communicate. “My grandfather taught me that it’s hard to hate someone whose story you know,” she says.


Her stories are traditional and international folktales, with a sprinkling of
her own anecdotes. She regularly incorporates other languages, especially Spanish into her stories.

“Children easily adapt to be bilingual but adults may not be as fluent,” she says. Using familiar stories with bilingual elements help non-native speakers grasp a new language. As these parents continue telling the stories, they can improve on their language skills through using rhyme, rhythm and repetition.


Through her stories, Carrie Sue has been able to incorporate both language and math concepts.  She regularly conducts professional development classes to train teachers to integrate arts into the curriculum. “These things do work.”

Untitled designIn fact, according to the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (NASAA), the overall effects of arts integration can benefit both English language learners and native English speakers through being able to communicate better. (More about the NASAA findings, here.)

“Everyone should learn one story to tell,” she explains.”Telling a story empowers a person…giving that confidence to speak in front of others.”

Ever busy, Carrie Sue is already looking ahead and preparing programs for the new year. “I’m so lucky to do the things that I love…listening and telling stories.”


You can watch Carrie Sue telling a story about Goldilocks and the Three Jazzy Bears, here.















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Looking back on 2016, Looking forward to 2017!


With only 9 days left in 2016, we’re taking a few moments away from our end-of-year campaign to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the last year and get ready for the year to come.  We just hit 79% of our goal! This means we still have 20% left to go, or about $4,000.  As we reflect, we are reminded that reaching our goal means empowering Story Tapestries to reach over 1,300 more community members with custom-designed arts-integrated programs.

img_0054We’ve had some wonderful successes, and we’ve also had some wonderful “teaching moments,” and both of those types of experiences are valuable!  One recent success was a residency led by our Executive Director, Arianna Ross, in partnership with teacher Mary McGinn and other educators at Stedwick Elementary.  Arianna kicked off the program with an assembly for the entire school, and then she worked with the individual third-grade classes over the course of five days using theatre, writing, movement, and visual art strategies to help students define elements within a story.  Arianna and the teachers at Stedwick Elementary worked in true partnership to co-plan and co-teach in order to identify and best meet the needs of the students.


During the residency, it became clear that the students would be able to shape the lesson, and the teaching artist and instructors were able to act as a guiding force.  Additionally, the teachers expressed that the process was successful in helping them feel valued through the successes of the students, making it clear that their efforts to integrate arts into their lessons were successful and meaningful.

By the end of the residency, the students had integrated all of the different curriculum standards into the creation of a devised opera that they will work on for the duration of the school year.  At the end of the year, they will have the opportunity to perform their opera at The Kennedy Center, where it will be live-streamed to students in Spain! It was a true privilege for Story Tapestries to play a role in this project that starts with an individual school but will eventually cross national and continental boundaries to create a truly global connection.

About the Artist:


Arianna Ross creates dynamic, educational programs that weave together dance, theatre, creative writing, music and spoken word. For more then 12 years Arianna has performed and taught workshops for all ages both nationally and internationally in many diverse venues. Each program is tailored to the specific age group(s) in attendance.

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We’ve reached 73% of our Goal!

No matter the weather outside, it’s been sunshine inside the Story Tapestries office thanks to great steps forward over this past week!


Over this past week, we’ve had a special big donor commit $10,000 to supporting Story Tapestries. In addition to gifts from several community members, we’ve now reached 73% of our year-end campaign goal. We’re so pleased! And it gets better – this donor has pledged that if we reach our goal, they’ll give an additional $2,000 BONUS! Reaching our goal means empowering Story Tapestries to reach over 1,300 more community members with custom-designed arts-integrated programs. $0.85 of every $1.00 goes directly to support programs.

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For many members of the Story Tapestries family, the month of December is a mad dash to get ready for the Holidays. For others, it represents a time to reflect on the year and spend time with family.   As we approach the end of 2016, we’re taking a moment to look back on everything we’ve accomplished over the last year.  Did your New Years Resolution include giving back to the community?  Have you met your goals, either by donating or volunteering?


It’s not too late to make a difference for 2016.  Make a tax-deductible donation to help us reach our goal.  Or, give the gift of time by volunteering.  If you’re still finishing up some holiday shopping, click HERE to have Amazon give 0.5% of every purchase to Story Tapestries through the AmazonSmile program.

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We do a lot with a littleeven the smallest contribution can have an exponential impact when it comes to these children’s lives and those of the communities they live in. Thank you to everyone in the Story Tapestries family whose generosity makes these programs possible for years to come.

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#GivingTuesday, GlobalGiving and a moment of gratitude!

On November 29th, GlobalGiving is relaunching their #GivingTuesday program, their eighth such campaign since 2012 to help give not-for-profit arts organizations an extra end of year boost and remind our supporters to keep us in mind this holiday season! Read more about #GivingTuesday on the GlobalGiving site. Story Tapestries has been a long-time partner with GlobalGiving, an organization we’re proud to see is truly making an impact in helping not-for-profit organizations realize their potential. 

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Even in this decade, a little less than half of secondary students in DC public schools are below grade level in grading. This year, Story Tapestries is working alongside GlobalGiving in our literacy project campaign. Help us give the art of literacy to students in DC public schools. We aim to stop the illiteracy cycle in its track by focusing not only on growing reading and writing skills but also a passion for learning and lifelong education.



We are excited to have launched an artful moment initiative that brings a Story Tapestries artist or family member into your home every Tuesday at 7pm EST. This past Tuesday featured artist Carrie Sue Ayvar. If you missed here, you can watch her HERE! Then tune in Tonight with our founder and Executive director, Arianna Ross!




Lastly, as we prepare for the holiday season, we at Story Tapestries are reflecting on what brings us joy. At the top of our list is our amazing family – and that includes YOU!

We’re grateful for…

…your ability to read this message

…children’s smiles when they have lightbulb moments of learning

teachers’ renewed excitement when they discover new ways to connect with their students

our partners that inspire and support us

…the child that discovers the joy of reading after participating in a program

the parents that learn how to share a song, a poem, or a story with their children

the 110,000 people we were able to connect with in 2016 thanks to YOU!

MOST of all, we’re grateful for supporters like YOU that see the value of Story Tapestries.

THANK YOU for being a part of our ever-growing family of artists, educators, parents, students and community members.


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“What children’s books can teach us about the value of art, acceptance, kindness, and the meaning of family” – by Mandela Harmon

From the time my big sister taught me to read I’ve spent my life living in the pages of books.  I didn’t grow up in a family that could afford books, or time to read to me, and if not for libraries and yard sales my mind as much as my belly would have been at a lost for the nourishment my soul needed to thrive.  I firmly believe that not only are books a magic portal to anywhere, but that children’s books in particular remind us of what is best and worst in humanity in purest form; unfiltered, open, honest, and without condescension.


I spend what free time I have trying to help children and their adults, or anyone who will listen, find the perfect book just for them. I dust off classic titles long lost and forgotten and try to lure readers to behold whatever new gem I’ve found and fallen in love with.

Next Tuesday November 29th is “Giving Tuesday“. A day to ignore the melee of “Black Friday/Cyber-Monday” and instead honor each other as human beings by donating to charity to enrich our local, national, and global community.

This week of all weeks, I find myself with four particular titles spinning in my head.


Each title shares an element of giving and community with a pinch of beauty to strum your heartstrings  and a dash of empathy that will remind young readers of what matters more than “things”. My gifts to you this week are these stories that when shared remind us what each of us can contribute to make our corner of the world a better place.

Picture Books (Pre-K-Age 7)

Frederick by Leo Lionni
Caldecott Honor Award 1968 (publisher Scholastic Books)


As a takeaway from Aesop’s, “The Grasshopper and the Ant”, it is no surprise that Leo Lionni (a lifelong artist) reinvented the tale to remind young readers that it takes more than stores of food to get a family of field mice through a long grey winter.

While the other field mice in Frederick’s family toil to gather food for the winter ahead, Frederick seems oblivious with his head in the clouds. When his weary family ask about his work ethic, he replies, “I do work. I gather sun rays for the long dark winter days… I gather colors, for winter is grey…I gather words for the winter days are long and many.”  This all seems so selfish and foolish to his family, that is, until food dwindles and the mice grow weary of being trapped inside until springtime arrives. It is then that Frederick, the gifted story teller, feeds their hearts and minds with the remembered warmth of the sun, the colors of nature, and words to captivate them so they forget their ennui.  A reminder to all that our story tellers and artists give the gift of themselves to round out the variety of crafts needed to help our communities flourish and grow.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman (publisher Simon & Schuster)

“They tweet and they twitter.
They chat and they chitter.
But the bear snores on.”

The marvelous melodious combination of words and illustrations in Bear Snores On is what no doubt catapulted the title to become a whole series of books over the years.

An unusual tale of friendship begins with a single mouse seeking warmth from a blustery storm in the cave of a bear. One after another various forest friends find their way into this comfy friendly refuge and gather together around a fire. Each creature brings a little something, and before you know it, a lively little feast ensues. It isn’t until a small pepper flake awakens Bear that things go amiss. Bear seems very upset at first, but we come to discover just feels left out of the fun. Mouse and his motley crew of new  friends comfort Bear and they all enjoy home, hearth, and festivities.

Intermediate Readers (grade 4-7):           

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (published by Feiwel & Friends 9/22/15) 

This book struck me like an arrow to the heart. My sisters and I spent the better part of our childhood as nomads. A single mom working multiple jobs, last minute evictions, little if any food sometimes, and a car we packed up over and over again with our doberman Sugarbear in the back seat along with us.  Just like Jackson we all understood what the anxiety of living on the edge meant, and just like Jackson I too had an imaginary friend to help me through the worst times.

I encourage as many readers as I can to pick up Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.  You may not know her name immediately, but no doubt you’ve heard of her  Newberry Award winning book “The One and Only Ivan”. She brings the same soulful voice to our main character Jackson that moved us so deeply in the gorilla Ivan.

This is the first book I’ve read that approaches homelessness with honesty, and in a way that this age group of readers can fathom . The book puts to rest rather quickly the dismissive offhanded notion young readers have learned from adults…to ignore the homeless or see them as “others”; adults, invalids, lazy, or con-artists.  Jackson and his family are like most who live on the cusp of being homeless every paycheck. They have an average life until his father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Jackson was little then, and only remembers in flashbacks the tough times that followed. His father, mother, little sister, and the family dog lose their house as his father’s condition declines, and his earliest memories include the family undertaking a new summer activity called “car camping”; or in their case mini-van camping.

This is where Jackson’s old friend Crenshaw enters the story. Crenshaw appearred to Jackson at a rest stop when he was about 7 years old. A larger than life (adult-size anyway) cat with a devil may care attitude who loves to cartwheel and be mischievous in general. Just what a confused little boy would wish for in an imaginary friend. The only problem is, much to Jackson’s dismay, that Crenshaw shows up again from out of the blue when he is eleven and in the  fifth grade.  As the bills pile up, his mother works three jobs, and the family sells almost everything they own. Coincidence? Not likely. As Jackson tries to comfort his little sister, who now mirrors who he was the first time around the bottom fell out of his life, the reader can really feel for him and his situation.

No, it doesn’t sound like a cheery read, but I’ve learned that there are lots of young readers who seek out books about empathy. They want to understand, just as adult readers do, and be emotionally connected to and moved by the book in their hands. The book has its moments of levity in Crenshaw’s antics, but ultimately the love the family has for each other speaks to the audience in a way that only love can.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown  (published by Hachette Books 5/22/15)

The Wild Robot

So many books try to teach children about the human experience, but few succeed as well as re-known children’s picture book author/illustrator Peter Brown does in his chapter book debut, The Wild Robot.

Roz is just one of many robots boxed in shipping crates who find themselves dashed upon the rocks of an unnamed island. If not for a playful lot of sea otters and a strange twist of fate, Roz would never become the being we all come to embrace in this coming to life story.

Peter Brown is able, as in his many astonishing picture books, to transport us into the wilds and beguile us with his myriad of sentient creatures.

In the course of her adventures Roz must learn to survive, make friends, become part of an alien community of woodland creatures, and ultimately become mother to an orphaned bird. As we travel beside her it is easy to relate to the difficulty of becoming something so far outside the scope of what we are hardwired to be. As she releases her solitude and struggles to relate to her animals neighbors we are are reminded of how closed off from each other the world seems at times. It is only with kindness on both sides that all creatures, including a robot, learn to embrace one another and realize that we are all interdependent on one another.

This is a story soft enough to read aloud as a family, but also deceptively heavy on a philosophical level for those who have advanced readers. A story worth sharing that reminds us that humanity is more than metal/fur/skin-deep.


About Mandela:

Born in Maryland and raised a little bit of everywhere, Mandela Harmon is a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and giver of bear hugs who currently lives in Monrovia, Md. Mandela attended Hood College to work on a degree in philosophy. She is a lifelong bookworm, and has worked in sales as a children’s book specialist on and off 15 years. She likes blustery snowbound days reading by a fireplace drinking Earl Grey, hot.

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