When the drowsy sun escapes her days for an early slumber and the crisp nights scatter snowflakes in a dance across sky, we collectively comprehend that we’ve entered the holiday season — a bustling time brimming with excitement, when families trim trees, stuff stockings, sing carols, light candles, exchange presents, and prepare feasts. The holidays are filled with faith, love, laughter, childhood wonder, and celebrations.
But not for everyone.
Last December, my husband, Brian Gocher, was reminded of this stark reality firsthand when he volunteered to spend an entire day traveling the five boroughs of New York City with a literacy-promoting, non-profit charity called The Book Bank Foundation. As part of the charity’s annual “Shelter From the Streets” campaign, kind-hearted souls filled both physical and spiritual voids by providing clothing, medication, feminine products, blankets, toys, shoes, books, and words of inspiration to homeless men, women, and children. They served the lost, the lonely, and the forgotten not only in shelters, but also on the streets, in tunnels, and under bridges. A few of the volunteers had been homeless themselves at one point, including the charity’s founder, Dr. Glenn Toby.
Brian and Glenn first met in the mid-1990s as two young New Yorkers (from Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively) who were professionally paired together to collaborate as songwriters by their music publishers. Life eventually sent the two men on different journeys. When they reconnected several years ago, Glenn shared The Book Bank Foundation’s mission with Brian, and Brian knew immediately that he wanted to help.
But something arrested Brian’s attention during last year’s “Shelter From the Streets” tour. After listening to so many people share their individual stories, a common theme emerged, and one thing became perfectly clear. What these deeply grateful people expressed in their own individual ways was a profound desire for solutions. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
Brian and I had many lengthy conversations. How could we provide meaningful help?
We are not wealthy philanthropists.
We are not huge charity gala event planners.
We are not corporate financiers who can donate millions of dollars.
We are a family of Christians who believes it is a universal truth when the Proverb says that “as a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” We already host a weekly Bible fellowship in our home, but how could we reach even more people? How could we show them — especially children — that they have the power to change their circumstances by changing the way they envision themselves?
We decided to do what we do best.
We decided to give of who we are.
We decided to take our combined years of art, writing, editing, and storytelling…
…and we decided to make a book.
In 2012, Glenn wrote a children’s book in which the main character, Lil’ G, lives his life as a homeless child. Brian proposed that we introduce Lil’ G to some brand new friends, one of whom (Jon Jon) is a character inspired by a combination of Brian’s childhood and my own. So Brian started illustrating, he and Glenn starting co-writing, and I started editing for content and readability.
And thus was the genesis of a new and exciting series of graphic novels titled Lil’ G and the Dirty Faced Angels!
Deciding upon a style for the illustrations was simple. Brian just drew upon his childhood obsession with reading and collecting comic books. He studied fine art at The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music and The Arts in Manhattan. (For 80s TV fans, this was the “Fame” school, and my husband still gets playfully teased about students dancing on cafeteria tables to this day!) Brian also took many drawing classes in New York at the prestigious Art Students League. The design of Lil’ G and the Dirty Faced Angels was definitely in good hands!
As editor, my own decade of experience in children’s educational publishing (Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Pearson) steered the readability of this first book in the series. To help promote literacy, I closely monitored the vocabulary but avoided setting a fixed reading level so that we could accomplish our goal of putting a book in the hands of a wide range of children — a book they would be able to read by themselves even if no parent or adult is around to read to them. This is also why we chose a graphic novel format, which loosely borrows from picture/text matching, an effective reading strategy for emergent or reluctant readers, regardless of whether they’re 7-years-old or 12.
Comics and graphic novels are typically flooded with superheroes, but we want kids to know that they can be the heroes of their own lives and in the lives of their friends, which is why the first issue of Lil’ G and the Dirty Faced Angels is called "’Hood Heroes".
Ultimately, the heart of the series is to offer children power — the transformative power of changing the way you see yourself, the power of unity in diversity, the power of friendship and, in the faith-based edition, the unlimited power of prayer. To win life’s battles, you must first win the battle in your mind. Perhaps Lil’ G puts it best when he says to a self-doubting Jon Jon, “Change how you think.”
Cedar Hill Prep is a school that aligns with our academic standards but is also in harmony with the core values of our family and the goals of this graphic novel series. CHP’s mission clearly states that they aim to provide “an empowering school culture and social culture” and to foster “an environment that encourages social awareness”. These are just a few of the reasons we send both of our children there.
With our daughter in the eighth grade now, Brian and I have attended multiple Open Houses at a variety of high schools. They’re all academically on par, so if you’ve seen one prospectus, you’ve likely seen them all. That’s why, for us, the most important activity at these events is speaking to and hearing from current students and parents because it does what no prospectus can do — it offers insight into the culture of the school. Brian and I genuinely hope that by hearing from us, CHP parents for 8 years, you will have a greater understanding of the culture and values of Cedar Hill Prep.On December 7th, authors Brian Gocher and Dr. Glenn Toby will be at Barnes & Noble on 267 Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn for a fundraiser for The Book Bank Foundation and for the official launch of Lil’ G and the Dirty Faced Angels!