by Denise Gary
Photographs by Robert Gary (Peace Packs Book Collection photo by Bruce Matsunaga)

Living, learning, loving—it’s all about the fun! Author, illustrator, entertainer, and KNTR Advisory Council member Steven Riley certainly knows a thing or two about injecting fun into any learning scenario. We discovered Mr. Riley nearly four years ago and ever since, we have been bringing him to every Kids Need to Read function we possibly can to entertain and teach the children. He is that good!

At Phoenix Comicon 2012, we experimented with having Steven lead creative sessions for children inside the Kids Need to Read booth space, a large four-booth island generously provided to our organization by the convention as part of being their sponsored charity. We wanted to put that space to good use furthering the cause of childhood literacy and nothing fit the bill better than Steven’s particular brand of “teaching.” The sessions were a huge hit and always filled to maximum capacity with smiling, laughing kids . . . with parents laughing just as hard on the sidelines. We brought the program back for Phoenix Comicon 2013 to equal success, with many repeat attendees from 2012.

Kids signed up for one of three sessions per day.

They learned how to develop characters and plots, and had their book pages displayed on the KNTR Build-a-Book storyboard wall.

Because the kids were actively involved in the creation process, no two sessions were alike. New characters were born, new stories evolved, but fun was always a factor.

Steven is a man of many faces!

The kids were alive with joy and wonder and inspiration!

Whenever extra help was needed, Steven was a kind and patient teacher.

After signing a reading pledge (tied into the KNTR Kids-N-Peace program),

each participant received a backpack sponsored by Bookmans and filled with goodies,

including a Highlights, Cricket, Spider, or Ladybug magazine (donated by Highlights for Children and Carus Publishing, respectively),

Peace Packs Book Collection list (sponsored by ARC Document Solutions),

literacy button (designed by Steven Riley and provided by Kids Need to Read),

and a hardcover copy of one of Steven’s Little Ty Cooney books (provided by Kids Need to Read).

At the end of each program, the kids enjoyed having Steven sign and draw an illustration inside their books.

Kids Need to Read always celebrates the joy of life in every program it provides, and joy was certainly a major part of the KNTR Build-a-Book program. There are many more fantastic photographs of the KNTR Build-a-Book sessions in the Kids Need to Read Presents: Build-a-Book with Steven Riley photo gallery. We thank Steven Riley so much for his endless giving to Kids Need to Read, as well as Phoenix Comicon for making it all possible. We also thank Bookmans, Highlights for Children, Carus Publishing, and ARC Document Solutions for their generous contributions to the program. Most of all, thank you to all of the happy kids and parents who came to enjoy our program! We plan to do it again next year, so check out the Kids Need to Read booth at Phoenix Comicon 2014!

Related Blog: The Joy of Phoenix Comicon 2013!
Related Blog: Fourth Annual KNTR Geek Prom was Fab!
Related Blog: From Bullying to Harmony: Panelists Dispense Anti-Bullying Suggestions at Phoenix Comicon


4 Responses to “So Much Fun! (Don’t Tell the Kids They Were Learning!) KNTR Build-a-Book Program with Steven Riley”

  1. brittany williams on May 21st, 2014 1:22 pm

    do you guys have something like this near hagerstown md

  2. Denise Gary on May 21st, 2014 2:27 pm

    Brittany, we do not have a program in Maryland at this time, although we would love to host the Build-a-Book program there. However, Steven Riley presents wonderful school programs. You can contact him at to see if you can arrange something near Hagerstown.

  3. Anna on July 12th, 2014 8:32 am

    Do you host any events in Illinois? I am near Chicago.

  4. Denise Gary on July 12th, 2014 10:11 pm

    Not at the moment, Anna, although we would love to. We are working on opening volunteer chapters so we can expand our programs to other cities. We do provide books throughout the country though. You can request a donation here:

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