by Denise Gary
Photographs © Bruce Matsunaga, Robert Gary, Eric Fiallos, Joe Abbruscato, Carly Woolley, and Denise Gary

14689892691_b4d5bbdbba_zThe year 2014 was the fifth year Kids Need to Read was honored as the sponsored charity of Phoenix Comicon and when the convention ended, the adjective that filled my head over and over was “beautiful.” This was the most successful year yet for Kids Need to Read at Phoenix Comicon, as all of the geekery and super heroics resulted in $28,000 for the organization. This was an incredible amount, but “beautiful” was in my thoughts not only because of the generous funding but because of the warmth and love we were privileged to enjoy, as well as how smoothly everything flowed. To describe the atmosphere as “beautiful” is actually a disservice to its extraordinary nature, yet beautiful is the one word that repeatedly comes to mind. I am speaking of beauty that comes from a place beyond the superficial—a completely euphoric experience.

img9297blogThe board members, staff, and volunteers of Kids Need to Read understand we are but servants dedicated to elevating children through literacy. To continue to have the enthusiastic support of Phoenix Comicon, the Geek community, cosplayers, artists, and attendees is deeply humbling, yet we are made to feel special every year by this wonderful community of warmhearted individuals. We are truly most fortunate! Take a look below at the adventures we experienced, the children’s programming we presented, and all the wonderfulness that bubbled up due to the efforts of Phoenix Comicon, as well as the many groups and individuals who supported Kids Need to Read.

Geek Prom




14492033843_c272ecc389_o“Geek Prom was the most fun I had.” “Geek Prom was phenomenal.” The Kids Need to Read Geek Prom was absolutely the best ever! Folks were coming up to us and raving throughout the weekend. The prom featured Geektastic music and dancing, tons of prizes, Geek-themed decorations and photo arch, Geek face painting and caricatures, Fashion Geektacular, and crowning of the 2014 KNTR Geek Highnesses. Many thanks to sponsors Bookmans Entertainment Exchange and Phoenix Comicon, Project Hero for creating the super-fantastic Zelda/Tetris Geek Arch, Geek crown creator Duct’d by Cayci, prize sponsors (Bookmans, Hero Comics and Gaming, Inari’s Whimsy, Pop Culture Paradise Comics and Games, and, DJ Michael Dougherty, co-host Gus Matos, Phoenix Comicon Director of Nightlife Scott Haag, Geeks of America crooner and caricaturist Steven Riley, face painter Christina Ranburger at Blushing Peach Art, Fashion Geektacular judges (Wendy Trakes, Rachel Ashley, Jeremy Owen, Pete Rivera, and Charlotte Woodward), photographers (Bruce Matsunaga, Robert Gary, Eric Fiallos, Devon Christopher Adams, and Joe Abbruscato), our incredible team of volunteers, and especially the fun-loving Geeks that made the party a spectacular carnival of geeknificence! Geek Arch photos!

Build-a-Book, with Steven Riley




img9126blogWe are so proud of this exciting program conducted by Steven Riley (author and illustrator of the Little Ty Cooney National Wonders series) in the Kids Need to Read booth for the third year. Build-a-Book inspires children to create stories, thanks to the exceptionally entertaining Mr. Riley. It is fun to see so many children come back year after year to experience the program repeatedly. All participants left with a backpack sponsored by Bookmans and filled with a hardcover book, magazine and other goodies.

Kids Need to Read Booth

img7262blogThe Kids Need to Read booth not only presented the Build-a-Book program but offered literacy-inspired merchandise, as well as free Highlights and Cricket magazines for kids. (Many thanks to Highlights for Children and Carus Publishing!) There were also auctions of Lord Monochromicor and Skyrim-inspired hats handmade and donated by the talented and award-winning author Angela L. Fox to benefit KNTR! Thank you, Angela!

The Little Flame

14506421048_292a99c456_z We brought some copies of The Little Flame to Phoenix Comicon, where they found appreciative homes. Teacher: “I read it yesterday and came back today to buy it, because it is so beautiful. I like all of the hidden information it shares. It is the first book I have purchased for my classroom.” The Little Flame is available for sale online. All author proceeds benefit Kids Need to Read and are used to reprint the book, which is given to disadvantaged children in schools and crisis shelters!

From Bullying to Harmony: Understanding and Dealing with Bullying

img7081blogThis was the second year Kids Need to Read hosted this important panel, which received high praise for the “wide and vast expertise of the panel guests.” Panelists were Carrie Severson of Severson Sisters, Sgt. Darren Burch of Silent Witness, author Tom Leveen (RANDOM) and Executive Director Denise Gary of Kids Need to Read. From Bullying to Harmony was presented to help families learn how to deal with the pervasive menace of bullying. Attendees received a free copy of Jay McGraw’s Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies, courtesy of Kids Need to Read.

Youth Fashion Show


img9020blogI was honored to be the Mistress of Ceremonies of the Youth Fashion Show, with help from Steven Riley. We had so much FUN!!! Kids had a blast on the catwalk showcasing their wonderful costumes and everyone came away with prizes. We look forward to participating in this program again next year, so plan to bring your kids for a stellar experience!

How to Write and Draw Riley Style, with Steven Riley


14330792178_cfb18d7d56_zAuthor and illustrator Steven Riley conducted an interactive exploration of creation, storytelling, and illustration for all ages in the Youth Art Room. This well-received program, presented by Kids Need to Read, has become a well-attended annual tradition.

Phoenix Comicon Charity Art Auction Benefiting Kids Need to Read

14692786892_d2f3c41168_zThis annual art auction raised $6,350, benefiting KNTR 100%! There were a mixture of silent auctions and live auctions featuring beautiful art kindly donated by the wonderfully talented and generous artists of Phoenix Comicon. A huge auction success was generated by a gorgeous axe and shield combo designed by Travis Hanson and brought to life by Randy Knight, who devoted months of his time to not only create but gather illustrations on the pieces by the artists of Phoenix Comicon 2014. Thank you all for your dedication to the cause, as well as Shawn Demumbrum for organizing the Charity Art Auction!

 Phoenix Comicon Texas Hold ‘Em Charity Poker Tournament Benefiting Kids Need to Read

img7449blogThis was the third year for Phoenix Comicon and Lupine Entertainment to host this No Limit Hold ‘Em Charity Tournament, raising $3,600, all of which benefited Kids Need to Read! We thank Randy DeVault and Angie Ramey of Lupine Entertainment for giving so generously of their time, Chris Hartwig of Phoenix Comicon, and the many prize sponsors and participants who make this event such a huge success every year. Unfortunately, we were not able to attend the event as in past years since the tournament was scheduled at the same time as Geek Prom, but we were able to take the above picture while visiting with Angie Ramey and other poker tournament volunteers at the KNTR booth. We appreciate these folks so much!

Project Hero Geek Arch and Raffles Benefiting Kids Need to Read


Zelda and Link_medNot only did the good folks at Project Hero create and construct the Geeknificent Geek Arch for Geek Prom—and provide impenetrable security at the doors during the prom—but they also conducted raffles for Kids Need to Read. Many thanks to our gallant heroes at Project Hero!

501st Legion Dune Sea Garrison Blast-a-Trooper Benefiting Kids Need to Read

14670056616_f419edb59b_zThe kids absolutely adore this fundraising game conducted annually by the 501st Legion Dune Sea Garrison! The Blast-a-Trooper target range arms participants with NERF blasters and pits them against characters from the Star Wars universe for a small donation to Kids Need to Read! Thanks so much to our garrison pals!

Justice League Arizona “Arkham Escape” Interactive Game Benefiting Kids Need to Read

14690680254_f015a065dd_zThis is another great game enjoyed by many con-goers on the floor of Exhibitor Hall in which “escaped Arkham Asylum inmates” are hunted down by Gotham City heroes and villains, and then escorted back to the Arkham Cell to have their mug shots taken with their captors for a small donation to Kids Need to Read. Participants also received a very cool keepsake Arkham Escape lanyard and an inmate tag. Much appreciation to our super-heroic and super-villainous friends at Justice League Arizona for this great fundraiser and for dancing a hot YMCA at Geek Prom!

Arizona Avengers Superhero Calendar and Prints Benefiting Kids Need to Read

14506423078_7329976d6d_zThe Arizona Avengers sold spectacular superhero calendars and prints created by Ryan Leasure Photography, all of which benefited Kids Need to Read! The art pieces were very exciting and very popular. Equally thrilling was the AZA leading Time Warp at Geek Prom! Thank you to the valiant Arizona Avengers and talented photographer, Ryan Leasure!

Arizona Roller Derby and Desert Dolls Roller Derby Raffles for Kids Need to Read

img9287blogWe were very excited to learn the lovely folks at Arizona Roller Derby and Desert Dolls Roller Derby conducted raffles to raise funds for Kids Need to Read at their table. The raffles were a smashing success! Much gratitude to our bold and fearless roller derby champions!

 Kids Reading Corner in Youth Art Room, courtesy of Bookmans and Kids Need to Read

img9122blogJust as last year, Bookmans and Kids Need to Read teamed up to provide a quiet corner for kids to read and ignite their imaginations. The area was much appreciated by parents and children!

img7322blogTo our volunteers, we can never adequately express how deeply we appreciate the magic you bring to Kids Need to Read at Phoenix Comicon and throughout the year. Your selflessness casts a miraculous light on everything we do. Special thanks to David Ranck for working so hard before and during the convention to make the weekend a true “marvel.”

img7306blogWe extend our deepest gratitude to the entire staff of Phoenix Comicon for taking such great care of Kids Need to Read and treating us as though we are the most important charitable foundation in the universe, especially Founder and Director Matt Solberg, and Programming Director Joe Boudrie. Much love to the Riley family for blessing us all with their enthusiasm and talents. To everyone who supported Kids Need to Read at Phoenix Comicon, thank you for assisting us in demonstrating that reading is an important and incredible gift for all children, especially those who desperately need to discover the power of literacy in order to lift themselves out of poverty and other challenging circumstances. We are forever grateful.

More photos to come!

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