Two Roland Park students win national prize for coloring book

Two Roland Park friends produce award-winning coloring book to promote female role models

Hope Sacco can trace her doubts about herself as far back as when she was 6 years old, when the brunette asked her parents to buy her a blonde wig.

Anna Doherty can recall even in recent years being so unsure of herself that she would shy away from speaking up in class.

Determined to move past their insecurities, the two Roland Park Elementary/Middle School eighth-graders teamed up on a project to help girls paint themselves in a more confident light.

The girls created "Girls Coloring for Change" — a coloring book that features prominent women of all shapes, sizes, religions and races. Their book beat out dozens of student projects from across the country this month to win the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

They call the book the "Barbie Antidote," and say it replaces unrealistic stereotypes with images of real female leaders.

"We want girls to know that no matter what they look like, they have the power to change the world," said Anna, 13.

The women profiled include former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore health commissioner; former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist who at 17 became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The girls chose the list from their own inspirations, in consultation with their social studies teacher.

They have since updated it to include local trailblazers such as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, and added a blank page for girls to draw themselves.

Wen was in a Starbucks when a woman approached and asked if she would sign a book for a young admirer — Hope. Hope had seen Wen speak at her school and was wowed by her.

That's how Wen learned she was included in the same pages with Harriet Tubman, who helped free hundreds of slaves, and Sacagawea, the Native American woman who helped Lewis and Clark explore the North American continent.

"It was quite a surreal experience," Wen said. "I was very surprised, and very humbled."

Wen said she identified with the girls' mission to elevate female role models. Wen said she didn't have any women to look up to in the public health and medical professions until she attended medical school.

Wen, who came to the United States from China at age 8, entered college at 13 and became a Rhodes scholar, is used to receiving accolades. But she said being included in Anna and Hope's book felt special.

"I don't think that my story is exceptional at all, and I still don't think of myself as being worthy of being in a coloring book with all these women," she said. "I think it's a reminder to all of us that no matter where you are in your life and what you think of yourself, someone is out there looking up to us. And I hope other girls will look up to them."

To compete in the National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, hosted by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, the girls created a business plan and presented it at local and regional competitions. As finalists, they made a 60-second elevator pitch.

Hope and Anna beat nearly 40 other teams to split the $25,000 grand prize, $5,000 in scholarships and $5,000 to use toward their business.

The girls say winning the prize was validation of a larger mission to help girls expand their definition of a role model.

"Anyone who inspires people to just be the best version of themselves is a role model," said Anna.

"We talk about strength, and being powerful, but all of my role models have been kind," said Hope, 14.

The girls' project is the second from Roland Park to take the title. In 2014, Lilly DeBell won for her "Lilly's Legwarmers" project.

Roland Park Principal Nicholas D'Ambrosio said he was impressed not only with the quality of the girls' project, but also its thoughtfulness.

"It's clear that they're passionate about inspiring young women," D'Ambrosio said. "That's why it was so successful. It blends their own passion with a need that they saw for others."

The book has been sold locally at Shananigans Toy Shop in Roland Park since this summer, and is available on Amazon.

Flora Stelzer, whose family owns Shananigans, said the store jumped at the opportunity to help the girls market and sell their product.

Stelzer said the girls were serious about making their product more marketable. They returned regularly to the shop to ask questions.

"They were interested in the mechanics," Stelzer said.

They created an advisory council that included Flora's son, David Stelzer; Karen Coughlin, a graphic design professional; who helped with layout and presentation; and Haley Parsley, a Baltimore School for the Arts student and editor of Beast Grrl Zine, and their classmate and previous winner Lily Debell.

The project was sponsored by Staples, which printed the first 100 books and gave the girls a discount.

So far, the girls say, they have sold about 300 books, at Shananigans and through Amazon, and also at festivals and other functions. They've donated $200 of their proceeds to the Malala Fund, and are researching local charities that advance their cause to donate money to.

Shananigans has sold about 30 copies of "Girls Coloring for Change." Stelzer said they are requested regularly and sell out quickly.

"I don't think I've sold 25 of any one coloring book, so for us that's a big seller," she said. "They made it interesting for a large market. They did a lot of research, and very impressive work, and it's amazing that they're in middle school."

Stelzer said she even learned something from the book: that Audrey Hepburn, the award-winning actress, spent decades as a humanitarian. That is, she did more than just have breakfast at Tiffany's.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

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