North Lawndale resident Alexie Young, the creative director of the nonprofit Art West, worked with artists Jay Simon and Kent Jones to create a children’s coloring book about a young anthropomorphic elephant visiting five community landmarks.
“Elvin Explores North Lawndale” debuted during the Aug. 28 North Lawndale Reads Back to School Lit Fest, which was held in front of the Stone Temple Baptist Church, 3622 W. Douglas Blvd.
As the name suggests, the festival was organized by North Lawndale Reads and Ald. Michael Scott (24th). Young printed about 100 copies of the book to give away.
She said that she hopes that the book inspires kids and their parents to explore the community and challenge the narrative that North Lawndale doesn’t have any cultural assets.
Young is currently trying to distribute the books though area schools and she said she’s willing to work with area nonprofits and organizations to get the books into more hands and raise money to print more copies. She also hopes to create more children’s books on more destinations in North Lawndale and other West Side neighborhoods.
Young is a director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Exhibit Center, a historic exhibit space in the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation’s Legacy Apartments at 1558 S. Hamlin Ave., which chronicles King’s work in Chicago.
In 2019, she founded Art West, a nonprofit organization designed to support West Side art galleries and cultural institutions. Art West officially opened its own gallery last year in East Garfield Park at 750 S. California Ave.
With the coloring book, Young said, she wants to create something that will allow North Lawndale parents to talk to their kids about what their community has to offer.
Young said that the effort took on a new urgency during the riots that erupted last summer in the wake of the murder of Jacob Blake.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the riots and the civil unrest, and we wanted to capture the assets that are dear to us,” she said.
Young said that the book’s narrator is an elephant —a nod to the company’s clothing brand — and the name Elvin was a nod to Elvin Tibideaux, a character from the “Cosby Show.”
“We wanted to capture the 1990s nostalgia,” she added.
The book features Elvin visiting the Stone Temple Church, the MLK Exhibit Center and the Art West gallery, as well as the Douglass branch library, 3353 W. 13th St, and the Firehouse Arts Center, 211 S. Hamlin Ave.
To encourage families to visit those places, the book has addresses for all five locations. The book also has a word search of North Lawndale streets and a spot where kids can draw their favorite North Lawndale location.
“It’s really cool to see the children excited about the book, but adults are excited about it, too” she said. “We had adults who wanted to get as many copies as they could.”