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Friends & Neighbors

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Strong communities are supported by the institutions that serve them. All of us — neighborhood members, families and children — have the responsibility to use these institutions to learn more about ourselves and our history. This is the clear message beautifully delivered in the recently released children’s book, Friends and Neighbors, by the award-winning author/photographer team of Kenneth Cole and John Ruebartsch. Ruebartsch, a Riverwest resident since 1992 and the photographer for Friends and Neighbors, took all the colorful pictures in the Milwaukee area. Some photo locations include the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Schools classrooms, and many other unique settings that reflect the diversity and age of the city. Amanda and Hector, the two main characters in the book, are best friends. They are given a school assignment to collect materials that reflect the history and people of their community. The kind, well-mannered friends set out the next day on their adventure, pulling a small red wagon that they soon fill with artifacts for their masterpiece. On their journey, the two learn about their neighborhood from the people and stores they visit, and also by going to the library and City Hall. This was the important message that Milwaukee publisher Creative Sharp Presentations, Inc. wanted Kenneth and John to focus on. “Creative Sharp wanted the book to have scenes showing that institutions are for people, and kids can use them to get information,” explained Ruebartsch. Creative Sharp Presentations, Inc. is a Milwaukee-based educational nonprofit organization that encourages elementary students to research, read, write and present on the subjects of art history and visual arts. Their website www.creativesharp.org also has stories written by students that participate in the program, as well as lessons for educators. Although this is the first time the team had worked with Creative Sharp, Ruebartsch is already working on another book with the small publishing company, that will be largely written by Milwaukee students about locations in the city. The book will also include student paintings of each place. The graphic designer for Friends and Neighbors was Joanne Lensink, who will also work on the new book, tentatively titled All Around Milwaukee. Kenneth Cole and John Ruebartsch previously wrote No Bad News, winner of the 2002 Wisconsin Library Association Children’s Book Award, and a 2002 Marion Vannett Ridgeway Honor Book. John Ruebartsch will talk about his book, Friends and Neighbors, on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7 pm at the Schwartz Bookshop on Downer (2559 E. Downer Ave.), and Amanda, Hector, and their families will also be present for book signing afterward.
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