Cooking up hope All Because of Grace

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 12, 2010 – Grace was the first child to sign up for the summer library camp that Jane Martellino was going to run for the Consolidated School in New Fairfield, Conn. in 2009.

Martellino, the librarian at the Consolidated School, knew Grace was excited for the camp. The then 8-year-old loved books and reading.

Before the camp began, doctors discovered that Grace had a brain tumor. She was transferred from Danbury to a New York City hospital for surgery on July 22. A week after the surgery, Grace slipped into a coma.

“She was in the coma for five weeks,” said Martellino, an alumna of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. “I went up to New York City each week to read to her. So many others did the same thing. Books were her world.”

Today, Grace is in recovery, and Martellino has spearheaded a special fundraising project to help out. Earlier this month, she released All Because of Grace, a unique cookbook that features favorite recipes from more than 130 award-winning children’s authors and illustrators. Each recipe is paired with a story from the contributor that explains why the recipe means something special to that person.

The idea for the book came from Martellino’s mother, Eileen Griffin. Initially the plan was to reach out to librarians around the country for their recipes. She emailed librarians across the country to share the story of Grace, with the intention of bringing Grace a map that marked all the places people were praying for her.

“Five days later, we had a map of the United States covered,” Martellino said. The map also hung in Grace’s hospital room from August 5, 2009 until she was discharged in June of 2010.

The support and love others showed spurred the formation of the Yes! Grace Rocks Foundation. The group has done several different projects, and All Because of Grace is the biggest yet.

In planning the book, Martellino thought it would be nice to include a handful of children’s book authors. So she reached out to a few she had met in person through the years.

“When I wrote to the authors, I tried to make it personal and explain where we had met,” Martellino said. “I explained the project and about Grace. The cookbook had to be about the stories with the recipes.”

The response was overwhelming. Within four weeks, she had received responses from more than 130 of the most prominent children’s authors and illustrators in the country. Newbery Medal winners Rebecca Stead (2010, When You Reach Me) and Susan Patron (2007, The Higher Power of Lucky) contributed stories and recipes, as did Newbery Medal honorees Kathi Appelt (2009, The Underneath) and Marion Dane Bauer (1987, On My Honor).

The Caldecott Medal winners who contributed are David Small (2001, So You Want To Be President?), Emily Arnold McCully (1993, Mirette on the High Wire) and Jacqueline Briggs Martin (1999, Snowflake Bentley). Caldecott honorees in the book include Small (1998, The Gardner, Marla Frazee (2010, All the World/2009, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever), Steve Jenkins (2004, What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?), Ted Lewin (1994, Peppe the Lamplighter, Betsy Lewin (2001, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type), Janet Stevens (1996, Tops and Bottoms), Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2008, First the Egg) and Nancy Tafuri (1985, Have You Seen My Duckling?).

“It was phenomenal to have so many people who wanted to be a part of this. Almost everybody we reached out to said, ‘Yes’ immediately, which was amazing,” Martellino said. “We were able to finish the book and have it published in time for the holiday season.”

The support didn’t stop there. Publishing giant Scholastic caught wind of the project and wanted to help the foundation. Karen Proctor, vice president of community affairs for Scholastic, initially didn’t have the budget to make a donation. But she asked Martellino to give her two weeks, and in late August, she informed Martellino that Scholastic had come up with $2,500 to help cover the costs of printing the book.

The Yes! Grace Rocks Foundation printed 2,500 copies of All Because of Grace, and the goal is to raise $40,000 for the foundation.

“What is happening now is that many of the authors are sending messages out on Facebook and using the Internet and other technology to get the word out,” Martellino said. “To see so many people come together in support of Grace is simply heartwarming.”

Grace still has a long way to go. She recently slipped briefly into another coma, setting back her recovery. Her body is working to redevelop the muscle mass she lost while hospitalized. She suffered nerve damage that has impacted her speech and vision.

Yet through it all, books have kept her spirits up.

“We write stories together,” Martellino said. “Grace has a gift for telling stories, which makes this project that much more perfect. Grace’s inititial diagnosis and difficult recovery have been heartbreaking, but there has been so much incredible outreach from so many people. Grace has received love and support from so many places, which gives her hope.”

The books are being sold for $20 plus shipping and handling. To order a copy of All Because of Grace, visit the Yes! Grace Rocks Foundation site.

Salad photo by Peter Goldberg.

Grace in the Library courtesy of Jane Martellino.