Still Working: KidLit TV

The idea for KidLit TV was conceived at a cocktail party at Julie Gribble’s Franklin Street loft, where she got chatting with librarian and journalist Rocco Staino. Couldn’t he imagine a TV show that was sort of a cross between children’s literature and The Actors Studio? And wouldn’t he make a great James Lipton? That’s when children’s book illustrator Roxie Munro stepped into the conversation. And, Julie noted, wouldn’t Roxie make a perfect first guest?

And that’s what happened. They spent some time workshopping the idea — this was 2015 — and shot the first video in the back of Julie’s loft, under the skylight. They called it Storymakers, launched it on YouTube, and immediately found an audience. That would be the first in a series of shows that would end up in 700,000 schools worldwide. And now in the pandemic era, they are finding their way into people’s homes as well, as a resource for parents and a fun way to get kids into reading. She does it as a service to the industry, though they support some of their work through sponsorships.

“It’s not really a business — we are really literacy advocates,” she said. “I’m using my talents to help many of my friends in the industry. It’s my contribution.”

Julie spent 20 years at NBC, mixing live music for Late Night with Conan O’Brien (and before that as the music assistant for SNL) where she taped the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow, so she knows something about sound. But she left all that in 2003 to send herself to Tisch — NYU’s film school — where she started telling visual stories. She scored a spot at the Southampton Children’s Literature Fellows program, and it all evolved from there. “Most of the stories I was telling were family focused, so writing a children’s book made perfect sense,” Julie said.

KidLit TV now has several other shows including Young At Art, with tips from children’s book illustrators, and Past Present, an exploration of non-fiction story writing. (The shows take me back to Mister Rogers and that commitment to high-quality children’s programming with no gimmicks and no pandering. It’s refreshing.) The company itself is really a collective, with award-winning children’s book authors and illustrators, as well as educators, librarians and filmmakers, who together have created a vast virtual library. (That’s Roxie Munro’s painting of Julie’s building on Franklin, below, circa 1926, which she did after much research at the New York Public Library and the NY Academy of Art.) But the ultimate goal is getting kids to read — the videos are just a hook.

“We introduce books in a slightly sneaky way, by drawing characters from a book, we then encourage the kids to check out the book itself and read the story. Everything we do focuses the attention back on reading.”

Julie also teaches authors and illustrators to make their own videos, which are a key way to promote their work. And KidLit TV has two new programs in the works: KidLit at HOME will launch in the next couple weeks and will feature author/illustrator-generated content for kids that the team will curate. TeenLit TV will feature video programs for YA fans, and there’s already a podcast version — KidLit RADIO. Kids and parents can comment on the site, and through that she knows it’s working (along with the thousands of followers and visits to the website). “I wish I could come back and meet my teachers and my friends,” wrote one little reader in response to the Read Out Loud post of “What Would You Wish For?” “I miss them so much. :(”


1 Comment

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