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Gotham Reads... For the smile of a child

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"There is something about storytelling that expands the heart and soul of a child."

This is how Andrew Geller from 1stAveMachine talks about the heartwarming Gotham Reads initiative, a YouTube channel gathering top celebrities, authors and creatives in children book publishing to bring fun and stories back to the household. Because the pandemic has pulled children away from what used to be their usual fun occupations (including school and playdates), the Gotham Reads channel was created by the Gotham Group to bring a pinch of top-notch storytelling in the lives of children all around the world.

To help us get Behind the Idea, the Gotham Group founder and CEO Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and the 1stAveMachine head of content and executive producer Andrew Geller will alternate over the article below, sharing inspiring insights on how the initiative came to life.

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Andrew Geller and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein

How did the initial pitch/brainstorming phase go?

Ellen Goldsmith-Vein: One of our first thoughts and feelings after we entered the lockdown period was what kind and how many experiences would kids miss out on now that their daily activities and routines (such as school and playdates) have been disrupted. A creative way to continue sparking young imaginations and broadening understandings of the world — while safely following travel restrictions and social distancing measures, of course — was to offer family-friendly content on a global digital platform, specifically YouTube, for much needed indoor entertainment and education.

Since The Gotham Group has fulsome access to many of the industry’s top children’s authors, illustrators, performers, and more, it made perfect sense to reach out and see if they would be interested and available to read aloud their favorite books on screen. The idea was more of a social good endeavor rather than a traditional advertising campaign and fortunately our strategic partner, 1stAveMachine, had the remote talent, resources, and capabilities to seamlessly set up the infrastructure for our shared vision of the “Gotham Reads” series as well as run the official YouTube channel.

What was the production process like? How long did it take, and what was the biggest challenge?

Andrew Geller: Once the endeavor got off the ground, personalities and artists across film and television (both live action and animation), literature, and even politics started signing on right away.

Thanks to our team’s long history of work with international agencies and brands, we were no strangers to remote workflows and pipelines. We safely mailed the necessary production equipment to the talent. In a way, they were almost the directors of their own respective shoots. From there, we would carry out an edit of the video material. The most important thing from our perspective was capturing the genuine enthusiasm of the reader, bonus if the title was accessible.

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What’s the main message of the channel and why does it matter?

Andrew Geller: Reading is a portal to all of life’s adventure and passion. That’s what all of us involved in this endeavor agree upon wholeheartedly. There is something about storytelling that expands the heart and soul of a child.

You can almost see them putting it all together in their minds when you watch them listen to a reader. They’re doing a million calculations in their heads, filling in all the visual blanks through the sheer and limitless power of their imagination. It expands what they think of their universe, accelerates their vocabulary, and reinforces the possibility of something greater than what they are experiencing in the present.

Why will the channel resonate with consumers?

Andrew Geller: I think it’s the books themselves, ultimately. The sheer magnetic force of literature is evident here. Kids are so eager for experience, validation, and engagement of the senses. Reading to a child provides that and so much more.

We’re also thrilled that we have support from a network of non-profit organizations in the space including 826LA, Common Sense Media, Girls Inc., Imagine LA, P.S. Arts, Save the Children, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Young Storytellers.

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What is one unique fact about the channel that will help it cut through?

Ellen Goldsmith-Vein: I think we are the largest accumulation of renowned children’s authors reading from their own pieces. Some of these include Caldecott Honor recipient and the New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi (the Spiderwick Chronicles series), Jerry Spinelli (Stargirl and Maniac Magee), as well as D.J. Machale (the Pendragon series).

In addition, we have a talented roster of celebrities and public figures, ranging from Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to Henry Winkler (Barry and Happy Days), Barry Sonnenfeld (the Men in Black trilogy), Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire and Resevoir Dogs), Patrick Warburton (A Series of Unfortunate Events and Family Guy), Giancarlo Esposito (Dear White People and Breaking Bad) and more.

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What do you hope it achieves?

Andrew Geller: We hope the series transports families into an escape from the often relentlessly depressing headlines where they can simply revel in the power of a good story well-told. New content is scheduled to be uploaded daily until we fully transition from the lockdown period, whenever that may be.

How satisfying is it to see it out there after so much hard work?

Ellen Goldsmith-Vein: ‘Gotham Reads’ is certainly one of the most satisfying endeavors we’ve ever championed. Everyone involved is doing it out of a love for children’s stories and the need for families to be diverted during these challenging times. We’re terribly proud of the series and gratified by the positive and overwhelming response.

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