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Painting is her jam, but when Phoebe can’t paint enough for everyone, it will take a new game plan, and a whole community, to get it done.

Photo of Dea Brayden and Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Written by

[Word Count 250]

[Illustration notes in parentheses]


What does it mean to make a mark? What difference can you make?

Well, Phoebe wants her chance so much, it means a tummy ache.

She draws and paints each morning and then colors through the night.

With practice, practice, practice, Phoebe’s got mad skills all right. 

The sights. The city. Off she goes. What will she paint today?

The window washer up above. A cook at the café.

“Gadzooks, how do you do that?” says the man who sells the news.

And when he asks to keep one, Phoebe simply can't refuse. 

[Street performer.]

The girl who sings her heart out pictures Phoebe as a star,

That’s why she says, “Hey, Phoebe, please paint ‘LOVE’ on my guitar.”

[Crowd is gathering. Many make requests for paintings.]

“How ‘bout those puffy pigeons?”

“Or bright words against the sky.” 

“Or Planes!” 

“Ooh, trains!” 

“And taxis!”

“Thirteen skateboards zipping by!”

Uh-oh. The crowd’s gigantic. When did it jumbo-size?

“Oh no, my best won’t be enough. That’s it. I quit!” she cries.

[Crowd reacts.]

A hush, and then “So, now what?”

“There’s nobody quite like you.”

“Please, Phoebe, reconsider.”

”Is there something we can do?”

So Phoebe starts to wonder, gazing at each hopeful face.

Then says “Let’s huddle up and put some art up in this place.”

[Citizens come to location with painting supplies, ladders, etc.]

The goal. The game plan. Off they go. A chance for everyone.

And give it up for Phoebe, who dreams big and gets it done.

[Two-Page Scene: Community has a mural painting party.]

Imagine, and now... Off you go! Mix talent with your team.

Go huddle up and make your mark. And jumbo-size your dream.

Describe the intended vision for your early childhood book manuscript in 1-2 sentences

PHOEBE MAKES A MARK will grow with a child, at first as they respond to the rhythm, rhyme, delightful energy and illustrations, then in time as they internalize the message: to understand your strengths, engage in community and together create a beautiful and lasting mark. This book will build reading confidence and expand language skills by inspiring interactions with the book and in the audiences’ day to day world.

Share your suggested book title


PLEASE USE THE VERSION OF THIS QUESTION AT THE TOP OF THE SUBMISSION FORM: Share a draft of your manuscript (250 word limit, not including title).

How has this book been informed by early childhood language development research and evidence? (response minimum 250 Characters)

PHOEBE MAKES A MARK uses rhythm, rhyme, repetition, and overwhelmingly Tier 1 words. Simple text, and vivid illustrations to come, allow non-english-readers to “imagination read.” A busy cityscape lends itself to search and find, and scaffolding during short or long reads. The story explores concepts (naming objects/colors), open-ended questions, and multiple themes. Empathy is nurtured as a child “reads” Phoebe’s emotional journey. An art focus encourages engagement in the arts, which facilitates language skills across abilities. Understanding language symbolically helps children learn linguistic forms.

1. ROR : Milestones of Early Literacy Development 2. Basic Vocabulary Terms 3. RAL #116 4. Talking is Teaching: Building Early Language Skills 5. ZERO to THREE: How to Introduce Toddlers and Babies to Books 6. OpenIDEO ECBC Webinar 7. ZERO to THREE: How to Help Your Child Develop Empathy 8. Psychology Today: How and Why the Arts Support Language Learning and Cognition

Please describe any familiarity you may have with Philadelphia and its residents? (optional question)

Dea travelled to Philadelphia in her youth to visit historical sites, and in 2016 for a convening of religious professionals of color. In her former role as Special Assistant to the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, she collaborated with conference planners and a team from the local UU Church of the Restoration that organized a Black Lives Matter rally.

Thanks to this challenge and the inspiring work of Mural Arts, Lindsay can’t wait to someday tour Philadelphia’s murals and explore a new city. As a resident of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and now London, taking in the sights is one of Lindsay’s favorite things, but she swaps paint and paper for her camera.

How have you crafted this manuscript to resonate with and/or reflect the experiences of those living in urban contexts? (optional question)

PHOEBE MAKES A MARK was crafted to evoke mental images of a bustling city and, by design, allow an illustrator to bring Phoebe’s urban world to life - the feel, the faces, the ages, and places. The story culminates in a the creation of community mural- a common urban expression of cultural and social identity. Accessible text builds confidence and enjoyment in reading. A direct benefit of the book is to enrich daily interactions as it lives beyond lap moments. It introduces opportunities for more conversations, from naming objects through observation to recognizing the impact of one’s actions on others. Finally, readers and listeners are encouraged to dream about how to make their own mark.

Location: Country

USA - Dea Brayden
UK - Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Location: State or Department

Colorado - Dea Brayden
Greater London - Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Location: City

Lakewood - Dea Brayden
Islington - Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Tell us more about you / your team

A new mother-daughter writing duo, Dea and Lindsay love a challenge. We value the potential in everyone, big and little, to learn and to teach. Through sharing stories, the world becomes more understanding and compassionate.

Dea Brayden, a former K-3 literacy specialist, now focuses on writing picture books. She is an active member of several critique groups, the SCBWI, and Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. Dea is a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer for abused and neglected children in the foster care system.

Lindsay Ellis’ love of storytelling has led her from assisting art departments for major motion pictures, to producing health and wellness-focused web, mobile and video products, and to Google[x]. She volunteers for Comfort Zone Camp, a national bereavement camp program for kids, and is mother to two-year-old Julian, Chief Manuscript Tester.

Provide an example visual identity for a look and feel you might like to achieve. ( (optional question, 3-5 visuals)

In researching the murals of Philadelphia, we were struck by this idea that “in Philadelphia, the walls tell stories.” Murals become part of the fabric of a community and often residents are active participants in their creation. The visual style of PHOEBE MAKES A MARK will call on the rich history of murals created in the city, particularly as part of the Mural Arts’ Community Murals initiative, some of which were sponsored by the William Penn Foundation.

Multiple Choice - Have you been previously published (online, self-published, and print included)?

  • No

Do you have an agent?

  • No

How did you hear about the Challenge? (optional question)

  • Someone in my network (word of mouth)

What best describes you? (optional question)

  • I am/we are creatives, writers, or artists


Join the conversation:

Photo of Joannie Duris

Hi Dea Brayden and Lindsay Brayden Ellis Dea, I just tracked down the original 12x12 Facebook post about this challenge since I couldn't remember who posted it (Michelle Cusolito) and discovered your post about entering the challenge with your daughter. Yeah! Another 12x12er pushes on! I've been slowly working my way through, reading entries while we wait for word on the next round, so I had to skip ahead to find you. What a fun idea you two came up with for young Phoebe being the catalyst for a community mural--true urban works of art. Best of luck, and hope to connect via 12x12.

Photo of Dea Brayden and Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Thanks Joannie. I just read your great submission. Good luck to you! And let's do connect through 12 x 12.

Photo of Joannie Duris

Thanks, Dea and Lindsay. I'm looking forward to connecting with you beyond this challenge through 12 x 12.

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