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Friends who first connected on IU Bloomington campus both publish books

June 1, 2016

Abby Cooper and Cristina Vanko met through a mutual friend during their time as IU students, but they have kept in touch and become closer friends as alumnae now that each is having a book published.

"The experiences differ, but having someone know what you're going through -- because it's just so rare -- it's just so much easier to talk to someone who knows the process," Vanko said of the support she and Cooper give each other.

sticks and stones book

"Sticks and Stones," published by Macmillan, will be available in stores July 12. | IMAGE COURTESY OF ABBY COOPER

Cooper, a 2011 graduate of the IU School of Education, turned to writing after becoming a library assistant in a Chicago school.

"One particular book -- 'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio -- kept being requested," Cooper said. "I tried recommending similar titles, but eventually there weren't enough to meet the demand, so I decided to try to write one. I took it as a personal challenge."

Cooper's book, "Sticks & Stones," follows the story of a sixth-grader who has a rather extraordinary skin disorder. The disease manifests itself like a rash or a temporary tattoo -- one that spells out the words her peers use to describe her and even how she perceives herself. The story explores what happens when this magical element intersects with the real-world struggles of self-esteem and changing friendships that middle schoolers so often face.

"All of my own awkward memories of middle school were put to good use," Cooper said with a laugh. "I think middle school students can be hard on themselves sometimes. I hope my book leads to discussion about being kind to others -- and being kind to yourself."

Cooper said she's glad she majored in education at IU because it enabled her to gain experience with a variety of subject matters in different schools, working with students of different ages.

"The faculty not only did a great job preparing us to teach every subject, they also taught us to nurture students' social and emotional well-being," she said. "A child's education is more than academics -- it's learning empathy, compassion, integrity. I learned so much through the School of Education, and I incorporated a lot of it into my book."

"Sticks & Stones," published by Macmillan, is 288 pages and will be available in stores July 12. The book has also received a starred review from Kirkus, one of the industry's most sought-after designations.

hand-lettering is for everyone book

Published by Penguin in October 2015, Cristina Vanko's book is the product of her fine arts studies at IU and a timely discovery of her father's calligraphy pen collection. | IMAGE COURTESY OF CRISTINA VANKO

Vanko's book, "Hand-Lettering for Everyone: A Creative Workbook," has also received its share of recognition, most recently from the Chicago Tribune.

After graduating from IU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2011, Vanko landed an internship at a design innovation consultancy in Chicago. She spent some time doing design work in Indianapolis before she returned to Chicago to accept her current position as an art director at Young and Rubicam, an advertising agency.

Published by Penguin in October 2015, Vanko's book is the product of her fine arts studies at IU and a timely discovery of her father's calligraphy pen collection.

"I was going through his artbox and found this really beautiful nib, and I started experimenting with it on my own," Vanko said.

She said the design experiences she had at IU -- heavy on typography, exploring the letterpress and letterforms throughout history -- informed a lot of her work.

"My classes taught me to take a deep dive and keep my audience in mind." Vanko said.

As a way to refine her calligraphy skills, Vanko conceptualized a text message project, dubbed Modern Day Snail Mail, wherein she committed to a week of hand-writing her text messages in calligraphy, sent as photos.

When her editor saw the piece online, she asked if Vanko was creating a book. After researching the market, Vanko didn't find anything on hand-lettering that was playfully educational and decided her editor was on to something.

"Rather than just copying letterforms, I wanted it to allow the user to create something. I like pairing education with creative exercises," Vanko said.

Both Vanko and Cooper are already working on follow-ups for their respective books, set for release in 2017. Both said they would not consider the works to be sequels but continuations on similar themes.

Enter to win

Current faculty and staff using a valid IU email address can enter to win a copy of "Hand-Lettering for Everyone: A Creative Workbook" a $15 value, published by Penguin. The contest opens June 1 and closes 4 p.m. Monday, June 6, 2016.

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