From birds to kites and airplanes, kids have always marveled at all that flies. They’ll also marvel at Ariel, a small but sturdy flying robot who connects her flying friends with diverse local communities to solve real-world problems. These connections take Ariel on new adventures across the globe, where real, local experts are working on real social good projects with actual flying robots.
More and more Flying Labs around the world are actively engaged in YouthRobotics activities such as STEAM education and hands-on youth projects. To date, they’ve engaged and inspired countless kids and teenagers in dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and beyond. “What about younger children? How might we engage and inspire them?” We were intrigued by this question from Flying Labs. The fact is, some kids will be too young to fly drones. And besides, we all know that technology alone doesn’t make the world a better place. Local knowledge, expertise, and leadership are absolutely essential. So how might Flying Labs engage younger children to emphasize this point while also capturing their imagination? Perhaps through picture books!
Alas, very few picture books on flying robots exist. While most are really great and entertaining, they tend to be Western-centric and only available in English. Also, they rarely show how the technology itself is being used to make the world a better place. We wanted picture books based on real-world social-good projects written by and with local experts who actually led those projects. What’s more, none of the books we found emphasize the importance of local expertise or local leadership. So how could non-Western kids ever “see themselves” in these books since the characters, stories, and settings are mainly Western? This reminded us about what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi describes as the danger of a single story.
It was essential for Flying Labs and WeRobotics that any picture books they share with younger children during their STEM projects have characters that look like the younger children. We wanted these kids to see themselves in the illustrations. It was equally important that the stories clearly emphasize the importance of local leadership, expertise, and experience within the context of social good projects. In short, we were looking for a book series that simply didn’t exist. This explains why we decided to create our own, focusing directly on Flying Labs and the social good projects they lead.
We began to co-create the strategy for the picture book series with several Flying Labs in early 2020. We then recruited local authors, editors, and illustrators in early 2021 to begin the co-creation process on the artistic side of the project. Naturally, Flying Labs actively participated in developing the storylines and characters since these storylines are based on their own real-world projects, and the characters are based on them and their local partners.
Long story short, we’re very pleased to launch our very first crowdfunding campaign to produce and print the first book in the series, entitled The Magic of Mangroves! This first book is based on a real project led by Panama Flying Labs. You can learn more about the book on our Kickstarter page and on the Flying Labs website. There you’ll also learn about the next 2 books in the series, which are based on projects led by Nepal Flying Labs and Senegal Flying Labs. The Flying Labs Network comprises 30+ Flying Labs, so this picture book series can certainly grow to several dozen books!
But first things first: we need your help to produce the first book in the series! So please consider pledging and sharing the Kickstarter page widely! The funding collected through this crowdfunding campaign will go entirely towards local authors, editors, and illustrators.