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UIC Professors Donate 150 Copies of Their Bilingual Children’s Book To Lurie Children’s Hospital

“Reaching For The Stars" is a story about a cat that transforms into other animals on a journey to become a star in the sky.

The covers of "Reaching for the stars" (left) by James Unwin and illusrated by Maylis Limouzineau and "Ene y las cajas magicas" by Laura P. Schaposnik, illustrated by Cecilia La Rosa.
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CHICAGO — Laura Schaposnik and James Unwin estimate they’ve read hundreds of children’s books with their two kids, particularly as they’ve juggled teaching and research at University of Illinois at Chicago with full-time parenting during the pandemic.

Now, the couple has written their own kids book, and they are giving 150 copies to Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“Reaching For The Stars,” authored by Unwin, is a story about a cat that transforms into other animals on a journey to become a star in the sky. The hardcover version is available in Spanish and English, and copies will be donated to the hospital at a Friday event.

The story is dedicated to the workers at Lurie. Both the couple’s children were born there, and their youngest spent two weeks in intensive care after being born with heart problems.

“When we were there, we received some donations of knitted toys and knitted blankets,” Unwin said.

Schaposnik added, “So we thought that a big box of books could be one way that we could give something back to that community.”

Schaposnik researches geometry and applied mathematics at UIC while Unwin is a physicist. During the pandemic, reading and telling stories to 3-year-old Nikola and 9-month-old Alexander became their grounding ritual. 

While looking for ways to stay busy and contribute positively to the world around them — it’s a little difficult to get “serious calculations” done with a toddler and infant at home, Unwin said — Schaposnik made the initial push for the couple to write their own children’s books. 

“We’ve been trying to develop methods to teach our children, who we’re raising bilingual,” Schaposnik said. “We saw there was a lack of bilingual books available in the market.” 

Schaposnik also wrote “Ene And The Magic Boxes: An Odyssey Through The World Of Artisans,” a Spanish and English vocabulary book with “almost 100 words, both in Spanish and English, with a dictionary,” Schaposnik said. 

They are publishing it under Schapos Publishing, a company Schaposnik founded a year ago.

Schaposnik and Unwin’s approach to vocabulary teaching is different from that of other vocabulary books, they said, with the goal of building vocabularies about specific subjects. 

“Our aim was to write stories that teach new words in the same subjects,” Schaposnik said. “So in this case, it’s words about professions. And the next book that I’m finishing includes words about mathematics.” 

Given that the books are the first published works for Schaposnik and Unwin outside of their academic specialties, the writing process was one of “trial and error.” 

“All of the stories are based on things that our child and the people that we know say about them,” Schaposnik said. “We tell them the stories and they give us their opinion.” 

In the process, the creation of the books became a family affair. 

“There was a lot of trying to make it as a family project, which I think ended up very nicely,” Schaposnik said. “We have posters all around the house that we’ve printed in huge sizes, and we’re going to have those available. We made stickers that our son offered to his friends at school.” 

Writing the books also became a welcome outlet. 

“It was something that disconnected us from the everyday worrying about the pandemic, and you know, the frenzy of just not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Schaposnik said. “The books just brought us back into something that we enjoy doing.”

The couple has also done book readings at their son’s school, and they plan to do more as they promote the books. It’s been “very fun,” Unwin said.

Schaposnik and Unwin hope their donation and future donations can serve as a beacon of positivity for families and children at Lurie Children’s. 

“Whenever you spend some time in the hospital, you’re just so worried …,” Schaposnik said. 

“Particularly when it’s your children,” Unwin added. 

“It was the hardest time of our life,” Schaposnik said. “Whenever I think of Lurie Children’s and the NICU, I can’t help but think about those two weeks with our son. But hopefully, now, I will think about those two weeks and our book. It’ll add a more positive aspect.”

The books are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

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