by Caroline Rosemary
40 pp. GreatestFan Publishing LLC
It’s never too early to inculcate a fervor for all things Tar Heel. In the households of Carolina alumni and fans, infants are often clad in UNC onesies and bibs, clutching fluffy blue footballs in their chubby hands as they drool in their cribs — perhaps even introduced to the UNC fight song, “I’m a Tar Heel Born,” while in utero.
With that in mind, wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to blend an early passion for all things Carolina while also teaching diversity, equity and inclusion?
Aaron Gard (BA ’97), regional development officer at the UNC School of Law, thought so, managing to capture both the excitement of sports and love for one’s alma mater while also encouraging early reading in Lessons for Tar Heels.
On the face of it, the inspirational book features what seems like a series of rhymes that happily and humorously reference all things UNC, particularly sports. But expertly tucked into its vibrant 40 pages is subtlety, especially in the rich, colorful depictions of people of diverse backgrounds, abilities and ages. It is in this purposeful design that the book promotes its message of inclusion.
Moreover, 100% of the book’s royalties support need-based and merit-based scholarships for students, making Lessons for Tar Heels literally the gift that keeps on giving.
“Lessons for Tar Heels can be leveraged to teach so many positive lessons,” notes Gard, who used the pseudonym Caroline Rosemary (a nod to both Carolina and nearby Rosemary Street) in penning the book. Primarily, he points to the mission statement noted on the series’ website, lessonsfor.org: “It’s easier for kids to build reading skills when they enjoy reading. They practice more, and they feel more motivated to take on reading challenges. We want to encourage children (and adults) to put down their phones and pick up a book. And we’re doing it through the lens of college sports!”
The impetus for this project began after he’d published Lessons from Roy, celebrating UNC Coach Roy Williams and the UNC Men’s Basketball team after they won the 2017 NCAA Championship. Aaron, co-founder Gardner Altman (BA ’68, JD ’72) and Bernard Bell (BA ’82, MBA ’91), Executive Director of the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship at UNC — whose counsel as a successful entrepreneur has proved invaluable — realized that although the book was successful, it was missing the big picture. By focusing on only one individual and primarily on men’s sports, they were omitting women. “Anson Dorrance (soccer), Jenny Levy (lacrosse) and Karen Shelton (field hockey) all coach women’s sports at UNC, have all won multiple NCAA championships and are all in the Hall of Fame. We love all our men’s and women’s sports at UNC, and as such, we tried to include everyone in Lessons for Tar Heels.”
By expanding the concept to other schools and universities, Aaron’s team is building an early reading program that complements people’s passion for their favorite teams. “Everyone loves their school, so we decided to build something we can replicate for multiple schools going forward, and we hope UNC can be a positive example for others,” he said. In addition to Lessons for Tar Heels, books for other schools are already in the works.
When it comes to the lesson of diversity, he says, Lessons for Tar Heels clearly depicts the premise that life and sports are NOT exclusive clubs and that everyone should be invited to play.
The unique artwork captures this premise well, with people generally designed with a sense of hyperreality. “We wanted something a little kooky and one of my colleagues had worked with [German illustrator] Thomas Hussung on another book. He’s done a lot of scary kids’ books with ghouls and goblins, and we love the big eyes and quirky looks,” says Aaron.
Hussung’s cover art is graced equally by a Black girl and a white boy (and baby Ramses). “It’s important to see Black and white children together next to an iconic logo as powerful as our interlocking NC,” he says.
Other examples abound: “There’s an illustration of a football player on one page throwing the ball and a student reading a book on the opposite page. One of our advisors ran track at North Carolina Central University and he said, ‘Usually, you see the Black child playing sports and the white child studying. I love that [you flipped the script here],” recalls Aaron.
Decisions like this come after lengthy consults with his team of advisors. Among them are many women and people of color. “I wanted to work with people who are different than me, have different skillsets and backgrounds…because then I can draw from their expertise and perspective,” he says.
When he showed an illustration of a group of men in suits and a woman in a dress on their way to a game, one of the women in the advisory group said, “Why is she wearing a dress?” Aaron hadn’t thought about it until then and couldn’t provide an explanation. That opened a conversation that helped him understand that putting the women in a snazzy pantsuit would work better…and this underlying message of equality permeates the book, while also promoting fairness, cooperation, respect of fandom, and the joy of learning.
“Children are blank slates. They’re innocent and can be taught from an early age about right and wrong, so they get along with everyone,” notes Aaron. “We’re not anti-phone, but take 15-20 minutes, read a simple book, reduce screen time, remember good times about your favorite school and teach that next generation.”
Lessons for Tar Heels is available for purchase here.
— Written by Adrianne Gibilisco, University Office for Diversity and Inclusion
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