When Mary Ellen Stottmann began painting exuberant animal artwork for her grandson-to-be in 2005, she did not anticipate the big changes that Baxter’s birth would engender.
The paintings of puppets led to the idea of stories which led to the creation — with writer Linda Villwock Baker — of a series of children’s books under the women’s new organization, Baxter’s Corner. The books have been evolving and changing since 2012. They have always been educational, teaching animal facts with a focus on manners and values. The hope is that the series helps both caregivers and children be more emotionally literate in the face of struggles that children face in today’s world, such as having a parent in prison (Ally Alone).
Stottmann and Baker are now in the process of repurposing all the books to match their seventh book in the Baxter’s Corner series, Gerome Sticks His Neck Out, a story that helps caregivers teach children that the choices they make impact their own futures and those of others. The book features a “Go Beyond” addendum with additional ideas for reinforcing the story, making connections to the child’s life, and motivating the child to be his or her best self.
Stottmann would like to see every child under five in Kentucky have a copy of these books, which could be as many as 100 when the series is complete. “We want children to grow up learning how to make healthy choices,” she says.
The women are also working to support those who work closely with kids. As schools have taken on more responsibility for children’s social and emotional learning, Stottmann and Baker are reaching out to educators, counselors, and administrators. Following the launch of Gerome Sticks His Neck Out in the fall, Baxter’s Corner hopes to introduce all their books to underserved families at local libraries and continue their outreach at Cabbage Patch Settlement House, where they’ve hosted four summer writing camps.
“As a business, social and artistic venture, we are most proud of growing our community through relationships and partnerships that help us spread our message about helping young children learn to make better behavioral choices as they grow up,” Baker says.
“Our hope is to leave a legacy for generations to come by changing children’s lives… one story at a time.”
Stottmann’s grandson Baxter, the namesake of their company, is now a preteen who offers his critiques of their new books. Just as Stottmann has watched her grandson grow from an infant to a young man, she has also observed how Baxter’s Corner — as well as herself and Baker — have changed over time. “We feel that we have learned so much through the production of our first five books, and we are pleased to share these evolutions in Gerome,” Stottmann says. “We also feel challenged to keep learning and getting better at our craft — just as we ask our young readers and listeners to do.”