Connecting means bonding! Connecting with young children is challenging, as most young kids are so active, it’s hard to find something you can do together that’s memorable, even when you are with them. To establish a connection, first you need to interact in meaningful experiences together. This is important! If two individuals (an adult and a child, or even two adults) don’t experience meaningful activity together, it’s difficult to connect on a personal level.

When distance and time separates everyone, it’s hard to build and maintain a connection. If you can connect from common experiences you interacted in together, it’s easier to establish a bond that lasts a long time! Many grandparents have participated in everyday activities with grandchildren such as going to the grocery store, making breakfast together, blowing bubbles, or visiting the zoo. Once these activities are over and grandma or grandpa leave, young children quickly move on to the next thing, and forget about special times they’ve experienced with their grandparent. How can memories be created that last and let kids remember who they experienced them with?

When distance and time separates everyone, it’s hard to build and maintain a connection.

There’s no question that reading to young children is a great way to engage with them. It’s also a perfect way to establish a strong connection, even when you’re a long-distance relative. Several years ago, we had a somewhat different take on this idea when we created the Sticking With Family® book series – we wanted to connect with our grandson to make memories that would last a long time.

Meet the Blesis

The word “Yester-Times” was actually invented by our grandson, Beckett. It happened following a holiday visit when we were preparing to leave Beckett’s home. As Beckett viewed photos of past visits from several months earlier, he lit up and became extremely excited. Trying to find the right words, he said… “Grammy, just remember the “Yester-Times.” It was his way of telling us he remembered past visits and had great memories of activities we’d participated in together!

We are Rick and Angela Blesi, and are long-distance grandparents ourselves. During the long drive home following this visit, we wondered how our two-and-a-half-year-old grandchild would remember his grandparents, as he only saw us four or five times a year. Kids are so busy and active that we believed Beckett probably would just go to the next play activity and not remember us, or fun times we had together.

After several hours of discussion (it’s a long drive to Madison from St. Paul, MN where we live), Angela came up with the idea of creating a storybook that uses photo stickers of a grandparent and grandchild doing fun things together. The characters in the book would be a grandparent and grandchild doing everyday family activities, but there would be blank circles where their heads are located. We could then create custom facial photo stickers (of a grandparent and a grandchild) so young kids could put the stickers on each character’s head to complete the stories. Kids love playing with stickers and this would be a great way to connect an adult and young child to remember their own “Yester-Times”! More importantly, photo stickers help young kids remember long-distance grandparents when they’re not together.

After further discussion, we thought other long-distance families would like their own “Yester-Times” books to stay connected. So, we arranged a meeting with a local artist, Kyle Frederickson, who’s a teaching artist for White Bear Center for the Arts, as well as an art teacher in the local school district. He’s also illustrated numerous books for local authors and publishers. Kyle became very excited to work on this project, as his own daughter, Carol Ann, has grown up far away from her grandmother, who lives in Florida. A Fun Day With Grandpa and A Fun Day With Grandma were started!

Sticking with it

The first “test” book used photo stickers created with pre-cut labels purchased from a business supply store. We printed round photo stickers in color and made a children’s storybook of images cut out of magazines and several children’s books. This “test” book was sent to Beckett and was a huge hit. His parents read him the story pages while Beckett put photo stickers on each of the character’s faces. The next day, he took the book to school to show his friends. He even put some of the photo stickers on his arms before he went to school. He was a huge hit!

Following development of the initial book concept, we worked with Kyle to create stories, words, and illustrations for each Grandma and Grandpa book. The Sticking With Family website was created along with Facebook and Instagram pages. When ordering a book from the website, the customer uploads digital photos from their cell phone, tablet, or computer. These photos are then used to create custom photo stickers that come with each book. When placing an order, the website takes you to a Sticker Editing page where your photos (grandparent + grandchild) are formatted into a round sticker shape and uploaded to Sticking With Family. It’s a simple process and takes very little time. The photo stickers are printed (seventy-two total photo stickers) and included with the book price. Shipping only takes a few days!

So, why are these books totally different from other children’s books? Because each Sticking With Family book creates an interactive experience between an adult and a young child. By allowing the participants to create their own stories using photo stickers of their faces, they end up with a personalized storybook about them. All other “personalized” children’s books print a child’s name in the book to relate a story…none of them use photo stickers of people’s faces. By letting the child apply photo stickers as you read and embellish on your stories, you create a connection that lasts a long time!

Our book sells for $19.95 (plus shipping and applicable tax) and includes two photo sticker pages (thirty-six grandparent and thirty-six grandchild photo stickers) that are mailed with the book. Each book is also shipped with two “Thinking of You” cards so extra photo stickers can be used to create a personal note to a grandchild or grandparent. We are currently working to allow a customer to order additional photo stickers if they want to include more than one grandchild for each book.

Sticking With Family books include:

  • Colorful, hand-drawn illustrations that relate family stories & activities young kids enjoy

  • All people Illustrations (adult + grandchild) are ethnically-neutral

  • All grandchild illustrations are gender-neutral (could be boy or girl)

  • Each book promotes early communication and reading skills to young children

  • Facial recognition is strong with young children and photo stickers help them remember

  • Introduces grandparents to young grandkids who may not be familiar with them

The book series now includes A Fun Day With Grandpa and A Fun Day With Grandma. Additional books for other family members will be coming out at a later date. The books are designed so any adult can read the book to a child who can put photo stickers on each page. So, whether you’re the grandparent, parent or another family member doing the reading, you can make these stories yours and encourage your grandchild to participate by “sticking” photo stickers on each page.

We tell people… “Our books are not just about reading a story to a child! Rather, each book is an incredible memory-making experience waiting to happen!

The focus of these books is for the adult to read, and embellish on, each story page. Several pages also include interactive questions that encourage a response from the grandchild. Then, the grandchild “sticks” photo stickers to complete the stories. This way a special narrative is created about time spent together. When a visit ends, your grandchild has a book that’s filled with photo stickers and activities they experienced with their grandparent – a collection of their very own “Yester-Times!”

RA Blesi

Following several articles in the North Oaks Living Magazine and White Bear Lake Magazine, Rick and Angela hope to share their creative books with other families, especially long-distance families.

Learn more about RA!