In the Spring of 2020, as COVID spread around the world, the staff at Culture to Color began assembling coloring kits for distribution to hospitals and retirement homes near the company’s office in Central Florida.
Founder and CEO Bibi LeBlanc had spoken to a friend working in a local retirement home, who told her, “People are scared. They’re watching the news 24/7, and nobody can come to visit them. It’s a dismal situation.”
Coloring is loved by audiences around the world as a soothing diversion—the ideal activity, LeBlanc realized, for people cooped up and possibly suffering from anxiety.
Each kit had five loose-leaf coloring pages, pencils or markers, and a handwritten note: “We’re thinking of you.”
LeBlanc said she never expected the project—a simple gesture of care for patients who were isolated due to COVID precautions—to go any further. But what happened next formed the basis for an award-winning, best-selling book that has delighted audiences around the world.
“Something for Children?”
“I was asked if Culture to Color could put together a similar coloring kit for children,” LeBlanc recalled. “We immediately started working on five designs—five endangered animals that were local to us here in Florida—that we knew children would love.”
An alligator, a manatee, a flamingo, a panther: The illustrations were so beautiful, she said, that the company decided to make an entire book of endangered animals, and to broaden the scope to include animals from as far north as Canada and as far south as Central America.
In May 2021, a year after handing out their first color care kits, Culture to Color published Endangered Animals of North America, featuring 45 full-page illustrations of endangered species, with bilingual (English/Spanish) narratives about each animal.
“It was inspired by this one nurse’s question, really,” said LeBlanc. “She asked me, ‘Do you have anything specifically for kids?’ Most of our coloring pages weren’t simple enough for children, but these animal designs were perfect—with the added benefit of educating our audience about these wonderful, rare animals.”
Leading up to publication, LeBlanc opened the process to local businesses and organizations, who collaborated with Culture to Color by sponsoring individual pages.
And, since the project included animals from Mexico and Central America, LeBlanc decided to launch the book in bilingual format. Today, readers can also buy an English/German version (LeBlanc is originally from Germany).
A number of awards and accolades followed.
Endangered Animals of North America quickly achieved best-seller status on Amazon, and a year after publication earned a Benjamin Franklin Gold Award, the highest honor from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) at its annual gala, held April 29, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.
The book went on to earn a silver medal from the Florida Author & Publisher Association, as well as top honors from the Purple Dragonfly International Book Awards and the ______.
“All along, we just wanted to do something for these patients who didn’t have anything else in front of them besides the bad news on TV all day,” LeBlanc said. “That’s how we learned what a powerful counterpoint coloring could be to all of the fear and anxiety and negativity in the world.”
“I just wanted to thank you again for your beautiful coloring books,” a nurse from a Daytona Beach healthcare facility wrote recently. “The patients have really enjoyed them throughout this very difficult global pandemic. I feel it’s been so helpful for patients and it allows them to free their mind to color and not have to think about anything else. Thanks again and your kindness is much appreciated.”