book vending machines, diversity, eifrig publishing, environmentalism, inclusion, indie books, Laura Schaeffer, literacy, Penny Smith Eifrig, Random Acts of Reading, STEAM, world cultures

Random Acts of Reading

Image of Penny Smith Eifrig, publisher of Eifrig Publishing and co-founder of ROAR, random acts of reading. Penny has long brown hair and is wearing glasses on top of her head as she stands before one of the book vending machines.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Penny Smith Eifrig, the founder of Eifrig Publishing and the co-founder of RoAR, Random Acts of Reading, along with Laura Schaeffer.

Penny, a true innovator whose efforts have consistently focused on encouraging literacy, diversity, inclusiveness, ecology, and community, has introduced an exciting way to promote reading in schools. Instead of students getting candy or chips from the vending machine, they can get books. How cool is that!

Below is my interview with Penny. Within it, she discusses RoAR, the book vending machines, and her initiatives to encourage literacy for all.

Q&A with Penny Smith Eifrig:

1. Penny, what sparked the idea for RoAR?

I founded RoAR almost a decade ago with one of my authors at Eifrig Publishing, Laura Schaeffer because we wanted to help facilitate more author events and access to books in underserved schools—but we never really were able to find a way to set it in motion. A few years ago, I was thinking about ways to support indie authors and publishers who were creating important content from the bottom up—meaning diverse books that originated from a sense of urgency in stories the authors needed to share with their own children, rather than filling a quota mandated from the top down in the big publishing houses. Then I woke up suddenly early in the morning on April 3, 2022, when my quiet mind must have been putting all the pieces together, and spilled out the concept for the Golden Ticket to Literacy and book vending machines into my cell phone. The next day I started the new website with a concept that provided a vessel for all of the ideas that had been swirling in my mind over the years of the pandemic, that combined an exciting literacy program for kids with diverse and inclusive books by indie authors.

2. How has your idea for RoAR develop into a reality?  

It has been a full-time endeavor (next to my “real” work as a publisher and translator) as I collect titles from amazing indie authors and publishers from around the world. While I sometimes feel like I am not making much headway, on other days I see how developed the concept now is, and how functional it is as well, with our first pilot school having an amazing experience with their vending machine. 

3. How did you come up with the concept of a book vending machine?  

I had supplied books for a book vending machine for a school in 2022, so I had seen the concept. When I woke up with the Golden Ticket idea, I immediately reached out to Global Vending Group, the company that created the book vending machines. They were excited to hear of my plans, as many schools who had initially purchased the machines were having a hard time keeping them stocked with good books, as it was so time-consuming and expensive to find the right titles.

4. What types of genres will be housed within the book vending machines?

Our indie-published books include representation in diversity, neuro-diversity, inclusive families, multi-lingual families, world cultures, STEAM and environmental books.

5. I understand that instead of coins, the vending machines operate through tokens that the students place into the machine. How do students earn those tokens? 

That is up to each school. Many schools already have incentives for positive learning and social behaviors, so this works great with that. At our pilot school in Centre Hall, PA, when kids earn 75 of their “Ram Stars” or earn the title of “student of the month” in their classrooms, they receive a token. 

6. Once the student places the token in the machine, besides getting the literacy snack they want, what can or what might happen?

In our pilot school, in addition to the much sought-after Golden Ticket, there are coupons for lots of other fun prizes, like Stinky Feet Day for the whole class (shoes optional), getting to wear a hat all day, getting the principal’s chair to sit in for the day, or getting to have lunch at a special table with 3 friends up on the cafeteria stage. But the big prize is the Golden Ticket, which wins an author event for the whole school and a book for every child.

7. How does a student find a golden ticket?

It is a surprise to be found taped to the inside cover of a book in the machine. 

8. Describe to us what happens, once a student finds the golden ticket?

The school sets up either an in-person or virtual visit with the author of the book containing the golden ticket. (The ticket includes a QR code that announces the prize). Before the visit, EVERY child in the age-appropriate grades for the book receives a free book (not just the kids who can afford to buy a book, like at most author events). This is an important part of the equity aspect of the whole program.

A free book for every child, not only the golden ticket winner! That’s fantastic!

9. How can schools or organizations get involved? What are the steps?

Check out the website at to find out more and then reach out to get started.

10. If people are interested in supporting RoAR, how can they go about doing that?

We recently started a gofundme page to help us get launched. So if folks want to support us in getting books that provide representation for all kids, please consider making a donation!

11. I understand you want to engage children to create and write their own stories through RoAR. How do you plan to do that?

We are hoping that schools will encourage kids to submit their poetry created during special units, as well as picture books and stories they create. We are still in the developmental stages of a writing workshop that kids can apply to join and then write a picture book together as a group. 

12.   What are your future hopes for RoAR?

I am hoping we double the number of machines going into schools every two months (we need to start slowly so we can grow at a sustainable pace), but I hope that by 2025 we have the numbers to really make the program fly (large quantity print runs will make the entire project be sustainable while providing books at a great discount to schools).

For those who are interested here are the social media links for RoAR as well as its website:

Penny, thanks so much for stopping by to let us know about your fabulous efforts to promote diversity, inclusion and literacy through ROAR, the golden ticket, book vending machines!

book giveaways, Cleo's Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards!, early chapter books, eifrig publishing, Janice Milusich, Jennifer Ball, STEM

And the Winners of Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards! Big Giveaway are . . .

The winners are Vacen Taylor, @vacentaylor and Katie Sue, @ktsuereviews. Both were likes on instagram. A special thank you to Jennifer Ball’s daughter Emma Jane for choosing the winners!

Vacen Taylor

We will be sending each of you a signed copy of the book!

Thank you everyone for entering our giveaway!

We appreciate all the likes and shares for Cleo’s Big Ideas!

2020, book giveaways, books, chapter books, children's books, early chapter books, eifrig publishing, Janice Milusich, Jennifer Ball, STEM, support an author

Book Giveaway: Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards!

art and design created by Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball and I are excited to announce our newest book about Cleopatra W. Darby, Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards! published by Eifrig Publishing. Jennifer and I would like to offer a signed copy to two lucky winners. All you have to do to enter our giveaway is to leave a comment at the end of this blog, reblog, tweet, or share on Facebook/Instagram with a link.

Each time you share on any or all of these platforms you gain an additional chance to win. Let us know how and where you share, so we place the right amount of tickets into Cleo’s hat for you. All entries must be submitted by 11:59 PM EST on Friday, September 25, 2020. The drawing will be held on Saturday, September 26th. Winners will be posted on Monday, September 28, 2020.

Sharing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and reblogging are great ways to help to spread the word for a new book. Jennifer and I appreciate all the help you can offer!

Book Description:

In Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards!, it’s back to school time for Cleo and her friends, Albert and Sara. Cleo is less than excited about it. She wanted Winston, her pet tortoise, to go to school with her, but without his E. E. W. (Eco-Enviro-Warmer) in working order he’ll have to stay home. And what’s worse, Cleo’s found out that Ms. Mason (who’s never liked any one of Cleo’s big ideas) is going to be her teacher for this term. The only thing good about being in Ms. Mason’s class is that Sara is in the same class.

When Ms. Mason announces a contest for school mascot, Cleo’s begins to feel things might get better. Winston is a shoe-in to win, so Cleo thinks, though he’s up against some tough competition: Kim’s Persian kitten, Tiffany and Emmies’ hamster, King Richard.

But all thoughts of the contest are put on hold when, Albert, who has been tracking space junk on NASA TV, announces that he’s spotted incoming junk headed straight for Humble Elementary.

Even though a group of scientists from NASA have set up a space junk deflector base right in Humble Elementary, Cleo, Albert and Sara figure it’s a good idea to have a plan B, so they put their heads and inventions together and create Winston II, a rocketing robotic recycler. Will their plan B be needed? Will Winston II work?

“Zowie!” says Cleo. “Read the book to find out!”

Between chapters there’s fun DIY activities like making your own owl spectacles, creating a binary birthday bracelet and more . . .

Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upward! can be ordered at as well as on amazon

If you have any questions for Jennifer or myself, you can contact us at:

Janice Milusich: Website: , Twitter: @JMilusich, Instagram:@janmilusich, FB: @JanMilusich

Jennifer Ball: Website:, Twitter:@JenBallArt, Instagram:@Jenballkidlit, FB: @JenniferBallillustrator

2020, books, children's books, early chapter books, eifrig publishing, illustration, interview, Jennifer Ball, Long Island Writers and Illustrators, STEM, The Art League of Long Island

Meet Illustrator, Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball is an illustrator based in New York. The first book she illustrated, Cleo’s Big Ideas: One Thing Leads to Another, was published by Eifrig Publishing 2016. She has gone on to publish her second book about Cleo with Eifrig this year.

You did a fantastic job creating the characters and art for Cleo’s Big Ideas. Would you share your process?

Whenever I’m creating a character, I think about the characters’ personality and how that type of person/animal/object would probably choose to wear his/her/it’s hair and what type of clothing they would choose to wear, etc. For Cleo, since she was named after Cleopatra, I definitely wanted to incorporate some form of the choppy bob of the Egyptian queen. I then researched famous female scientists, and found many had some form of curly, slightly unkempt hair, like they were focusing more of their energy on their work then their outward appearance, hence this is how Cleo’s messy bob was born. Since she came from a more urban environment, I decided to have a slightly more eclectic, fashion forward style with the thigh high chucks (I LOVE Converse sneakers!) and blue cat eye glasses. The denim vest was my version of a modern/hip lab coat. The tie was to offset the fedora and a more “stereotypically male” clothing item. Funny note: the plus and division signs in her glasses came from the King of the Nerds reality competition show. One of the contestants had them and I thought that would be amazing for a STEM character like Cleo. For Albert, his look was based on a good friend from elementary school who always wore sneakers that seemed too big for his body and a messy bowl/crop cut. Ms Mason was based off this bitter art teacher I had in elementary school that always scowled which was emphasized by her bright red lipstick. Her only redeeming quality was her awesome chunky dangling earrings, all which was incorporated into Ms. Mason’s image. Winston II is inspired by metal trash cans, you know the kind that Oscar the Grouch lived in. Everyone else are composites of people I’ve either seen on the street, in the doctor’s office, supermarket, etc…have a photographic memory for faces.

What inspired you to seek a degree in art?

I’ve had a love of art since a very young age, probably because my dad went to school for art as well and I used to love going into his office and going through his library of art books and comic books looking at all the pictures. First I wanted to be a creature creator for Jim Henson, then an animator for Disney and finally landed on Graphic Design because my practical high school self knew that if I wanted to peruse either fine art or illustration professionally that I needed stellar marketing materials and if I could do my own, I’d save on overhead costs.

Where did you go for your degree(s)?

I earned my BFA in Visual Communication Design from the Hartford Art School in Connecticut.

What type of work did you do after college?

I was one of the lucky few to get work almost right out of college, worked at a department store for literally like 2 or 3 weeks before I got the call to design marketing materials for a fashion eyewear company. It was a good thing too, because I was horrible at the cash register – literally pretended every day was my first day because I was that bad! After the eyewear company, I worked for a food company for several years on all different things like logo design, menu design, event graphics, vehicle graphics, packaging, outdoor signage, food packaging…basically if it could be designed I did it lol. All this time I was working on my art every evening, every lunch break, basically any free time I had I was creating. I’ve since left that food company and have been freelancing and focusing even more intently on my art.

Did you take any children’s illustration courses?

I did take an intro to illustration course, but I kept getting really vague comments from the professor on my work like “cute” and “fun”. I was like “what does that even mean????!!!!” so after that I didn’t take another illustration course, but I did take a ton of painting courses on top of my design courses and most of my friends/roommates were illustration majors and I gleaned a ton of tips and tricks from them.

What would you say is your style?

That’s always tough, but I guess I’d say comic book quirk with a tinge of texture and sarcasm.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

The first time I created a piece of art for money was in 8th grade. I painted rocks like animals and sold them to my friends and classmates for money. I think the first rock was either painted like a panda or a tortoise, can’t  remember which.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

I had always wavered back and forth between wanting to create fine art or illustrating. It was finally one day in May of either 2009 or 2010 that I was at this crossroads trying to decide weather I should keep perusing selling my paintings or go in a different direction. So I went to an artist networking event at the Art League of Long Island and met my illustration mentor Deborah Cuneo who said I should “try children’s book illustration, you should come check out this professional group I’m a member of” and the rest is history…turned to illustration and never looked back.

What was the first book you illustrated? 

The first book I illustrated professionally for an actual publisher was the first book in the Cleo’s Big Ideas series – “Cleo’s Big Ideas: One Thing Leads to Another”

How did that project come about?

Well, I’m not sure if you remember this, but you had done a reading of the first chapter in a Long Island Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators editor’s critique meeting and I fell in love with the character and I came over to you (I think I may have given you my card) and let you know that if the book ever went into publication that I’d love to be suggested by you to illustrate, the book got picked up by Eifrig, you suggested me as the illustrator and the rest is history.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating for approximately 10 years

Do you have a special space where you work?

I have a desk in a corner of my basement that looks out through a huge egress window. It’s nice because since it’s the size of a normal window I get tons of natural light and a window out into the “wild kingdom’ of our backyard…I’ve seen cardinals take worms right out of the ground, moles trying to dig tunnels through the snow during a snowstorm and even a black cat stealing a pork chop right out of our garbage pail at night.

What is your favorite medium?

I love the digital media because of the freedom to move and edit things a little more than traditional media…sometimes I’d be working on a drawing and see that something was a little off and wished I could change it’s scale, angle etc. using my hands, with my iPad, I can do just that.

What materials or tools do you use to create your work?

I have a completely digital workspace. I’m constantly toggling back and forth between Procreate and Adobe draw on my iPad for my linework, texture and shading and then assembling and finishing the piece off in Adobe Photoshop and illustrator on my Mac. I’m constantly changing back and forth between the apple pencil and my Wacom tablet, so much so that I literally loose both every day.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I had a painting professor in college who said that you should “try to do a little creating each day and that if you stop for a day or two and don’t have an itch/longing to create then being a professional artist isn’t for you”. So I try to stick to that mantra. Being an artist and a mother of two, I have to stay disciplined in carving out time for myself to create. Right now, I’ve been planning my work schedule around when both girls are sleeping or at daycare. So I do an hour or two in the morning before they get up, an hour or two while the baby is sleeping if my daughter is at daycare/school and then several hours at night.

What are some of your career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I would love to write and illustrate my own children’s book. I’m currently working on several manuscripts that I’m hoping to start submitting soon. I’d also love to create my own stationary or fabric collections…been building a portfolio to sell art in those markets as well.

What are you working on now?

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic several of the projects I was slotted to work on were scrapped, so I’ve been using this down time to focus on honing my craft, updating my portfolio and polishing my manuscripts for submission.

Thank you Jen, for sharing your creative journey with us and for making Cleo and her cast of characters come to life via your artwork! I’m so glad we met that day!

To see more of Jen’s work, you can visit her at:

Facebook: @JenniferBallIllustrator
Instagram: @jenballkidlit

2020, amwriting, back to school, book birthday, books, children's books, children's writing, coping, Covid-10, early chapter books, eifrig publishing, flattening the curve, hope, Jennifer Ball

A Book Birthday!

It’s a day to celebrate. Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upward! has its book birthday today! This is the second book I’ve written about Cleopatra W. Darby and the second book about Cleo that Jennifer Ball has illustrated.

This has been a much anticipated sequel as it was finished prior to the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, and due to shut downs etc. it ‘s had to wait, wait, wait. But as of today, the waiting is over.


In this Cleo’s second book, it’s a start of the new school term at Humble Elementary. Cleo’s main worries are how, to get,Winston, her pet tortoise to go to school with her, and how she and Ms. Mason will get along. Ms. Mason, never a fan of Cleo’s ideas or inventions, has been assigned as Cleo’s teacher.

The term begins with excitement over the class mascot contest and the happenings on NASA TV, which the whole school is following. And just when Cleo thinks Winston might sweep the mascot contest, space junk is spotted heading straight for Humble Elementary.

Cleo wants to save the day, but she’s going to need a little help from Sara and Albert, her two best friends.

Will Cleo’s ideas be big enough to stop space junk? Winston knows but he’s not telling, not unless you speak tortoise.

If you would like to check out more about Cleo then click on the link for Cleo’s Big Ideas: Flattening the Curve!, a free ebook created by myself and put out by Eifrig Publishing.

This year has been a challenging time for children, so much of what they know has been upended and the level of stress they find themselves dealing with has increased. Through Cleo’s Big Ideas: Flattening the Curve!, its my hope children can be encouraged to come up with their own ideas, no matter the size, to help make a positive change in the world around. them.

Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.     

Dalai Lama

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