Jan. 28, 2020-- JoAnn Nocera excitedly opens a binder full of pictures and projects she’s accumulated over the years of her life as a mother, teacher, and, now, the supervisor of instruction at East Dover Elementary School. “How do I explain to people my life as a creative person?” she asks rhetorically with a laugh.
It’s a different book, however, that Nocera hopes will explain her life as a creative force, and inspire students and parents alike to unlock their own creative potential. Give Me Back My Crayons, Nocera’s debut novel through Inspired Girl Books, will publish Feb. 25.
As supervisor at East Dover, and in collaboration with Principal Matt Gray and a uniquely engaged staff, Nocera has helped forge the school’s identity as an arts-infused, high-energy, collaborative and creative environment that fosters imagination at every turn. One need only approach the school’s entrance to notice how art inspires its mission, from painted fence slats that line the entryway, to a magnificently vibrant outdoor mural, to hallways lined with student projects and decorated classroom doors. The school’s Seeds of Inspiration project extended arts and science from indoors to outdoors; its grant-funded sensory room merges art with social-emotional learning; and EDE has been the site for several arts-based initiatives including MindALIGNED and NEA Big Read.
The school and Nocera’s creative pedigree is undeniable, but how did a book come about?
While attending the SOAR (Seize Opportunity and Rise) Conference to inspire women, Nocera met Jenn Tuma-Young, founder of Inspired Girl Books, an independent publishing company. They “found each other,” says Nocera, and clicked instantly. The two got to talking, and connected again after the conference, speaking about their backgrounds, personal and professional aspirations, and experiences.
“Stories were just pouring out of her,” said Tuma-Young, “and I said, ‘You can spread this passion to others.’” With that, a book was born, although Nocera never expected to emerge a published author. Which may play in her favor.
“I’ve found that oftentimes the best books are written by people who don’t consider themselves to be authors,” said Tuma-Young.
And what about the catchy title?
As Nocera was reliving her creative and educational experiences, and lamenting the trend of technology replacing more traditional hands-on activities, “she literally said, ‘Give me back my crayons!’” said Tuma-Young.
Speaking of those crayons, Nocera says that her earliest creative moments involved crayons, but they’re really just a vehicle to the idea that creating can involve any medium and any activity-- sewing, knitting, photography, cooking … anything. That is the overarching theme of her book.
“The book is really about coming to an awareness of who you are-- whether you’re a child or an adult-- and unlocking your creative potential, and giving yourself permission to let it come out,” Nocera said.
The book’s chapters honor these themes. “Process Over Product,” “Put the Phone Away,” and “Be Present, Not Perfect” reflect the reality that creativity, and life itself, can be messy. And that’s OK. A requirement, even, to unleashing one’s full creative potential.
“Unless you’re willing to go into the mess,” said Nocera, “then creativity will be limited.”
Creative-minded people-- that is, the book argues, everyone-- can pre-order Give Me Back My Crayons before it's available at outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble in mid-February. The author will be hosting a book launch in Asbury Park Feb. 25 (more to come in the following weeks), and those interested in hosting Nocera for a speaking engagement, author visit, or workshop can contact Tuma-Young through the InspiredGirlBooks website.
As she embarks on the release of her first book, Nocera’s creative impulses already have her moving forward. Her next project is a children’s book series about a character named Katherine Grace, who is not very graceful at all. Yet another example, in book form, of JoAnn Nocera’s life as a creative person. Stay tuned.