On Monday, April 3, award-winning author, singer, and songwriter, Joni Klein-Higger, put on a show in the Student Center for PreK-5th grade students.
Joni is the author of several children’s books, including the Creative Child Magazine Book Award Winner Rainbow of Friendship, which she read for our students. She is also a songwriter and playwright, having written several musicals designed to be performed by children, and her song “Buckle Up Those Seatbelts” was a 2016 USA Songwriting Competition Finalist. She even writes for older audiences, and her song, “Keep On Loving You”, which she co-wrote with Sandy McKnight, can be heard in Ash Christian’s 2012 feature film, “Petunia”.
For the performances, the grades came in groups of two; PreK and Kindergarten were first, followed by First Grade (the smallest group), Second and Third grades, and Fourth and Fifth grades last. For each performance, Joni started with her song “Friendship,” to which the younger students sang along. They even knew the chorus in sign language, taught to them by Upper School student Michael Citrano ‘19. “I love it when the kids know my songs,” Joni said. “When they perform my musicals, I always try to go and see them.”
After her song, Joni asked the students to close their eyes and think of what makes them special, then shout it out. The exercise was meant to show the students that each person in the room is special and unique. She then read Rainbow of Friendship, a story about a girl who lives in a red world visiting a town called Rainbow Row City and meeting new friends, each of a different color and shape and each special in their own way.
Rainbow of Friendship was a labor of love. Joni first started writing it 17 years ago when her daughter was working on a literature badge in her Girl Scout troop. They had to order the blank books in bulk, so they had two extra. She and the other scout leader decided to make their own books as well. She took inspiration from the Girl Scout Troop itself, a group of ten girls from different states, with different hobbies and interests. She’d never fancied herself a writer before, but she found that she loved writing children’s books. She joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and they helped her work on her craft from there, including many revisions and edits. Ten years later, Rainbow of Friendship was published.
Joni has written several books since then. Working with Dr. Flora Zaken Greenberg, a child psychologist, she has published two books, one picture book called I Have A Voice about a girl who is afraid to speak, and a middle-grade novel called Coby Ryan Harris Is Officially Fat, about a boy who overcomes issues including childhood obesity, bullying, girls, and divorce. She also wrote a picture book about counting called Ten Tzedakah Pennies, about a boy who gets to share ten pennies with his family.
Rainbow of Friendship is close to her heart, though. “It’s so important, especially now, to celebrate diversity,” Joni said. “It’s the perfect timing for me to go around to schools to promote that. And each grade level learns it in different ways. I love teaching them all.”
To learn more about Joni’s music, plays, and books, visit her website at www.joniworld.com.
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