Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 12/06/2020 – Bri Smocks is a passionate educator and Editor in Chief of Levi & Toonk LLC. Her company provides a board book series chronicling the developmental milestones and experiences of her two-year-old son as he grows into a young man. Levi & Toonk LLC caters primarily to gifted children of color in the lower elementary grades, but their books are suitable for all young children in promoting early literacy. Bri was named Future Inspiring Woman of the Southwest and earned Levi & Toonk LLC recognition as a top 100 business in FedEx’s 2020 Small Business Grant Contest.
LEVI & TOONK promotes a love of literature for all with a special emphasis on gifted children of color. Tell us about your company.
We are a Black-owned, women-owned, mother-daughter duo self-publishing a biographical board book series following the life of a Black boy as he navigates his identity and asserts his voice. We promote early literacy through our unconventional presentation: combining educational standards, humorous stories, and relevant social themes. Additionally, we have curated free vocabulary lists for each book which break down the challenging words. My mother authors the series and we are joint co-owners of the LLC.
Your biographical board book series chronicling the life experiences of your son as he grows into adulthood, the narration is socially conscious, engaging, and comical. Tell us about the stories.
My three-year-old son Levi is the muse for our brand and each collection is joined by a thematic set of events that have occurred (or will occur) in his development. Toonk is Levi’s voice of reason who shows up as an imaginary friend but represents Levi’s inner consciousness. Through our collaboration, my mother and I have made profound concepts easy to comprehend. The stories are universal and an authentic representation of our culture. We explore many life happenings such as: appreciating the love of one’s family, understanding appropriate social behavior, learning common rules of interacting with others, valuing and uplifting cultural traditions, and reflecting on the usual milestones which many children experience. Overall, we have created our own niche which does not conform to anyone’s standard of writing. For example, we not only utilize end rhymes, but we employ internal and slant rhymes as well. We combine short, choppy sentences with more detailed and varied sentence structures. We are carving out our own lanes with not only the true-to-life stories but with its delivery as well.
What has Levi taught you?
Levi has taught me about natural human behavior and curiosity. Humans are innately confident and sure of themselves, but somehow the world conditions us to think and behave differently.
Levi is so unapologetic about his personhood that he exudes energy and a pleasurable disposition representative of that. I have learned to become more flexible and less rigid in my own life because of Levi’s innocent abandon and joy.
What is your vision for the future?
A few years from now, sooner if given the opportunity, we intend to shop an animated series for major networks that correspond to the books. Our characters are so full of life that we hope to translate them into a medium that is sometimes more accessible than physical books, given the digital age in which we live. Brand expansion is a part of our long-term goals as well, so the first non-literary product we plan to add to our offerings is Levi & Toonk t-shirts. In the coming years, we would also like to add bags, growth charts, and other kid-friendly items to match the themes of each collection.
What is your hope for the board book series?
My hope for the series is that we have staying power like the classics Junie. B. Jones, Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, The Babysitters Club, and other elementary/middle school favorites. On the surface, we hope to have a place in the hearts of families no matter their background. But moving more deeply, we want to represent our culture well and provide a beneficial resource to enrich a child’s curriculum. From my experiences as an educator and several years of professional training, I am vividly aware of the struggles Black and brown students face. Their schools are disproportionately funded, and they are not always given appropriate or updated learning materials. With Levi & Toonk targeting gifted children of color, we hope to inspire children whose potential is often overlooked due to their geographic location and/or economic status.
Share what is next for LEVI & TOONK in 2021.
In 2021, we plan to release our second collection, The Terrible Twos. The series is currently in creative development and will be sent off to production as soon as we generate enough revenue. On December 12th, 2020, our works will be featured and turned into a live performance at the Yale School of Drama’s Black Theater Festival. We are beyond grateful and honored to have a platform in which to share our work with the masses.