VML Made a Not-for-Children Children’s Book Based on Tragic Stories From Inner-City Youth

Award-winning campaign for Youth Ambassadors

Headshot of Tim Nudd

The violence and desperation that inner-city youth experience regularly isn’t relatable to Americans who live more privileged lives. So, to shine a light on the problem, VML in Kansas City chose an eminently relatable medium—the children’s book—to tell inner-city children’s real-life experiences of drug abuse, violence and hunger.

“Welcome to My Neighborhood,” created for the Youth Ambassadors program, was designed to look exactly like a regular children’s book—same size, illustration style and design elements. But it quickly became clear that the bedroom stories were more like nightmares.

The three stories in the book were true, related by kids in their own words. “It was a book written by children, yet not suitable for children,” VML says. The agency sent the book to policymakers, funders and media outlets, asking them to donate time, money and power to put an end to these kinds of stories.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the stories, “My Big Brothers.”

VML says the campaign received more than 50 million earned impressions from 30 different media outlets, and got large companies Cerner, UnitedHealthcare and Children’s Mercy Hospital interested in funding Youth Ambassadors.

The work won a gold Lion and a silver Lion in Design at Cannes last week, as well as a silver and bronze in Print & Publishing. It was also shortlisted for the Grand Prix for Good.

The stories were also made into short videos:

Download the full book here (PDF link).

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.