When Tony LiFonti and Chicago Bears veteran Charles "Peanut" Tillman began co-authoring a children's book series, they knew they wanted to provide positive lessons for kids.
"The books are about children who find themselves in everyday situations where they need a little bit of guidance," said LiFonti, an English teacher at Glenbard North High School and a Glenbard East alumnus. "Through experiencing the negative aspects of a situation, they are able to grow."
Sixty percent of profits from the series will be donated to Tillman's "Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation," which offers opportunities and resources to local children and their families in need.
Tillman, a cornerback for Chicago since 2003, is widely known for his charitable contributions. Last Saturday, Tillman received the 2014 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, which recognizes a player each year for community service off the field.
"Charles does a lot," LiFonti said. "It's a positive for the foundation."
LiFonti, who also coaches wrestling and football at Glenbard North, began collaborating with Tillman about two-and-a-half years ago after discussing the idea with him during an annual celebrity flag football game.
The main character of each book is an adolescent bear, and the theme and settings tie closely to the time of year. The first book, "The Story of Snowy Bear and the Lost Scarf," was published in December 2013 and follows Snowy Bear as he searches in vain for his missing scarf.
When the protagonist reacts poorly to the situation, it's Snowy Bear's parents who help him grow from the experience.
"I think what makes this series different is the parental involvement with the bears as they work through problems," LiFonti said. "There's always a parent to help guide them."
The second volume of the five-book series, "Pirate Bear and the Treasure Hunt," will be released March 1.
To illustrate the books, LiFonti's friend, Lincoln-Way Central art teacher Paul Faris, recommended Gabrielle Esposito, a former student he taught at Lincoln-Way East High School. Esposito, a 2013 graduate of the American Academy of Art, had the perfect style for what the authors were trying to accomplish, LiFonti said.
"It was really exciting," Esposito said. "I'm given the script and I always start with little pencil sketches to get my ideas down of what the page should look like. From there, I figure out the color pallet, transfer it to a big board and paint them using water colors."
Esposito is currently working on illustrations for the third book in the series, she said.
The feedback LiFonti has received has been good, he said, adding that a majority of the promotional work has been done on social media and through Tillman's apperances on sports radio. The praise extended to Germany, where a fourth-grade English teacher has been using the first book to teach her class.
Using his writing skills to create something beneficial for the community is special, LiFonti said.
"It's bringing awareness to the foundation and all the good it does," he said. "It is a positive way to make people aware and contribute to a cause where they get something positive in return."
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Book release dates
March 1: "The Story of Pirate Bear and the Treasure Hunt"
July 1: "The Story of Beach Bear and the Sandcastle"
Oct. 1: "The Story of Scary Bear and the Pumpkin Patch"
Feb. 1, 2015: "The Story of Lovie Bear and the Valentine’s Day Card"
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For more information on the book series, visit www.corner33bearbooks.com.