Chudney Ross is many things – a gifted writer, nurturing teacher, energetic TV host, and a progressive-minded entrepreneur. But her passion is her advocacy of children and charitable causes. Chudney’s latest venture, Books and Cookies in Santa Monica, CA provides an innovative space for children to learn and have fun. After graduating from Georgetown University with a double major in English and Fine Arts, Chudney became a teacher in inner city Washington D.C. and Los Angeles public school systems. There she saw first hand the profound effect of books on children’s development, creativity and imagination. As an advocate for all children’s charitable causes, Chudney lends much of her time to mentoring underprivileged children in art, reading and writing. As Diana Ross’ youngest daughter, a former model and TV host, Chudney Ross is not content to rest on her laurels but instead chooses to use her talents and skills to give back. Contributing writer Nancy Cost interviews this month’s Guest Curator, Chudney Ross.
What’s the story behind your new children’s chapter book series Bean’s Books?
Bean is the incarnation of a younger, more precocious version of me as a kid. She is a funny, charismatic character that I think kids of all ages will relate to and enjoy. As a kid, I always loved to read and get lost in the pages of a book. I was shy and quiet, but had a keen eye for my surroundings and a playful take on the world.
What will the illustrations be like?
I was an art major in college, so I fancy myself a bit of an artist. My focus in college; however was nude drawings… probably not appropriate for children! HA! My hope is for the illustrations to be hip, fun with more of a comic book feel and nothing too babyish. Sadly, the publishers do not allow me to choose the artist for the illustrations.
You are opening a new reading, activity and bakery space for children in Santa Monica, CA. How did that idea evolve for you?
Just like the character in my books, I have spent many years exploring my options and trying to find my place in the world. I have many talents and passions. I’ve been a teacher, writer, model, producer and TV host, but I actually never thought of myself as a businesswoman. My friend Mary Giuliani and I were talking one day about how we could work together (she owns a catering and events company in NYC) and we came up with Books and Cookies to mesh my love and knowledge of books and writing and her love of food and experience in business. It has been a long exciting process building this business together and it is super exciting to see it finally coming together in Santa Monica.
You’ve worked with children for a long time and you know them well – what role would you like to see art play in a child’s life?
Art is so important for children of all ages. It’s something everyone can succeed at and do well. There is no right or wrong. It is a way to express feeling and emotions that are hard to sometimes put into words. It is a beautiful way for children to find their voice and tell a story.
Tell us about your experience mentoring underprivileged children in art?
I have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful charitable organizations. I am a huge advocate for all children’s causes. Most recently, I worked with Children Mending Hearts writing letters to the president with homeless children from LA to NYC to Las Vegas. Many of the kids struggled with reading and writing, but they were all excited to share their stories and view of the world through art and words. These children’s strength told through stories, pictures and notes to the president were moving, emotional and raw. I feel forever changed by my experience with these kids.
You studied fine art, what’s your medium?
My focus was drawing though I have dabbled in some painting and mixed medium collage. The project I am most proud of was a series of drawings in pencil of hugs and embraces, in which I used poetry (my own and also famous poetry) to frame each piece. These days, I never seem to have time to draw, but I would like to get back to it one day soon.
What was the first piece of art you bought?
The first piece of art I ever bought was a painting by a street artist in New York City. As a passed, I was moved by the flow of the paint strokes and the colors. It evoked a sense of calm in me – even on the busy streets of NYC.
Have you ever purchased artwork online?
Not yet, but after checking out Zatista, I’m going to get shopping!
What’s hanging on your walls at home?
Mostly photographs of family and friends or paintings by my boyfriend and me. One of my favorites a three-piece canvas with birds on wire that I have in front of a window in my bedroom. I love that there are always birds on the wires when I look outside.
What are some of your favorite children’s books?
I love, love, love picture books! But, my all time favorites are by Shel Silverstein. His poems are funny and thought provoking (Where The Sidewalk Ends, A Light In The Attic) and his stories moving and meaningful (The Giving Tree, The Missing Piece).
Favorite children’s books illustrations?
Eric Carle’s books have beautiful art and great stories. I always use The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Busy Spider for story times. The pictures draw in the kids.
Favorite grown up book at the moment?
I rarely have time to read these days but I enjoy Chelsea Handler’s books (Are you there God it’s Me Chelsea, Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang). As a business owner, I think everyone should read The Tipping Point. It was inspirational and motivational.
What tips can you give our readers for creating an inspiring environment for kids at home?
I think the most important thing is to create a safe environment, where kids are encouraged to express themselves openly. Parents can nurture kids’ creativity, by making it fun, praising the creative process and never criticizing or pushing their opinion on it. Coloring books are to be colored outside of the lines. If we criticize the scribble and push them to stay in the lines, how can their creativity blossom?
What would our readers be surprised to know about you?
I think when people meet me they are surprised that I am a normal, low-key, hard working girl. As Diana Ross’s daughter people expect a snotty, self-absorbed diva. I am proud of the humble, kind, caring woman I have grown into.