UPPER WEST SIDE — A dad is hoping to capture the playful, inclusive and cooperative nature of the Burning Man festival in a children's book he's publishing this fall.
Upper West Sider Peter Armenia decided that the photos he's taken over the past seven years of attending the weeklong festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert would captivate children.
His forthcoming "Burning Man: The World's Biggest Playground" is the first book on the topic geared specifically towards children, explained the dad, who has scoured stores and the Internet for others.
While many people may balk at the idea of teaching kids about Burning Man, the West 109th Street resident hopes the book will open people's eyes to the true spirit and family-friendly side of the experience.
"I want to bring this to people's attention... and to change the perception that this is just a hippie drug fest," he said. "It’s much more than that."
There have been children present at Burning Man since its inception on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, Armenia said.
There was debate over whether kids should be allowed at all when the festival grew in popularity during the 1990s, but the organizers ultimately decided everyone should be welcome, he said.
In recent years, there's even been a whole area devoted to kids and families called "Kidsville Camp," Armenia added.
At the same time, there's an S&M camp. Those activities aren't out in the open, he said.
It's true that "there’s drugs, if people want to do that... and there’s sex and wacky stuff, all that’s there," he acknowledged. "But like any vibrant city, it’s behind closed doors."
While this will be the first Burning Man children's book Armenia has published, it's not the first he's created, he said.
For the past few years, Armenia has made board books and picture books for his now 4-year-old daughter Veronica to teach her about where her mom and dad jet off to each year in late August.
Armenia, a professional photographer, and his wife Gretchen Hanser, a special-needs educator, love the festival so much that they decided to get married there in 2010. This year, they're taking the next step by bringing their daughter along for the first time.
The couple is taking precautions in terms of the hot desert climate and the supplies they will need, but they're not worried about what Veronica will encounter.
In fact, they're excited.
"[Burning Man is] a wonderful place for children to roam and explore in a place where they’re not always told 'No,'" Armenia said.
The photos in "Burning Man: The World's Biggest Playground" illustrate the playful spirit and kid-friendly imagery of the festival — from a giant shark that's actually a vehicle and a wolf sculpture people can climb on, to festival-goers in all manner of costumes and dress.
"Burning Man is this zone where men walk around in kilts and tutus — the gender roles are more fluid," added Armenia, noting that the message is "be yourself."
The book also explores the core values of Burning Man, including self reliance, civic mindedness, cooperation, acceptance and inclusion, as well as respect for the environment and people around you, he said.
While Armenia and Hanser are in the midst of planning how to build a bigger yurt for their family of three to stay in this year, they're also keeping their eyes on a Kickstarter page launched to raise money for the book before the festival kicks off on Aug. 30.
They're hoping to collect $9,000 to cover the costs of publishing and, as of Wednesday, they'd already raised more than $6,300.
Armenia is open to using a traditional publishing house in the future, but for now he wants to take the project on himself, selling copies on Kickstarter and through his website, as well as giving some away.
As for how the festival will go, Veronica's expectations are very high, he said.
"I’m cautiously optimistic," Armenia said.