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Teacher’s book helps children understand cancer

Teacher’s book helps children understand cancer
October 30
00:00 2014
(pictured above:  Jen-Ai Childress reads from her debut book.)
Jen-Ai Childress holds her debut book.

Jen-Ai Childress holds her debut book.

Cook Elementary School teacher Jen-Ai Childress has penned her first children’s book. It’s about the very difficult subject of breast cancer.

In the recently-released “London Giselle Hall presents My Beautiful Mommy,” the title character is a kindergartener who has to explain to her classmates why her mother has a shiny bald head. She tells them her mom is still beautiful, even without hair.

“Mommy says cancer is when things just keep growing in your body that shouldn’t be there,” London tells her classmates.

Childress read the book to Cook’s student body on Oct. 16 as she sat in a rocking chair labeled “The Author’s Chair.” The chair is normally used by her own students when they read something they have written in her classroom.  She told them that the story had a deeply personal meaning.

“My best friend in the whole wide world has cancer,” she said.

A photo of Melody Whitaker Hall is displayed.

A photo of Melody Whitaker Hall is displayed.

That friend is Melody Whitaker Hall, whom she met while attending Bennett College. Hall was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She fought it into remission, but it aggressively returned in 2010. Hall has Stage Four cancer; the disease has spread to other parts of her body and is incurable. In 2013, she was given 18-24 months to live.

Childress and Hall’s other Bennett classmates take turns taking Hall to chemotherapy. She said they are amazed by her courage.

She wrote the book in collaboration with Hall, who signed off on the story and the illustrations by California artist Eman Faulkner.

Hall, who lives in Gastonia, has a five-year-old daughter, Lauryn Hall, who Childress says has been courageous through her mother’s ordeal. Childress wrote the book for Lauryn and other courageous children.

“The kids are the ones that are the silent sufferers after their parents are gone,” she said.

Childress plans to write a series of books that will follow London though her mother’s struggle, including titles that will show how she copes after her mother passes away. Her next book will be entitled “Kids Wear Pink Too.” It is a character education workbook for children whose parents have breast cancer. She plans to use proceeds from book sales to start a non-profit that will give scholarships to students at black colleges whose parents have had breast cancer.

Childress lost her own mother to colon cancer in 2010 and said writing has been  therapeutic. By design, she released “London Giselle Hall presents My Beautiful Mommy,” in October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Childress’ fellow Cook educators are impressed with her debut book. Khedeja Evans, who, like Childress, teaches kindergarten, introduced her during the assembly, saying that last year, during a similar gathering with a visiting writer, Childress turned to her and said she was going to write a book.

Evans said that teachers on the kindergarten team have seen her go through every step of the process in the book’s creation and are so proud they want to “squeeze her every day.”

Assistant Principal Cindy Rash poses with teacher/author Jen-Ai Childress and Principal Chris Massenburg.

Assistant Principal Cindy Rash poses with teacher/author Jen-Ai Childress and Principal Chris Massenburg.

During the assembly, things came full circle, as Childress became the visiting author.
“This is more than just an author who is coming to talk to us today,” Evans told the children. “This is someone who we see every day who is showing us we can be whoever we want to be.”

Cook Principal Chris Massenburg said he, too, was proud of what Childress has  accomplished.
“She’s a great example for the kids here of what we’re trying to promote: kids reaching their full potential,” he said.

For more information, or to order the books, visit musabooksllc.wix.com/kidswearpinktoo1.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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