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Students write books to cope with struggles

June 23, 2011

By KIM BARTO -

Four Patrick Henry Elementary School students going through difficult times recently wrote books that they hope will help other children in similar situations.

Fifth-grader Tiffany Wright has written and illustrated “Me and My Sister” about her twin’s diagnosis in October with a rare, incurable disease, and the book has caught the attention of a national foundation. Tiffany’s book discusses the turbulent emotions she went through after her sister, Victoria, was diagnosed in October with juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM).

JDM an autoimmune disorder that affects only three out of every 1 million children. It causes the body to attack its own cells and tissues, causing extreme fatigue and weak, painful muscles that make normal activities difficult. Victoria uses a wheelchair and is extremely sensitive to the sun.

“I wrote it about me and my sister, and about my feelings,” Tiffany said of the book, with the hope that it “will help other children to understand.”

The Cure JM Foundation “was very excited to hear about it,” said guidance counselor Nancy Clark, who worked with Tiffany on the book for several months. The foundation asked for a copy to be sent “so that other siblings of children with JDM can read it and identify with it,” she said.

“It feels good,” Tiffany said of finishing the project. “I never thought I would write a book.”

Near the beginning of the book, she writes, “We used to do a lot together. Then, things changed.”

The story illustrates the sadness, anger, frustration, fear and other feelings Tiffany experiences as she tries to cope. By the end, she realizes, “I can’t fix my sister’s problem, but … I can laugh and joke with her. I can cry with her. I can push her wheelchair. I can help her,” and other ideas. It ends with suggestions to help other children cope.

“Feelings aren’t right or wrong. It’s what you do with them,” Tiffany said.

Writing about them was helpful, she said. She even stayed after school voluntarily with Clark on an early release day to work on the book.

With nearly half of all marriages in the United States ending in divorce, children with divorced parents have plenty of company, but that doesn’t make the experience any easier. Three fifth-grade boys who have experienced divorce worked together to write “Troubles and Struggles,” with advice and encouragement for other children.

Chris Owen, Daniel Paey and Sutton Garrahan met with Clark almost every Friday during the school year and wrote the text together. Daniel did most of the drawing, Chris colored most of it, and “Sutton’s the idea man,” Chris said.

"Writing the book was fun,” Chris said. “It helped us understand things that we really couldn’t get before.”

Kids often feel like they caused their parents’ divorce, but the boys learned that “children do not control, cause or change divorce,” Sutton said.

Writing the book and talking to one another was helpful, they said. “It let me get out the way I feel,” said Daniel.

“They have been phenomenal,” Clark said of the boys. “They’ve been so supportive of each other and have really helped each other.”

“All of us lost something” due to divorce, Chris said. In the book, they listed the changes divorce can bring: less money, parents moving away, having to find a new place to live, leaving friends and relatives, and not getting to see one parent as often.

However, they learned, “If something bad happens, something good usually comes out of it,” Chris said.

“You’ve got to go through a lot of ugly before it gets pretty,” Sutton said he learned.

Daniel said he wants other children to know, “It might be bad at first, but once it’s gone on for a while, it might start to get better. It means no more arguing, no more fighting.”

He added he hopes the book “will really help them understand the meaning of divorce, going through all the troubles and struggles.”

The book lets readers know that it’s OK to be sad or angry. The boys wrote about the importance of taking care of yourself when going through a tough time, with suggestions such as having good friends to talk to or using a punching bag when you feel upset.

Chris said he likes the page that reads, “My parents don’t live together, but they still love me.”

“I like every page,” Sutton said.

Tiffany, Chris, Sutton and Daniel are going on to middle school this fall, but they have left their books in the Patrick Henry Elementary library collection for other students to read.

Editor’s note: Kim Barto is community outreach and grants coordinator for Martinsville Public Schools.




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