Making Critically Ill Children the Heroes of Their Own Stories

Smile Books Project is on a mission to create full-color story books for critically ill kids.

Sarah Curry Rathel had been working at nonprofits dealing  with kids with life-threatening illnesses for 15 years when she wrote a book called There’s Something Different About My Hair, donating the profits to Ronald McDonald House Charities (where she currently works). Robert Kelly illustrated that book, and both knew there was more to be done. So they met with five families at RMHC and created personalized books with the children as the heroes. They now receive frequent referrals, and in addition to full-color story books, create coloring books and posters. Their printer, Blue River Printing, is a sponsor, which allows Smile Books Project to give the families copies for free. If the family wishes, they’ll offer the books up for sale, giving all proceeds to the child’s medical needs—which has tallied up to more than $15,000 since 2016.

Photograph courtesy Lisa Greco Photography

“These kids have a lot of their independence taken away,” Rathel says. “The only thing we can do is make them realize how important they are.” The process takes about three months, and kids also receive a full-size poster of the cover art. But the heartbreaking circumstances of these books is never far from her mind. Like Kyler Bradley, Rathel’s 10-year-old neighbor who battled DIPG, an incurable form of brain cancer, who passed away before his book was finished. “It became more about his legacy,” she says. “He just didn’t want people to forget about him. [His book] got all over the United States, which I think was a really cool thing. It became more of a mission.”

Photograph courtesy Lisa Greco Photography

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