SALT LAKE CITY — Nathan Glad was sitting on the plaid couch in his home, surrounded by his siblings when he received a copy of the book he wrote, “Climbing With Tigers”. On its pages are experiences, expressions and dreams through the eyes of a little boy with a critical illness.
Nathan, a 7-year-old with brittle bone disease — a condition that has caused him to suffer about 200 bone breakages in his lifetime — was the first subject of Dallas Graham’s Red Fred Project. The project gives kids who are critically ill an opportunity to share their perspective of life and the world through children’s books that Graham and the children create together.
In the months since its inception, Nathan’s book has been published, he had his own book signing and people have stepped up to donate the funds needed to write 49 more books with a child from each state. In the final days of the Kickstarter, a surprising demographic has come forward to help with the project: children.
“It completely puddles me to tears because of the genuine interest that these children have for other kids who are like them, just in a more physically challenged way,” Graham said.
Last week, three 10-year-old girls held a bake sale, raising $1,000 for their pledge to the project. Monday, a little boy who got a copy of Nathan’s book decided to donate a copy of “Climbing With Tigers” to his school library.
“This kind of thing is just absolutely blowing my mind as I stop to think of the impact that children — who on their own volition, children with their own decision-making processes — decide to connect with these kids who are writing their books,” Graham said. “Things like donating a book to their school library, that’s the material I didn’t necessarily foresee. That is causing a lot of exciting emotions within me.”
Graham believes children and adults have shown support for the project because of its medium, the ubiquitous children’s book.
“Children love children’s books — adults love children’s books,” Graham said. “Children’s books are kind of the epitome of all goodness and things that we all grew up with. When I ask kids why they want to be involved or what spoke to them, a common response is, ‘I just think it’s amazing that someone my age can write a book and I think it’s great that in in their condition they can still write a book and get it made.’ ”
Graham recently found the next two “creatives” for the project, a child in Idaho and another in California. Like with Nathan, he will work with them to tell a story that is meaningful to them and indicative of their perspectives. Those perspectives resonate with people because of the truths found in them, Graham said.
“When we sit to consider, really thinking what it would be like to be this child, how they view the world, what they go on. For some reason these stories really pull us in to where we feel like we’re sitting with them and we’re really considering what they’re thinking.
“What I’m discovering is a lot of subtle (or blatant) life realizations come about; general, beautiful things about gratitude and hope, being brave, and sadness. Creating this work expands those to a very tangible thing. It’s like we can actually see it and taste it and feel it more reading these books and realizing that the child making this story is critically ill.”
Overall, Graham said these childrens’ stories will inspire goodness in people rather than create pity. So far, he said, that has been the case. People see a child writing their story, despite their illness or condition, teaching adults life lessons.
“These lessons don’t get old. They don’t get tired. People don’t get tired of hearing about hopeful things. People don’t get tired of being reminded to just take a moment and be grateful,” Graham said. “This is what we’re doing all the time. We’re trying to reach for things, remind ourselves to be better human beings and to be, simply put, better.
"I think the lessons then, that are coming out of this happen in all walks of life all the time. We’re always being reminded of different things. For some reason having these children, this specific populace talk about things like hope and love and bravery, and acceptance and fortitude, having them talk about it spins it just differently enough, we feel like we’re learning that principle all over again but in a new way.”
(All photos by Stephen Bain Photography)