2021 "FOCUS ON YOUTH":
FEATURED EMERGING ARTIST
Proud Sponsors of Focus on Youth 2021
Author Turned Philanthropist:
Kara Meerdink is currently a junior at the University of Iowa, pursuing a double major in psychology and English with an emphasis in creative writing.
Her empowering and uplifting book Among the Brave features true stories about children battling cancer and presents these children as superheroes. After working closely with these children, Kara realized how much each of them represents what being brave truly means. So, she decided to help these heroes during their journey. Through generous donations, dozens of Kara’s books have been donated to children battling cancer, and Kara has also helped similar organizations by promoting their good work. Before writing Among the Brave, Kara had two poetry books published on Amazon.
Kara’s future plans include continuing to use art as a healing tool and to help children see themselves as the heroes of their own stories.
“I want them to know that their stories are still being written,” she shares.
Kara plans to pursue a career as a child life specialist.
Kara discusses the inspiration behind her book and how children battling cancer are indeed superheroes and should be presented as such.
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What was the inspiration behind writing Among the Brave?
My inspiration for writing Among the Brave was to give these children battling cancer a place to see themselves. When you browse through the varied options at a toy store, you'll notice that there are very few representations of bald children or children with a feeding tube or a walking aid. I wanted to publish a book where kids would say, “Hey! That kid is just like me!” Everyone deserves to have heroes that they can relate to. These kids are the definition of brave. I also wanted a title that reflected joining these kids on their journey, and that is how I landed on the title Among the Brave.
It’s gut-wrenching when a child in our community passes away. It’s so easy to be angry, to give up, and to shut down. But the only choice we have is to pick up the pieces and advocate even harder in the name of those who have passed as well as for those that are still fighting. That is how we lift their voice – by standing together.
What types of reactions do you get from the children who realize they are being seen as superheroes?
The reactions are priceless. Every single time, I’m left speechless. The parents of the children are amazing. They capture their child's first time seeing their personalized illustration with photos. The huge smiles that appear are truly heartwarming. This makes every late night and every busy day completely worth it, knowing that I’ve helped to put a smile on a child’s face. I’ve been told that some kids request that Among the Brave is read to them every single night, and this just makes my heart overflow with happiness.
What do you hope the biggest takeaway is for the kids who read the book?
I hope the biggest takeaway is for them to know that they are seen. We see them, and we think they are absolutely beautiful. I know a lot of kids really struggle with hair loss and self-confidence, so seeing themselves portrayed in a book and knowing there are more kids just like them is huge. I want these kids to know that they are heard. I want them to know that we understand that their journey is incredibly difficult, scary and lonely. I want them to know that experiencing these feelings is okay and that they have support. The message in Among the Brave helps to validate their feelings – that it’s okay to feel scared and angry.
Photo Courtesy: Kara Meerdink
Photo Courtesy: Kara Meerdink
Lastly, I want them to know that they are loved by so many. The Among the Brave community is expansive and quickly growing. I want these kids to feel an overwhelming sense of love and community when they open the book. I want them to know that they have people all over the world advocating for them – that everyone is working hard to be their voice and to provide them with a better future. No matter what their diagnosis, I want them to understand that they are the heroes of their story, that their stories are still being written, and that they will forever be Among the Brave. We will never give up on them.
Do you read the book to kids in hospitals?
I have not been able to get into the hospitals to read Among the Brave this past year due to COVID-19. However, I am fully vaccinated, and my local children’s hospital just recently welcomed volunteers back. I have big plans to read Among the Brave to children this upcoming semester.
Due to gracious donors, we have been able to donate over 75 copies of Among the Brave to children’s hospitals across the United States.
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