Chicago teacher’s book helps pre-K students cope with death

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CHICAGO — A Chicago preschool teacher is helping kids process grief with a picture book inspired by her 4-year-old niece, who died of a rare autoimmune disease in 2009.

Michelle Redd owns Building Blocks Learning Academy at 1120 W. 69th St.

She began to notice the need for class discussions about death after her niece, Taylor Michelle Russell, died of macrophage activation syndrome in 2009. Taylor had attended Building Blocks, and her classmates had one question: Where’s Taylor?

“Most times you hear about crisis counselors at elementary or high school levels,” Redd said, “but no one ever thinks about preschoolers and how they manage that space of grief and loss and death.”

Taylor’s classmates began to write letters to Taylor in heaven.

“I saved those letters and illustrations just really as a keepsake,” Redd said.

Redd called upon those letters a few years later after her students once again struggled with death — this time after the loss of one of their teachers.

Redd wrote a book called “Where’s Taylor” that shares her niece’s story. It tracks Taylor's journey from hospital visits to heaven.

Redd said she consulted a child psychologist to help provide the framework for coping skills used in the book. Though the topic can be sad, the book ends with Taylor having fun in heaven.

Students “want to know: How do they get to heaven? “ Redd said. “They want to know: How many times do you die? Is it fun in heaven?”

Redd teaches her students it’s okay to be sad when someone dies. She helps students memorialize people who have passed, encouraging kids to remember fun things they did together.

Redd has written two additional books on the topic for elementary and high school students. She said the process has been therapeutic and keeps Taylor’s memory alive.

Michelle Redd is one of Chicago’s Very Own.

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