Their stories are always about one thing: Courageous kids.
“I look up to everyone of the children we’ve written for,” said Matthew Drake, president and founder of a non-profit called Kourageous Kids Storybooks. “Because they’re fighting for their lives every day.”
Like Wes, who is seven years old and fighting neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve tissue. And there’s Avery, also fighting cancer in real life, but in the book they’ve written about him? He's fighting fires. “We made him a fireman,” said Matthew. That’s always been Avery’s dream.
Married to their work and each other, Matthew and Danielle Drake from Lacey, co-author these storybooks that bring joy to the families who could use some joy these days. This storytelling duo has told 284 stories of courageous kids with cancer and other illnesses.
Photojournalist Scott Jensen and I caught up with Matthew and Danielle when they were putting the finishing touches on Dryden Nelson’s story.
“We call her our hero,” said Shannan Nelson, Dryden’s mom. “And they create this amazing story that stars your child.”
Four-year-old Dryden has been living with leukemia half of her life.
“Oh, she’s a darling,” said Danielle Drake. “She has this smile. She’s so incredibly cute.”
“There’s been times when she’s at her doctor’s appointment and the other kids are crying,” said Dryden’s mom Shannan. “And she’ll go to their room and tell them to be strong and tell them it’s okay. It won’t hurt.”
The book about Dryden, written by a volunteer, is called Dryden’s Talent Show.
“Here’s my favorite part,” said Danielle as she reads a few lines. “I’m going to eat these pepperoncini’s she gestured to the plate on the table next to her, and I’m not going to stop for nothing.”
So I had to ask Dryden: “Really, you like pepperoncinis?”
She nodded, smiling that signature smile of hers.
Follow up question: “How many can you eat at once?”
Dryden raised both hands and showed me her ten fingers.
She smiled again and nodded.
Dryden's love of anything spicy is in her book, which was delivered the other day. Call it a belated Christmas gift.
“Having a gift like this, it’s like you can keep it forever,” said Shannan Nelson.
When Dryden finally opened the gift and saw herself in the book, she smiled again and then broke into laughter that seemed to go on forever.
This storybook is a gift of love to the pepperoncini lovin’ little girl who’s favorite story in the world now is her own.
To learn more about Matthew and Danielle’s non-profit and how you can help or volunteer as a writer, you can contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/KourageousKidsStorybooks. The storytelling duo write the books at no cost to the families.
And Dryden has a page of her own on Facebook called “A Princess With a Purpose,” at www.facebook.com/aprincesswithapurpose. Dryden’s mom and dad use the page to keep everyone updated on her health and any donation drives.
We have some encouraging news: Dryden’s been feeling good these days and she’s especially excited to finish up her last round of chemotherapy in the next couple of weeks.