Raleigh Teens’ Books Reveal Strength in Tackling Adversity

From Death to Dyslexia, Teens Write From the Heart


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Raleigh resident Aidan Colvin, pictured above with comedian Jay Leno, is the author of "Looking for Heroes: One Boy, One Year, 100 Letters."

Photo courtesy of Liisa Ogburn

Life can throw children heart-wrenching obstacles — the death of a parent and dyslexia, for example — but two teens with Triangle roots have reached deep into themselves to share stories of how they faced these trials and move forward to embrace their future. Their books, written with brutal honesty and published this year, offer hope to other children and parents who are trying to cope with similar difficulties.

Facing Death

“Steadfast,” written by Raleigh native Isabella Pirola, is a children’s book that tells the story of an oak tree that suffers but remains caring and kind, offering protection to a family of birds until its death. Illustrations by Hilary Tucker accompany each page of text, revealing the sadness of the birds, the depth of despair during the storm that ravages the tree and the grief that follows its death. The story is an allegory for the death of Pirola’s own father, John, who suffered for years through searing neuropathic pain as a result of a brain stem tumor, and over several years, underwent more than 10 brain/skull-based surgeries. I came to know Isabella when she was in kindergarten with my son and became — and remain — friends with her mother, Liz.

Photo of Isabella Pirola courtesy of Liz Pirola

After John’s diagnosis, when Isabella was in third grade, the family relocated from North Carolina to Michigan, then later, on to New York and Minnesota as John underwent surgeries to remove tumors, implant pain pumps and reconstruct parts of his skull. Each time they moved, Liz, Isabella and her three siblings tried to adjust to a new school and new place. Each time, we prayed and hoped. Each time, we were disappointed, and his terrible pain persisted. I kept in touch with Liz, but was surprised to learn this year that Isabella had written a book despite all she had gone through. Since I bought a copy, I read “Steadfast” every now and then — although it is a children’s book — because it reminds me that strength comes in many shapes and through difficult times and because, in the end, I see that the family, though grieving, remains as one.

Responding to my request to write about their story, Liz said yes. “Isabella wants others to know that there is a way to bring positive light to a very dark situation. In the moment of the storm, it does look dark and scary, but in the end, the message is far lighter and brings warmth to the heart. Her book was a testament to her love for her father, but also his storm brought him home. And the ultimate message: love never dies. He lives on through them forever.”

Turning Dyslexia on Its Head

“Looking for Heroes: One Boy, One Year, 100 Letters” by Raleigh resident Aidan Colvin with his mother, Liisa Ogburn, is a funny, hilarious, inspiring true story of how one Raleigh boy turned a “disability” — dyslexia — into a creative “ability.”

Impossible? Read the book to understand how Aidan grows along the way after coming up with the idea of writing to famous dyslexic people for advice on how they became successful. The charm of this story is that we clearly hear Aidan’s voice throughout and come to love this short, skinny rising 10th grader who struggles at school, likes to eat hot dogs at Snoopy’s with his grandfather in downtown Raleigh and is teased relentlessly by his sisters. We follow along with amusement as he wrestles with his own adolescent thoughts until he comes to the point where he puts his questions on paper and jumps on his bike to mail his letters. A waiting game follows, interrupted by letters from famous people every few months, disappointments and, finally, a visit and talk with Jay Leno, himself a dyslexic.

With each letter, Aiden discovers something about his “hero,” which points him on the path he needs to follow. From Dr. Delos Cosgrove, CEO and president of the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, he learns these nuggets: “Dyslexia is an advantage in the fact that it makes us think more creatively” and “hard work will get you there.”

Along with his letter, Cosgrove sends a book. The book offers no secret shortcut to success: Cosgrove reveals that in order to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, he had to work hard to get into medical school and keep working while his classmates were playing in order to succeed. He tells Aidan he was only accepted to one of the 13 medical schools he applied to, but that one acceptance was all he needed.

Aidan receives insight from many notables — Princess Beatrice of York, Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft and novelist John Irving, to name a few — but Aidan’s “tips” sprinkled in boxes throughout the book are no less insightful and very entertaining. By the end of the book, Aidan comes to learn something wonderful about himself: “Look what can happen when we realize that the very things we think are holding us back instead turn out to be the key to worlds we would never have imagined.”

If you are the parent of a child with dyslexia — or who has a special need — consider reading this book to understand the untapped potential of your child and to discover that achieving “success” can come in unusual and creative ways. Being different can be an asset.

 

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Parenting news, opinions, family fun, free offers

About This Blog

Karen Shore lives in Holly Springs with her husband and two sons. By day, she works at the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce and by night, she's a cook, chauffeur, tutor, secretary and amateur therapist for her family. She will blog about family fun in the Triangle — including freebies and news that matters to local parents. Check back here Mondays and Thursdays for her weekday and weekend fun blog posts. 

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October 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
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North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Discover the origins of the State Fair at a display table, and learn the history behind some of its tasty treats. Make a fair-related craft to take home. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Tour the farm, spend time with farmers who care about the environment and meet friendly animals. Tickets must be purchased online; the farm is not open for drop-ins.

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Hux Family Farm
1923 Shaw Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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The Midtown Raleigh Alliance invites you to join in for a fall festival of events for the entire family (even the dog!) This year’s event promises another fun-filled day ~ including a live...

Cost: Online - $10 adult, $5 ages 6-16, free 5 and under, $25 family.

Where:
Coastal Credit Union Midtown Park @ North Hills
4011 Cardinal at North Hills St.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Midtown Raleigh Alliance and Capital Bank
Telephone: 919-438-2210
Contact Name: Emily Holton
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This colorful performance follows a young girl named Vita, who thinks her family has gone loco planning a celebration for deceased loved ones. Why throw a party for the dead? But when a candy...

Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 3 and younger.

Where:
Stewart Theatre, Talley Student Union
2610 Cates Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27695
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Sponsor: NC State LIVE
Contact Name: Liza Green
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Celebrate local food and the community it inspires at Chickadee Farms, a female-run, organic vegetable farm in Clayton. Enjoy slow-roasted pig raised by Little Eco River Farm, Southern...

Cost: $25 for adults, $5 for kids, free for children 3 and under

Where:
Chickadee Farms
980 McLemore Rd
Clayton, NC  27520
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Sponsor: Chickadee Farms
Telephone: 919-418-9628
Contact Name: Jenn Sanford-Johnson
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Children ages 11 and older with special needs make snacks for furry friends. Register online. Choose course #116722.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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Enjoy a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Interact with the topics and volunteers at each activity. Activities range from hands-on learning experiences...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.00 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
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Learn how bats fly, catch their food, where they live, and what they do all winter. Preregistration recommended. Program includes story, craft, and outdoor experience.

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
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Enjoy an evening stroll to watch the moon rise and learn about the natural world after dark. Dress warmly, wear good walking shoes, and take water and a flashlight. Ages 10 and older. Register...

Cost: $9/member, $12/nonmember

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
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Learn why leaves turn color during the fall season. Enjoy a one-hour tour of native trees in the park.

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Celebrate with this annual tribute to the state vegetable.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Learn why leaves turn color during the fall season. Enjoy a one-hour tour of native trees in the park.

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Enjoy movies, trick-or-treating in the shopping district, a costume contest for kids and adults, free hayrides and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Village Market Place, corner of 54 and Cary Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Take the family out for a night of trick-or-treating, hayrides, music and a free outdoor movie-screening at sunset. Enjoy discounts and specials at select restaurants and shops in the District for...

Cost: Free

Where:
The District at Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Park West Village
Contact Name: Conner
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Ghostly games, activities, face painting, haunted maze and more highlight this annual event for all ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Learn how information is protected online. Students will work on puzzles, encryption and code breaking. At the end of the lesson students will see if they can figure out encrypted information....

Cost: Free

Where:
Spreedly
733 Foster Street
Durham, NC  27701
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Learn about area charter schools and speak to school representatives. Snacks provided.

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Arts Council Allenton Gallery
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: NC Association for Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
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Enjoy mischief, magic, spirits and fortunes. Enjoy a kid-oriented daytime version of the popular Halloween Phantasmagoria event with crafts and hands-on activities. Learn all about...

Cost: $5 donation per car

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
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Wander the garden to see glowing pumpkins and follow a scavenger hunt. Make your own natural potions, meet live critters, design a candy catapult, and create leaf art. Enjoy treats and prizes. Take...

Cost: $5/person. Free for ages 3 and younger

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: NC Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-249-8404
Contact Name: Andrew Torlage
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Fly into the world of "Stellaluna" to discover bats, owls and other nocturnal animals. Make a craft. Ages 3-10 with adult. Register online.

Cost: Free

Where:
Good Hope Farm
580 Morrisville Carpenter Rd.
Cary, NC  27519
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

This annual celebration of multiculturalism brings together nearly 60 international groups who call the Triangle home. Explore the world through main stage performances, cultural exhibits, world...

Cost: $5-$15/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: International Focus
Telephone: 919-782-0552
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Get ready for a day filled with Lexington barbecue, live music and family friendly attractions as NC By Train gets you to the Lexington Barbecue Festival on Oct. 27, dropping you off at the welcome...

Cost: Train price varies; free festival

Where:
Raleigh Union Station
510 W. Martin St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: NC By Train
Telephone: 800-298-7246
Contact Name: Alison Boswell
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Enjoy enrichment classes for grades pre-K to 8th grade. Super Saturday is a bi-annual event organized by PAGE (Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education) of Wake County.  To...

Cost: $20-$25 per class

Where:
Triangle Math and Science Academy
312 Gregson Drive
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: PAGE of Wake County
Contact Name: Suzy Wang
Website »

More information

Live entertainment, a kids' zone, corn hole competition, food trucks, and arts and crafts vendors highlight this annual festival in Holly Springs.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Sugg Farm at Bass Lake Park
2401 Grigsby Ave.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore magnet programs in the Durham Public School system.

Cost: Free

Where:
Southern High School
800 Clayton Rd.
Durham, NC  27703
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn how bats fly, catch their food, where they live, and what they do all winter. Preregistration recommended. Program includes story, craft, and outdoor experience.

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

More information

Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Take the family for a grassroots outdoor music event

Cost: Free

Where:
River Park
106 E. Margaret Ln.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Website »

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Enjoy food trucks, a petting zoo, costume contests for adults and pets, trick or treating at downtown businesses, a hay ride, children’s arts and crafts, balloon artistry,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Cary
South Academy Street
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: The Heart of Cary Association
Telephone: 919-561-3340
Contact Name: Nanette Mattox
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Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Learn about local bats and the wonderful things they do for humans. Wrap up the session by making a night creature luminary to use in fall celebrations. Appropriate for ages 5 and older....

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Man's best friend is featured in a family-friendly event that includes dog shows, a canine costume contest, parade, photo booth and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

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Wear a costume and take part in the inaugural Trick or Trot 5K at Wendell Falls. Prizes will be awarded for the fastest runners in costume and awards for the best-dressed runner. Awards will...

Cost: $30/person

Where:
Wendell Falls
320 Vintage Point Lane
Wendell, NC  27591
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Website »

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Don a costume and experience the magic of Marbles after dark with family-friendly Halloween activities. Purchase tickets online; this event sells out quickly.

Cost: $12-$18/person

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Explore historical concepts of spiritualism, awe and wonder from the 19th century at Duke Homestead in this no-scare event. Wander the property to see what wonders you can find. All ages....

Cost: $10 plus tax per person in advance, $15 plus tax at the door.

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

This annual celebration of multiculturalism brings together nearly 60 international groups who call the Triangle home. Explore the world through main stage performances, cultural exhibits, world...

Cost: $5-$15/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: International Focus
Telephone: 919-782-0552
Website »

More information

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