Raleigh Teens’ Books Reveal Strength in Tackling Adversity

From Death to Dyslexia, Teens Write From the Heart


Published:

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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May 2019

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $4-$12

Where:
North Carolina Transportation Museum
1 Samuel Spencer Drive
Spencer, NC  28159
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Sponsor: North Carolina Transportation Museum
Telephone: 704-636-2889
Contact Name: Ian J. Kuhn

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Cost: $55

Where:
Chapel Hill Country Club
103 Lancaster Drive
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: Just TRYAN It
Contact Name: Sheryl Blackwell
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Cost: 24.00

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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Downtown Raleigh
Fayetteville St.
, NC  27601
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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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Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Cost: See website for fees

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N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Cost: Free with advance registration

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Hilton Raleigh
3415 Wake Forest Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Girls World Expo
Contact Name: Valerie Moore
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Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Chapel Hill
140 W. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (ages 6-under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Park
2200 Laura Duncan Rd.
Apex, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Town of Apex
Telephone: 919-249-3507
Contact Name: Allie Prelaske
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Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


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Cost: $15 or use your package/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East Street
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Ages 11 and older with disabilities make New Orleans creole. Register online. Choose course #120057.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


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Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


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Come celebrate Turtle Day by stopping by the park’s visitor’s center to learn some cool facts about North Carolina’s turtles! Meet our live park ambassador – Frankie the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
Century Center
Carrboro, NC  27510


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Cost: $15 or use class pass/membership

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Pittsboro
184 East Street
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
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Discover the joy of cooking with storybook characters. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online. Choose course #120084.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Come celebrate Turtle Day by stopping by the park’s visitor’s center to learn some cool facts about North Carolina’s turtles! Meet our live park ambassador – Frankie the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Cost: $15/class, or use your class pass/membership.

Where:
Kids Mindful Movement - Chapel Hill
781 Mt. Carmel Church Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Cost: 0

Where:
Orange County Public Library
137 W Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 191-924-52539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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Enjoy a family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/person. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy karaoke. Take a dish to share. Register online. Choose course #121043.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
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Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

More information

Come celebrate Turtle Day by stopping by the park’s visitor’s center to learn some cool facts about North Carolina’s turtles! Meet our live park ambassador – Frankie the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy Raleigh’s premier Japanese animation and culture convention. Concerts, educational panels, limited merchandise, unique artwork and more highlight the event. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $65/person

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

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Cost: Free

Where:
Edison Johnson Community Center
500 W. Murray Ave.
Durham, NC
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Website »

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Enjoy fun, games, friendship and more every Friday.

Cost: Free

Where:
Sanderford Road Center
2623 Sanderford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Sponsor: Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department
Telephone: 919-831-1898
Contact Name: Adam Sproles
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Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Morrisville, NC  27560


Website »

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Each Fourth Friday of the month join us for a night of art, film, food and fun. This is free and open to the public.​

Cost: Free

Where:
SummerStage
800 Taylor St
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Hi-Wire Brewing and abc11

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Enjoy Raleigh’s premier Japanese animation and culture convention. Concerts, educational panels, limited merchandise, unique artwork and more highlight the event. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $65/person

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

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Get inspired by the park's natural beauty and contribute to a community art project celebrating the season of flowers. Head to the Finley Center to make a few paper flowers and help to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Dogs, face painting, animal tattoos, a bounce house, dog contests and canine demonstrations, handmade bandannas, photo booths and local vendors highlight this annual festival to benefit the...

Cost: $15-$30

Where:
Duke University East Campus
Durham, NC


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One Saturday of the month join us for our family fun series. This is free and open to the public. Here is what you can expect: 10am-12pm: Come to the plaza for family-friendly activities for...

Cost: Free

Where:
SummerStage
800 Taylor St
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Hi-Wire Brewing, abc11, and Offline

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Take a walk in the woods and discover the animals and plants that call our park home. Help collect data for our Natural Resource Inventory Database and other citizen science projects. All...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (ages 6-under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Stop by our FREE discovery table to learn about songbirds! Registration is not required. The display table is located at the Upper Playground.

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-2117
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Enjoy free, live performances from the best artists from around the Triangle in front of Stone Theatre as well as kid-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
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Website »

More information

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