Normalizing Grief through a Single Conversation with Shanice McLeish, Children’s Grief Book Author and Kate’s Club Volunteer
November 7, 2023
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Shanice McLeish was eight years old when her dad died suddenly in a car accident. She remembers the day vividly – her mother on the phone calling relatives asking if anyone knew where he was, getting the call while she and her sister waited at her grandmother’s salon, news stations visiting the site to report on the story.
The next day is vivid too: her first day of fourth grade.
Shanice recalls going to school the day after her dad died, setting her head on her desk, and spending the majority of the day crying. This experience later inspired her children’s book Grief on the Playground.
Writing a Children’s Grief Book
As someone who avoided reading growing up, Shanice never imagined she’d become an author, but the idea came to her out of the blue.
“I didn’t know what it was going to do, I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I could feel it in my bones, in my spirit that I needed to get this [book] out of me,” Shanice explained how inspiration struck suddenly while she was on a trip with longtime friends.
Shanice spent the next month cranking out “story after story after story after story.” Then, one day, Grief on the Playground was born.
The book is about a young girl named Ava who is grieving the death of her father while heading into a new school year. Her teacher, Ms. Johnson, takes her on the grief rollercoaster, and they discuss the highs, lows and loops associated with grief.
Children’s Grief at School and in Everyday Life
Shanice wanted to write a story that was “true and authentic to her own experiences.” She grew up in a Caribbean and Latino family and wanted to write a story that reflected her diverse upbringing. She also wanted to show how children’s grief looks in everyday life.
That aspect of Ava’s story may be one of the closest to Shanice’s unique experience. Similar to Shanice, Ava goes to school one week after her dad dies of cancer, and the book shows how the people around her support her through her grief.
“How educators and teachers can create space for kids who are dealing with grief, that’s really the biggest message of the story…because every child deals with grief in a different way,” Shanice said.
She hopes the book helps bridge gaps and create understanding about what children who are grieving need, and that it helps “normalize grief through a single conversation.”
How a Personal Grief Story Inspired a Children’s Grief Book
“Normalizing grief through a single conversation” is another aspiration that stems from an impactful memory in Shanice’s life. Like her memories of the day her dad died and of the first day of school, she recollects another moment she shared with an educator in her life.
Shanice paints a picture so clear that it brings us back in time with her. She’s at her after-school program. All the kids are playing on the blacktop, but she stands alone on the steps of a nearby trailer.
“Que paso?” Simone, the program lead, asked in Spanish what was wrong. Shanice shook her head and said she was okay.
“She knew I was lying because my dad just died, but that simple gesture of someone connecting with me really meant a lot to me,” Shanice said.
It’s meaningful moments like these, that live forever in someone’s memory, that Shanice hopes to inspire with her book Grief on the Playground.
“Nobody else would talk to me, or ask me how I was doing, but she did. And I’m very grateful for that.”
Kate’s Club empowers children and teens, their families, and young adults facing life after the death of a parent, sibling, caregiver or someone important to them. Shanice McLeish has volunteered as a Kate’s Club Buddy in Atlanta, GA for 10 years. Her favorite Kate’s Club program is Camp Good Mourning, and she volunteers so members know they are not alone on their journey. You can purchase her book Grief on the Playground from retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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