A warning: don’t read this book in public. I did, and everyone at the gym wondered why I was crying.
A Thousand Small Sparrows by Jeff Leeland is about children, and specifically sick children. It’s also about well children, and how an initiative to connect the two came to happen.
It started with Leeland’s own son, Michael, diagnosed with leukemia. Leeland had taken a new job with a school, and his medical insurance was in that limbo land of the new policy hasn’t started and pre-existing conditions won’t be covered (this was before the Affordable Care Act). Students and staff at Leeland’s school began making small contributions toward the family’s need for a $200,000 bone marrow transplant for Michael. The word spread, and eventually all of the needed funds were raised, and Michael received his transplant and went on to live a healthy life.
If Michael, why not others?
Thus began what became known as the Sparrow Clubs, a program to help connect families of sick children with schools. Schools “adopt” a sick child and provide the family with support, encouragement, and fundraising help. Companies and other organizations get involved. People outside the school can hear about the effort and support it.
In effect, it’s a way to bring kindness to a family desperately needing help and a focus on the needs of others for schoolkids.
Leeland includes story after story of how children in medical crises and their families have been helped. It makes for emotional reading. Not every child survives; in fact, many of the children involved are experiencing what are fatal diseases. The disease, however, is not the point. Helping children and their families is the point, regardless of the eventual outcome. The author tells the story of his own family in an earlier book, One Small Sparrow: The Remarkable, Real-Life Drama of One Community's Response to Save a Little Boy 's Life. He’s also the author of Disarming the Teenage Heart: Helping Teens Navigate Today’s Cultural Minefields. A Thousand Small Sparrows was first published in 2009.
The book presents stories about the sick children and their families, stories by the school students and classes who get involved in helping, teachers, parents, and others. The stories are encouraging, moving, and often heartbreaking.
Just don’t read it in public unless you’re okay with people watching you cry.
Top photograph by Piron Guillame via Unsplash. Used with permission.