Illinois native and Peorian Susan Reising was introduced to a new way of thinking after earning her MA in Liberal Studies from Bradley University.
Through exploration of quantum physics, theory, and philosophy, the idea of interdependence changed the way she saw the world and served as inspiration for an item on her to-do list: writing a children’s book.
“So at the smallest level, you know, subatomic… there are no divisions, there is no difference between you, me, the table, the window, the tree outside And it really changed the way I see the world. It made me feel more connected to others, less judgmental, have more empathy,” Reising explained.
This new central tenant of herself inspired her to quit her job, start her own business, and create a children’s book that would focus on the circle of life and the interconnectedness between people. She completed the first draft in 1998.
“It was, I think, a really good way to share ideas in a simple way. And at that time I was working with a really amazing designer and illustrator that I had worked with in the publishing world. Her name is Missy Shepler. And she agreed to do some illustrations for my draft. The draft just flowed, and it seemed like a natural thing,” Reising said.
Although the initial process was fairly seamless, the self-publishing industry had yet to take off, and the stress of finding a publisher and even an agent to do so was overwhelming for Reising. Thus, the book sat on a shelf for more than 20 years.
“My new business is starting up and I just said, ‘Well, now is not the time. “”
Fast forward to March 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way people around the world live and function on a daily basis. In a time of anxiety, angst and confusion, Reising knew something had to be done.
“I kept thinking, I want to do something to help other people. And I remember I had heard a story about some kids who had actually lost both parents to COVID, and how terrifying it must be, not understanding this strange disease that none of us understood and then losing his parents.
At the same time, Reising found her own solace in audiobooks. After reading “The dominant story” by Richard Powers, which presents 12 interconnected stories about trees and their fate on earth, and recalls a TED Talk by ecologist Suzanne Simard on how trees communicate with each other, Reising was reminded of her own children’s book.
“This humble little book that I never really got off the ground. And so I dusted it off. And I reinvented it,” Reising said.
“Lola and the Tree of Life” follows a little girl named Lola and her dog Skye, named after the corgi from Reising she lost shortly before the pandemic. Lola forms a deep relationship with Tree, modeled after the giant Oak Burr located in Peoria’s Giant Oak Park.
Lola realizes that her grandfather, Poppy, is sick and might be dying. She struggles to understand what this could mean for her, her family, and Poppy. One day, Lola turns to Tree for her wisdom. The following is an excerpt from the book related to What Tree has to say:
“’People are part of nature too,’ Tree says softly. “Poppy lived a wonderful life and gave a lot to many. When Poppy dies, he will simply move on to another way of being. Even though this life will be different from the one you know now, you will always have him in your heart. . And all that he shared will live on in you.'”
Lola sat in the grass with Skye, taking advantage of Tree’s wisdom. “‘Really?’ she asked, wiping away her tears. “Yes,” Tree said. “You and I, Poppy and Skye – and all things – are part of something bigger. We may seem separate, but we’re all tied together in ways we sometimes can’t see.
Reising noted that while some may see this as a story of loss, she sees it differently.
“I would say it’s a story of hope,” she said. “It’s about the hope that comes from understanding the connections we share with people and with nature.”
Reising added that while the book can be considered spiritual, it is not religious in nature.
“I tried to leave the field wide enough that if a family has religious beliefs that they want to share with the child, they can overlay them on the book… So I want people to feel free to believe what they believe. And hopefully that can help them deliver an important message without them feeling pressured,” Reising explained.
on the books website, there are fun activities for kids, like coloring pages and a word search. There are also resources for adults.
“You’ll find questions kids might ask after hearing the book or reading the book, and some really simple answers you can give them, you know, age-appropriate answers. And then also some ideas for others conversations you might want to talk about with your kids as you approach this topic of loss or death,” Reising said.
Overall, she hopes children and parents understand that death doesn’t have to be a scary topic and that the connections we have with each other continue.
“I think going through an unframed loss can be extremely stressful and in some ways damaging,” she said. “So I feel like if kids have a framework for understanding death, and it doesn’t blind them, it can help them process it.
She also pointed out that the book would not have been possible without Missy Shepler’s beautiful illustrations.
“She, at every turn, made the illustrations better than I thought possible…she herself is really aligned with nature, and so she sees all these little details. And she was able to represent those in the pages of the book and to really bring “Lola and the Tree of Life” to life, and so I owe her a great debt of gratitude.”
You can find the book on several platforms, including Amazon, walmartand the book website.