Two Nevada County dancers publish a book to help a 6-year-old ballerina diagnosed with leukemia | TheUnion.com

Two Nevada County dancers publish a book to help a 6-year-old ballerina diagnosed with leukemia

Six-year-old Lily was one of Chela Reyna’s very first ballet students.

“I could tell she was a special soul — she lit up the room,” said Reyna. “She didn’t talk much, but she had an immense passion for dance.”

A 2016 graduate of Nevada Union High School, Reyna grew up dancing, and was an avid member of the dance program at the school. After graduation, when she moved to Southern California to work as a writer, she also began teaching ballet in Sherman Oaks. That’s where she met Lily.

But one day something wasn’t right. Lily didn’t show up, and she’d never missed a class in the past. Then she missed a second class, then a third.

“Then I got the news — Lily had been diagnosed with leukemia,” said Reyna. “One day she wasn’t feeling well and her parents took her to the ER. She never left — she stayed at the hospital for three months.”

Seeing Lily in the hospital enduring chemo, radiation and bone marrow testing was gut-wrenching. When doctors placed her tiny body into the radiation machine, she asked the technicians to play music from “The Nutcracker,” which calmed her.

“The music made it almost bearable,” said Reyna. “Whenever she was connected to dance in some way, she was happy. I knew I had to do something.”

Doing what she does best, Reyna began writing a book for Lily. The story came easily — it featured five young ballerinas and 10 missing shoes. On the search for the shoes, readers also learn ballet terms and their proper pronunciation. Reyna originally wrote the rhyming adventure story just for Lily.

“At first it was only intended to bring ballet magic to Lily’s bedside because she couldn’t dance,” Reyna said. “I read it to her and she loved it. But once I saw her in bed with her family around her, I knew I had to do more. I wanted to do something that would help fund her treatment, which will likely go on for years.”

‘The Missing Slippers’

Reyna reached out to her good friend and illustrator Michaela Martinez, who had also gone through the dance program at Nevada Union and shares a passion for dance. Now majoring in art and biology at UC Santa Cruz, Martinez agreed to illustrate the book.

“Chela approached me about the book at the end of last summer,” said Martinez, who is now in her junior year. “When I heard about Lily, I said, ‘I have to do this.’ I loved the idea of my artwork supporting a dancer who is struggling. I was also incredibly flattered that someone thought my artwork was good enough for a children’s book.”

“Michaela’s illustrations really brought the story to life,” said Reyna. “Children love them — she really brought magic into the book. Because she’s a dancer, her drawings capture everything in accurate detail, all the way down to the position of the dancers’ fingers.”

“The Missing Slippers,” geared for children ages 3 to 7, was self-published in November, and is now for sale at Barnes & Noble, on Amazon and at a various Nevada County businesses, including the Nevada City Ballet Academy (Martinez is an alumna), The Book Seller, Harmony Books, Booktown Books, Full Life Yoga Studio, Mill Street Vintage & Antiques and Gold Country Kuk Sool Won, as well as the Nevada Union Dance Studio.

All proceeds initially went toward Lily’s treatment and to help her dance again, said Reyna. However, Lily’s family was so moved by the outpouring of support via the book that they are now donating some funds to Chai Lifeline, a foundation whose programs offer emotional, social, psychological, and financial assistance to families living with pediatric illness or loss. The nonprofit has been a tremendous support to Lily’s family, Reyna said.

“Lily’s family is not rich, but they felt the call to share with others who are in similar situations,” she added. “We hope to go on to print as many books as possible, so that it can go on to help others. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the dance community in Nevada County. It changed my life.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.


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