Tristan, for example, is the hero of Frank Cole's "Tristan's Touchdowns," while the fearless heroine of "Sada of the High Seas" by Bobbie Pyron is inspired by 16-year-old Sada Wright, who suffers from juvenile pylocytic astrocytoma. In all, 21 children are featured in the pages of "True Heroes."
In addition to appearing in a story, each child is the subject of an elaborate photo spread depicting his or her dream. Eli is pictured as a BMX athlete. Ellie gracefully juggles fancy cakes as a gourmet baker. Cami appears in her photograph as a fairy, while Carson is a fearless bullrider.
"True Heroes" is the brainchild of Jonathan Diaz, the book's photographer and the creator of the Anything Can Be Project. "I knew I wanted to take the dreams and imaginations of children and bring them to life," he says. "If a child has a passion or a dream for something, they should be allowed to cultivate that passion. They shouldn't have adults in their heads telling them they can't follow their dreams."
Diaz aims to inspire children "rather than tear them down."
He speaks from personal experience. As a teenager, he says he wanted to pursue a career as an artist but was discouraged from doing so by a high-school teacher. Instead, he became a lawyer. A Christmas gift of a camera from his mother a few years ago, however, rekindled his interest in the arts. And as he pursued his own dream, Diaz says he wanted to help children — specifically those with pediatric cancer — pursue theirs, too. "Cancer is a disease that touches everyone in some way," he says.
Diaz connected with families dealing with pediatric cancer, arranged photo shoots and solicited writers to create stories.
"I was drawn to this project the second I saw the photography of these amazing kids who are such brave fighters, dreaming such big dreams," says author Peggy Eddleman.
Once they saw Diaz's work, others wanted in on the project, as well.
Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale says this: "I'd gotten a couple of emails about it asking me to participate, but I get so many emails I kind of scan them and often forget them. I'm a mess. Then someone sent me a link to the gorgeous photos and I was blown away. A picture really is worth a thousand emails. I thought, 'I want to be a part of that!' "
The book's editor, Lisa Mangum of Shadow Mountain, still marvels at how smoothly everything came together.
"There were a lot of moving pieces to this puzzle — 21 authors, 21 kids. All the photographs, the design work — but throughout the entire production of the book, I felt a great sense of purpose. Things came together seamlessly. Everyone met their deadlines and delivered outstanding work."
And, as it turns out, the participants had a lot of fun in the process.
Sada loved the photo shoot: "It was wonderful! They did my makeup so I didn't have any zits, and the costume was awesome." The Utah teen attended Salt Lake Comic Con in full pirate regalia, where she met the cast of "Studio C," a locally produced sketch comedy show. She now has an autographed photo hanging on her wall.
Thirteen-year-old Tristan had a similar experience. He calls the photo shoot depicting him as a star football player "amazing." A huge University of Utah fan, Tristan was able to meet players on the team, as well as athletes from the NFL. He also likes the story Frank Cole wrote about him: "He made me the hero and my brother was in the story."
If there is an overriding message in "True Heroes," it's this: The children featured between the book's covers are bigger than the diseases they deal with. They have interests and aspirations that transcend illness.