Author and entrepreneur Kristina Bingham Jones is using the release of her first children’s book as the basis for creating an online community for grieving kids. The project began with My Forever Guardian, a book that she self-published through IngramSpark in March. The title is available in print and digital editions through all major e-tailers, and bookstores and other physical retailers can order it from IngramSpark. In light of the positive reception it received, Jones decided to form Guardian Lane, a company whose mission is to publish new material about the grieving process and to host a social network for grieving children.
“Over 2.5 million people pass away each year, and that’s just in the United States,” Jones said. “When a person passes, it affects an average of five people, which includes children.”
Jones’s father died when she was seven years old, and she aspired to write a book to help children cope with grief. My Forever Guardian tells the story of a boy named Micah who has lost his brother. Through the support of his grade school classmates, he learns some healthy ways to grieve.
Jones said she has heard from parents who are supporting their children through grief that the book has helped them. “It’s such a hard conversation to have, and sometimes parents don’t know where to start,” she added.
Jones worked on the manuscript with two freelancers and has hired a PR firm to promote the book, which was released in March. She donated the first two months of proceeds to support a family with four children in a small town in Alabama. Their mother died of Covid-19, and three of the children also had the virus.
“The kids in my book had built a community to help support each other,” Jones said. “So I started to research if this really existed online, because our kids live online. To my surprise, it was like a desert. There was nothing.”
This is not the first time Jones has launched a company. More than five years ago, she cofounded Court Buddy, a legal services site that was named tech company of the year by Black Enterprise in 2019. While building Guardian Lane, she consulted with more than a dozen grief counselors, who all agreed that a website for grieving kids could be beneficial.
One of those early supporters was Scott Simpson, a grief counselor in San Antonio, Tex., with 26 years of experience. He called the current reality surrounding Covid-19 a “pandemic of grief” and encouraged Jones to create a site where kids could “creatively express their emotions through play,” noting that expressing emotion is a crucial step in grieving.
Jones began building the new site in the spring, reaching out to around 40 grief counselors to help create video content. She hopes to launch with more than 100 videos this fall, once the process of onboarding the counselors and uploading content to the site is completed. In addition to the free video content, the site will have options for families to pay for one-on-on bereavement counseling sessions.
Currently, parents can register for free and join a waiting list on the site. In the videos, the grief counselors will speak directly to kids and give them therapeutic creative activities to perform. Simpson recently submitted a video that shows kids how to build a smiling “warm fuzzy” creation out of cotton balls, glue, and yarn. He said the simple activity “helps the child express their fears and learn about ways to cope with fears” by creating a cuddly new friend.
Once the site launches, Guardian Lane will begin to release a series of audiobooks about children and grief, each focusing on a single emotion that a grieving child experiences. The first title in that series is being cowritten by Jones and Shelly-Ann Parkinson, who worked for many years as a grief counselor. The audiobook will have new material, focused on a single character from My Forever Guardian.
“The first time I experienced death, no one told me what was happening,” Parkinson said, recalling the death of a young cousin that occurred when she was only seven years old. That formative experience, she added, inspired her work as a grief counselor.
“So many children around the world are dealing with this,” Parkinson said, referring to the Covid-19 crisis. “It is real, it is relevant. It is something that so many people will understand.”