J.K. Rowling found out her books helped save this baby's life. Her response was magic.

On the worst night, when our 1-pound daughter was fading in the darkness of her incubator, my husband opened a book and began to read aloud.

"Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived."

He needed to say those words. I thought it was strange that he’d chosen the first book in a seven-volume series, a series that totals more than 4,000 pages, for a little girl who might not survive the night.


Juniper in the NICU. Photo by Cherie Diez. All photos used with Kelley Benham French's permission, except as noted.

"How about 'Goodnight Moon'?" I offered. "That’s a good book."

Tom saw it all more clearly than I did. He wanted Juniper, born barely viable at 23 weeks gestation, to hear a story about children who could fly. He wanted to read to her about a baby who survived the most powerful evil in the world because his mother stood by his crib and protected him with her life.

In our family, the Harry Potter books are dog-eared and worn.

My husband wanted to initiate our daughter into our tribe. My stepsons, Nat and Sam, grew up reading the books criss-cross applesauce underneath restaurant tables. They played Quidditch on rollerblades and made wands out of chopsticks and string. On their 11th birthdays, they began checking the mailbox for their invitations to Hogwarts, clinging to the hope it could all be real. J.K. Rowling’s stories, along with the Springsteen canon, made up our shared mythology.

Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers/Getty Images.

Now, as Tom held that faded book, the dust jacket long lost, he was reaching out to our daughter with a protective incantation of love and belonging.

Stories were invented to conjure meaning from randomness. They give us our history, even our identity. It made no sense that Juniper came crashing into the world 16 weeks early and the size of a kitten. It made no sense that machines could keep her alive or that she could be snatched away. It made no sense to parent a baby in a plastic box, but that was what we learned to do.

"Stories are a promise," Tom told me when he’d had time to think it through. "They are a promise that the ending is worth waiting for."

Juniper didn’t understand a word of the story, of course.

But she could tell us, by the monitor pinging at her bedside, that she loved the parts about Hermione and that she hated the gruff voice of Hagrid the half-giant.

Juniper in the NICU. Photo by Cherie Diez.

When Tom read to her, she breathed better, held her temperature better, seemed generally more content. Tom read every paragraph in a soothing, sing-song voice, and when he stopped, her oxygen levels would plummet and the alarms would blare.

"Keep reading!" the nurses would shout.

He was nearly finished with book one when Juniper had another awful night. We were rushing to the hospital when he started crying at the wheel. "What if she never hears the end of the story?" he said. "What if she never learns how it ends?"

Five years later, Juniper is a wild and joyful kindergartner. And one day this spring, while she was off at school, a large box arrived at our house.

The shipping label showed an address of Mailboxes, Etc. in Edinburgh. I waited until Juniper got home to open it.

"Is dat for me?" she asked. She didn’t notice my shaking hands.

I hadn’t told her that a month or so earlier I’d gotten a Twitter message from Jo Rowling. She said she’d heard about Juniper on an episode of Radiolab and had been jolted when she’d heard Harry’s name. She said that she’d cried and that she wanted to send us something.

When I saw the message from Rowling the first time, I screamed. Then I tried to seize the moment to tell her what she’d already given us. I’m sure I didn’t capture it.

I told her that her books brought our family together in midnight lines that snaked through Walmart, where we always bought four copies so we wouldn’t have to share. In our all-night family readings, we raced each other to finish but then slowed in the last chapters because we couldn’t stand for them to end.

When Juniper arrived and Tom started reading, those stories helped me see that being a parent wasn’t something I might get to do someday, it was something I could do right now, for however long it lasted. They helped Tom and I write the story of our own lives — of who we were in those long, wrenching months. They gave a generation of children the most powerful gift imaginable: the lessons of love and friendship and bravery and decency and the ability to apparate to a better place with the turn of a page. They gave our family its sacred text. They guided us through the dark.

I sent Rowling this photo:

Juniper, all grown up!

And now, I unwrapped Rowling’s books from the box, sent all the way from Scotland, and handed them to my daughter.

"She loves me," she said, because she already knew it. She hugged the books tight.

I opened the first book to the first page and read her what it said:

"To Juniper, The Girl Who Lived! With lots of love, J.K. Rowling."

A few months later, our own book was published. It tells the story of Juniper’s six months in that hospital, in that yawning neverland between the womb and the world. It’s about the science that made her possible and the love that saved her in the end.

Harry is in it, and Hermione and Ron and Ginny and Dobby and all the rest, because they were there with us as surely as the doctors and nurses and God himself.

When the book came out, we mailed one off to Scotland, to Rowling, signed by Juniper:

"To Jo, Who made us believe. With love and gratitude, Kelley, Tom, Juniper."

Now, our little girl sorts her chickens into the houses of Hogwarts. She voted for Hermione for president. At night, she tells me, she sees Hermione in her dreams.

Last night, we opened "Sorcerer’s Stone" and started the story all over again. This time, Juniper was old enough to follow every word.

Ahead of her lies the hippogriff and the golden snitch and the time-turner and a sprawling, dazzling world where girls are the smartest, the strangest people make the best friends, and you can’t judge someone until you see what they have seen. She will be reminded that no one gets through life alone, and children carry the strength inside them to right the world.

I hope she will remember that she has carried a bit of that magic with her, all this time.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the pandemic, you'd think people would have the basics figured out. Sure, there was some confusion in the beginning as to whether or not masks were going to help, but that was months ago (which might as well be years in pandemic time). Plenty of studies have shown that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of the virus and public health officials say universal masking is one of the keys to being able to safely resume some normal activities.

Normal activities include things like getting a coffee at Starbucks, but a viral video of a barista's encounter with an anti-masker shows why the U.S. will likely be living in the worst of both worlds—massive spread and economic woe—for the foreseeable future.

Alex Beckom works at a Starbucks in Santee, California and shared a video taken after a woman pulled down her "Trump 2020" mask to ask the 19-year-old barista a question, pulled it back up when the barista asked her to, then pulled it down again.

Keep Reading Show less
True

*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through links on our site.

With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

Keep Reading Show less