The cover of “First Day of K,” the first book in the “Going to Kindergarten with G” book series created by 6-year-old Giuliana Paris, her mother, Randi Paris, and Nikki Hendricks, a kindergarten teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary School. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A tough time kept getting more difficult.

Giuliana Paris was struggling through her kindergarten year at Walnut Grove Elementary School. First came a broken finger after an accident in a bounce house. Then she fell at recess and broke her elbow, before falling while playing and hurting her ankle. Injuries seemed to pile up.

But she forged a bond with her teacher, Nikki Hendricks, who made getting through those first weeks a little easier.

Little did she know, Hendricks was fighting her own battle — breast cancer, which had been diagnosed weeks into the new school year.

Together, they worked on a way to support one another and others.

At Giuliana’s behest, and with help from her mother, Randi Paris, and Hendricks, they’ve created a resource to help young people and grown-ups who are struggling. “Going to Kindergarten with G” is a series of books offering a roadmap to help children understand their emotions and use positive self-talk to overcome challenges.

“It’s a really good thing,” Giuliana said. “I feel really good about it.”

An accompanying workbook, “Positive Self-Talk Journal,” lets kids and their parents work through issues they may be having. Six more books are in the pipeline.

For Giuliana, the opportunity to share some of the lessons for success she learned is special.

“I hope it makes them happy and that they learn something from it. That it helps them with their emotions,” Giuliana said.

At the same time, Hendricks has found it to be a positive project during a difficult time.

“It’s a new experience that I wasn’t expecting. It turned out to be really fun,” she said.

Going into kindergarten, Giuliana was no stranger to positive emotional health and positive self-talk. Paris is a mental health therapist and licensed clinical social worker with her own practice, Paris Counseling. Paris has worked with her daughter for years on mental health and coping skills, even helping her start her own podcast aimed at children, “Feeling Better with G.”

Kindergarten presented a new kind of challenge, though.

“She was nervous — this was her first time in school. So one of the things I prepared her for was the emotion piece of it, how to handle emotions,” Paris said.

Even before school started, though, Giuliana found an emotional rock in her teacher. At meet-the-teacher night, she connected with Hendricks; she later told her mom, “She is going to keep me safe. If I’m safe, I’ll be able to learn.”

The school year started out positively but quickly came with challenges in a string of injuries while playing. Giuliana is tall for a 6-year-old, and over the course of her time in kindergarten, she grew four inches. The growth spurt likely contributed to suffering multiple fractures over 14 weeks.

“It was just one thing after another,” Paris said. “She was doing her own healing and then we got the news about Nikki.”

Hendricks was struggling with her own personal health crisis. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in mid-2023, and would need to take some time away from the classroom while undergoing recovery from surgery.

Still, she tried to keep her own struggle hidden from her students.

“None of the parents, period, knew about my health situation. I’m very private and kept it quiet,” she said.

Hendricks informed her students in September that she’d be taking a leave of absence until Dec. 1. She told them that she had to have surgery and would be away for a little while. At the same time, she sent an email to parents giving them some additional details on her situation.

Giuliana was extremely upset at the news.

“It had only been eight weeks that she was in class, but you could see the bond,” Paris said. “She was really struggling with (Hendricks) being gone. And she didn’t know she was sick; I hadn’t told her the details, but she’s a pretty intuitive 6-year-old, and she knew there was something more.”

Paris and her husband, Benjamin, worked with Giuliana through her feelings about the absence. They talked about her kindergarten journey on the “Feeling Better with G” podcast, with the hope it would help other kids who were dealing with different issues at school.

In the middle of their discussions, Giuliana had an idea — what if we did a book about this?

“I asked her, what would be the goal of that? She said, ‘Well, we could help kids understand their emotions better. And maybe we could do it where it helps the parents help the kids,” Paris said.

At first, Paris was hesitant about the scope of the project. But a comment from a fellow therapist, who had listened to the podcast and suggested doing a book, changed her mind.

She was adept at the emotional side of what kids might be feeling, but didn’t know much about the ins and outs of a kindergarten classroom. So she reached out to someone she knew might — Hendricks.

“I reached out to her. I’d been doing (counseling) for 24 years, she had been teaching for 25 years. We have all of this knowledge, and we can continue helping the people we’re helping. But how can we get the information we have out to help parents, teachers, everyone,” Paris said.

Hendricks had never written a book. But in the midst of recovery from surgery, she needed something to occupy her time.

“I hated being home by myself. I wanted to be back in school in my routine,” she said. “So I thought this was something I could do and focus on.”

Sitting down with Giuliana, they plotted out their story for the first edition, “First Day of K.” The book essentially follows Giulliana’s journey through the first day of kindergarten, from her initial nervousness to her excitement as she made friends and found a teacher she loved. The story is told like a conversation between G and her mom, incorporating many of the coping and self-talk strategies the Parises employ themselves.

“It’s in a dialogue form, so I’m trying to teach parents how to talk about this with their kids,” Paris said.

Paris and Hendricks worked together to iron out the wording and classroom details, changing some language from therapist-speak to words and phrasing children — and parents — might better understand.

Sprinkled through the story are guides for reflection on the story, and perspectives from kids, teachers and parents about the first day of school.

“This is really set up for the caregiver to read with their children” Paris said.

Illustrations were done by Cindy Sonia, with Giuliana contributing some of her own artwork to the books.

The initial book has become a series. An emphasis was made on eight topics that every kid going to school would face, such as making friends, positive self-talk mantras, handling mistakes and adjusting to change.

The second book “Going to Kindergarten with G: Friendship Puzzle,” deals with making friends and dealing with shyness. Six more books are in the works.

Hendricks returned to the classroom in November, and worked half-days through the semester as she went through radiation treatments.

“Going to Kindergarten with G” was given out to Hendricks’ class and others at Walnut Grove to help those students. Packets of the books and workbook were also given to Walnut Grove and Pleasant Grove schools’ incoming kindergarteners.

The series is available on Amazon as well, with the hope to reach a wider audience.

“We’re not just helping my kindergarten class or my school. We’re helping reach a lot of people, a lot of kids,” Hendricks said.

The project has led to a special recognition for Hendricks in April. She was awarded the Golden Apple Award from WISH- TV, given to teachers nominated throughout the Indianapolis area for outstanding educational efforts.

“It was a little overwhelming at first,” she said. “They really make you feel special. It was just another new experience.”

Hendricks has completed nearly all of her treatment, with one surgery remaining. She’ll remain on medication for years moving forward, but otherwise, she feels good.

“I got through everything fairly well and smoothly,” she said. “Healthwise, I’m doing great. Everything looks good.”


“Going to Kindergarten with G”

What: A children’s book series telling the story of the first day of kindergarten, aimed at helping students and parents deal with the emotions that can come from starting school.

Who: Written by Giuliana Paris, a 6-year-old student at Walnut Grove Elementary School, her mother, Randi Paris, owner of Paris Counseling in Greenwood and Nikki Hendricks, a kindergarten teacher at Walnut Grove

Books: “First Day of Kindergarten,” “Friendship Puzzle” and workbook, “Positive Self-Talk Journal.” Six more books are in development.

Where to find them: The books are available on Amazon by searching “Going to Kindergarten with G”

Non-profit: The Parises have formed a nonprofit organization, Authentic Impact Inc., they are using to raise money to fund the books and community outreach. Anyone interested in donating can reach out at [email protected].

Book reading: Randi Paris will be doing a book reading in downtown Franklin on the courthouse lawn at 11 a.m. July 5. If weather is bad, the event will be inside Millie’s Ice Cream Co., 90 W. Jefferson St.

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Ryan Trares
Ryan Trares is a senior reporter and columnist at the Daily Journal. He has long reported on the opioids epidemic in Johnson County, health care, nonprofits, social services and veteran affairs. When he is not writing about arts, entertainment and lifestyle, he can be found running, exploring Indiana’s craft breweries and enjoying live music. He can be reached at [email protected] or 317-736-2727. Follow him on Twitter: @rtrares