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Illinois physician writes children’s book on how to be a first responder

Physician and author Breyanna Grays reads to Yankee Ridge Elementary students in Urbana on Feb. 13, 2023.

URBANA – Breyanna Grays read her children’s book, “Ava Saves The Day,” to students at Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana last week. 

Grays is a spine and nerve specialist in Savoy. Her practice is mostly virtual these days and she serves patients across the country. 

She has long wanted to become a writer. The idea for “Ava Saves The Day” occurred to her while working with stroke and heart attack patients in emergency rooms. 

“Often when they came by ambulance, they had a child with them,” Grays said. “Their child was the only person able to respond to that emergency. If their child didn’t call 911 or call another person and recognize that their mother, their father, their grandmother was having that issue, they may not have been alive.”

Grays wrote the book to teach adults about their bodies and to teach children how to be first responders. Nour Khaled Nasrallah illustrated it and it was published in 2022.

“This is geared towards elementary students,” Grays said. “I want them to have all the steps they need to respond to an emergency.”

Volunteers, parents and students listen to Grays read “Ava Saves The Day” at Yankee Ridge Elementary. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

In the book, a little girl named Ava goes to the park with her mother. Her mother, who is often tired from her job as a professor, has a stroke. Ava recognizes that something is wrong and calls 911. 

Ava then tells the 911 operator where she is and what happened. 

“I want the elementary students to know that they need to know the location. They need to know what happened. Sometimes they will need to know the time of the event and just how to interact with first responders,” Grays said. 

Grays identifies as African American, as are many of the characters in “Ava Saves The Day.” She said book bans and other backlash against diversity in library books have not affected her. 

“I’ve had nothing but great experiences as an author,” Grays said. “I think that it should be standard to have Black authors and have diverse authors, because children need to see people that look like them in all different types of positions.” 

Grays listed some of the professions represented in her book. 

“We have Black physicians like myself. We have Black first responders. The father is educated and does well, and the mother is a professor. I think that children need to see that in the media that they consume,” Grays said. 

Grays plans to continue writing. She is finishing a workbook to go with “Ava Saves The Day.” In addition, she hopes to have a second book out by the fall. 

As for the story of Ava and her mother, it has a happy ending. Her mother recuperates while at the hospital, and she hugs Ava, her hero. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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