Author of East Peoria, Peoria’s Scenic Tree Teaches Children About Death


PEORIA — It’s no coincidence that the quaint oak tree in a new children’s book resembles the old oak tree in the High Street.

The long branches of the tree fall to the ground behind a little girl named Lola as she contemplates the impending death of her beloved grandfather. The old tree has seen many friends pass by over its long life, so it’s the perfect being to explain the circle of life to Lola.

“All things are part of something bigger. We are all connected in ways that sometimes we cannot see,” the tree told the little girl.

A desire to give hope

Susan Reising, East Peoria resident, career development coach, wrote “Lola and the Tree of Life” to prepare children for the death of a loved one or pet. The goal was to create a positive understanding of the natural cycle of life. Children also learn that although their loved one is gone, the person or pet will live on in the child’s memories.

Reising spoke about the newly published book during a recent visit to Peoria’s most famous tree.

“They think this tree may have been planted in 1499,” she said. “Can you imagine the wisdom that is in that tree, the things that that tree has seen come and go? I thought it was the perfect vehicle to talk about the cycle of life. There is interdependence, but there is also the healing power of nature.

Reising wrote the book in the late 1990s, but in the days before self-publishing it was difficult to complete a book project. The original book sat on the shelf for many years until recent events prompted him to give it another chance.

“Fast forward to 2020, and you know what happens in 2020 — all these years of political divisions, families are split in two and then we have COVID,” Reising said. “These are just really tough times for so many people, especially children. We don’t have vaccines yet and grandparents are dying or getting really sick. I really wanted to do something to give people hope. people, and I needed to give myself hope too.

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Illustrations relate the magic and complexity of nature

She reworked the story and called illustrator Missy Shepler, who had illustrated the original book. The Chillicothe-based artist was happy to create new designs for the updated version.

“The book would never have seen the light of day without her,” Reising said. “I had ideas of what I wanted each page or spread to look like, but invariably she took the idea and just elevated it.”

With text by East Peoria resident Susan Reising and illustrations by Chillicothe-based artist Missy Shepler. "Lola and the tree of life" provides adults with a way to prepare children for the impending death of a loved one or pet.

Shepler’s illustrations convey both the intricacy and magic of nature in minute detail. The beautiful illustrations help tell a subject that most adults struggle to understand, let alone explain to a child. Reising received feedback from advisors during the writing of the book.

“They loved that it was a story of loss, but it was about impending loss, so it helps prepare the kids before the loss happens,” she said. “Once the loss has occurred, whether it’s a pet, a grandparent or, heaven forbid, a parent, the adults around the child are probably not their best. By laying that foundation it helps them have something to build on and hopefully does less harm to the child trying to figure out what’s going on, because at 4 or 5 years old, he does not necessarily understand what death is.

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Tools to deepen the discussion

While the book deals with both the physical and spiritual aspects of death, religion is deliberately absent.

“My hope is that whatever a family’s religion is, they can find ways to add to that,” Reising said.

Additional resources for families available at can help adults explore this topic further with their child.

“There are questions kids might ask with very simple answers, and those have been reviewed by counsellors,” Reising said. go a little further to help prepare the child? »

The website also offers fun activities for children, including illustrations that can be printed and colored, and a puzzle to find the word.

As a self-published author, Reising is in charge of marketing the book, a task she has just begun. She hopes to have it in a few local outlets in the near future, but for now it’s only available online at and People have already started finding the book online, and Reising was thrilled to hear of some international sales.

“I just found out that we sold one copy in Australia and one copy in Germany in the last two weeks.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on


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