Five-year-old's cancer fight inspires 'Wings of Courage'

Book will be given to local children battling cancer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Leah James was just five years old when she lost her battle with an inoperable brain tumor.  That was nearly ten years ago, but today, the Livonia preschooler's spirit is living on through a new book called "Wings of Courage."

Her parents say Leah loved the color purple, coloring pictures and reading her "storybooks."     Even as she endured treatment for that brain tumor, Leah loved life.

"She would look up at me and say, 'Mommy, my heart is happy,'" remembered Karen James, Leah's mother.

"She was brave, and she was tough and she showed a lot of courage," said Leah's father Phil James.

It's Leah's happy spirit and courage that her parents and big sister Kylie hope to share with the new book.

"I think you feel very alone, and it's so important to not feel isolated," said Karen James.  "And what better way to show a child they are not alone than through a storybook."

"Wings of Courage" was written by Northville third grade teacher Sue Beth Balash, illustrated by former U-M School of Art and Design student Ellen Nelson and published by U-M Publishing.

Today several of the brave young patients at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital were treated to a special reading of the book, followed by a book signing.

"Wings of Courage" is the story of a butterfly who needs a little courage and finds it from a girl named Leah who is learning to be strong and brave while fighting a brain tumor.   

When her butterfly at school seems scared to fly away, Leah shares the story of how she finds courage when she is scared, helping the butterfly spread its wings and take flight for the journey ahead.

Frogs were also special to Leah.  The book has a frog somewhere on each page for children to try and spot.

The book was created with a $15,000 donation from "Leah's Happy Hearts" -- a non-profit foundation started in Leah's memory.

"We raise money for pediatric brain tumor research, and we also grant mini-wishes to kids who are also sick with some type of illness," said Phil James.

Every pediatric cancer patient at Mott will receive a copy of the book.   It's also available on Amazon for $9.99.   All proceeds will help continue to provide the book for patients at Mott.

"I think it shows them, that you know, I'm going to be doing the same thing as this little girl in the book and if she can do it, I can do it," said Phil James.

And what would Leah think of the book: "I think she would love it," said Karen James.

Leah's Happy Hearts will hold its annual annual 5K Family Fun Walk in Northville at Maybury State Park on Saturday, May 30th.   Registration begins at 9 a.m., the walk starts at 10 a.m.   For more information about Leah's Happy Hearts and the walk, click here. or visit their Facebook page at

For more about "Wings of Courage," click here.