Alexandria, VA – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the question Rachel Gray, Founder of Joy To The Kids, used to ask children she would visit in the hospital. Joy To The Kids is a nonprofit organization that brings magic into kids’ lives. Gray wanted to make a difference for children with cancer and she knew that a little magic can go a long way, so she had an idea.
Dressing up as a magical princess with beautiful flowing hair, Rachel often heard kids say, “I want to be a princess like you, with pretty hair like yours.” This was a common thread among young girls and teens undergoing chemotherapy.
Their words inspired her to think outside hospital walls. Gray created a princess unlike any other, but just as magnificent: Princess Joy, The Bald Princess. Then she co-wrote The Bald Princess series with her good friend, author Tricia Politte.
A former high school teacher, Alexandria resident Tricia Politte was already an established children’s author. Her first book was The Magic Heart. When Rachel developed the idea of The Bald Princess in 2014, she knew Tricia was the right woman to tell the story. Tricia says she wrote The Magic Heart “to show everyone they have the power within to overcome disappointment and heartache.”
“I’ve seen a lot of disappointment in kids,” says Tricia of her years of teaching.
The main character of a new children’s book series, The Bald Princess, Princess Joy is a girl like anyone else except she is a princess, she has superpowers, and she is bald. “We wanted to give these kids a role model that looked like them,” says Rachel.
“We did not want this book to be about cancer,” she adds. “We wanted to create an empowering character who was bald and not sick.” With strong antibullying and inclusivity themes, The Bald Princess strives to empower children of all sizes, ages, races, and hair types. The first book grew to become a series of three.
Rachel and Tricia have heard from children both with and without cancer, and their parents, about the positive impact The Bald Princess has had. While Princess Joy started as a support for children undergoing chemotherapy, she has become an icon for all children by promoting the idea that you are perfect just the way you are.
Members of the Jenkins Group (a publishing services firm) and Independentpublisher.com recognized Rachel and Tricia’s work. The Bald Princess, submitted as a three-book series, won the 2020 Silver Moonbeam Book Award for Best Book Series.
For the children Rachel visits, being bald is not a choice. When she started on her princess journey, she connected with the Saint Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research, to join a head-shaving event. For Rachel, the decision to shave her head was “a no-brainer.” She sponsored a child and was encouraged by others at Saint Baldrick’s taking their first shaves too.
She then came to realize, on a deeply personal level, the magnitude of what she was undertaking. “To be bald as a woman has a stigma,” says Rachel. “Everybody assumed that I had cancer, which was a big eye-opener in my life.”
Rachel Gray has a daughter. She strived to ensure that her daughter understood what she was doing and why. “A value my mother instilled in me is ‘practice what you preach.’ My daughter sees me leading by example, which allows me to embody my mission,” she says.
This mission has not been without hardship, but the people she has grown close to along the way keep Rachel inspired. “Thank You’s. That’s my why,” she says. “A big smile and a hug, seeing the kids light up, talking with their parents. If we bring a moment of distraction or joy, then we’ve done our jobs.”
In this time of COVID-19, Princess Joy’s duties have changed. The princess cannot visit children now, but Rachel and Tricia are ensuring that their story continues to reach children. Rachel reads The Bald Princess on YouTube videos and Joy To The Kids hosts virtual events and works with charities to get books into kids’ hands. You can help. For every book purchased, a portion of the proceeds helps a child receive a book. The books are available on Amazon. Learn more at www.baldprincessjoy.org.