Jennifer Brooks
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On George Floyd's birthday, children in Minneapolis gathered to hear the story of the little girl who was with him at the very end.

Judeah Reynolds, the hero of this story, was 9 years old on Memorial Day 2020. Too little to walk to the store alone. She coaxed her 17-year-old cousin Darnella into walking with her to Cup Foods and into history.

What they saw that day doesn't sound like material for a children's book.

A man on the ground, crying for his mother.

A policeman kneeling on his neck, crushing the life out of him while bystanders pleaded for mercy.

But stories are the way children process the sad, bad, scary things in this world. Judeah's story, A Walk to the Store, — launched Friday, Oct. 14, on what would have been George Floyd's 49th birthday — is a story of love and resilience and the promise that the world can be better.

"I love this one," Judeah said this week, leafing through her book from a chair at Salon Concepts in Minneapolis; getting ready for her book launch party.

She held up a page with an illustration of a frightened little girl who had just watched a Minneapolis police officer kill an unarmed man he had sworn to protect and serve.

"We watch a man get killed," the text explains. "We cannot stop it from happening. All we can do is tell what happened."

Judeah loves the illustrations in her book, published by Beaver's Pond Press. Until a few years ago, she'd never seen a children's book with a hero who looked like her. She hadn't realized someone like her could be the hero of the story.

Storybooks aren't here to reassure children that the world is safe and sane. Stories are full of Big Bad Wolves and giants atop beanstalks and witches in gingerbread houses who want to bake children into pies. Stories show children how to chop down the beanstalks and outwit the witches and wolves.

Judeah's story is about all the people who stood up to say that what happened to George Floyd was wrong and should never happen again. There are tears in the book, but there are also hugs from her mom, and bright murals on the walls around Cup Foods.

Judeah's cousin, Darnella Frazier, trained her camera on the scene outside Cup Foods and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for unflinching citizen journalism.

If Darnella hadn't been there, the city might have gotten away with its initial bland lie about a man who suffered a medical emergency while resisting arrest. Darnella and her camera wouldn't have been there if Judeah hadn't wanted to walk to the store.

"You changed history," one of Judeah's other cousins once told her. Judeah doesn't disagree.

She still thinks about "the incident" and sometimes she still feels like crying. The past two years have felt like forever, she said. Sharing her story helps. Hugs from her mom help.

"My mom is my life," she said. "She's like an angel from God."

At the very end of the book is a list of resources and tips to help children process traumatic events.

"You've got to talk to kids. There's no way to isolate them from what's happening in the world," said Sheletta Brundidge, who wrote the first book Judeah ever read that had a young Black girl on the cover. For more than two years, Brundidge and Beaver's Pond publisher Lily Coyle worked with the Reynolds family to bring the book into the world.

At the Legacy of Dr. Josie R. Johnson Montessori School in north Minneapolis on Friday, the children listened as Judeah shared her story. They received free copies of her book. They sang happy birthday to George Floyd and launched a 49th birthday balloon into the sky in his memory.

Toward the end of the book, Judeah and her mother take another walk to the store, to see crowds, the flowers, the murals and the memorial.

There, Judeah wrote the first draft of her story on a protest sign: It Can Be Better.