My heart is so very heavy as I write this. A friend of mine has a child recently diagnosed with cancer. It is a time of unfathomable pain and worry for the whole family. In times like this, where I don’t know what to do or how to help, I search for books that might bring some comfort or understanding, specifically for the child who is facing a very scary situation.
I bought the first four of these books for my friend, but I read through them first to make sure there wasn’t anything I thought would be more harmful than helpful. I also gave them directly to my friend so that she could read them first and then read them to her child at her own discretion. There may be details in this book that she isn’t quite ready to share with her child yet. Having experienced the loss of my brother when I was thirteen, I know that sometimes even the most kind-hearted attempts at comforting words can sting. I never want to be the cause of more pain, so I try to be sensitive about the words I use when others are suffering (although I’m sure I have still unintentionally said something painful). Although I have never had a child who has cancer and therefore cannot objectively say what may or may not be appropriate to share with a young child, I have attempted to highlight the areas in each of the books that might be a concern for parents of children with cancer.
September also happens to be Childhood Cancer Awareness month, so this seemed like a fitting post for the last day of September.
Books for Children with Cancer
The Famous Hat by Kate Gaynor
This book is written from the perspective of a 5-year old boy named Harry. He is just like other little boys and girls his age, except he has to go to the hospital a lot and see Dr. John. Harry describes receiving medicine through a tube in his chest and meeting other kids who were receiving treatment too. Harry talks about his hair falling out and how he was scared at first, but how his mum promised it would come back again someday. One day the children at the hospital get a special visit from a fireman. Harry wants desperately to wear the fireman’s hat, but he says it only fits special types of heads. Harry pulls off his stocking cap and shows the fireman how special his head is. The fireman agreed that his head was special and let him wear (and keep) his fireman hat. All the other children in the hospital loved seeing Harry’s famous hat. Towards the end of the book, Harry’s hair begins growing back because his doctor tells him he is getting better. He meets a sad little girl in the hospital who has just lost her hair and gives her his famous fireman’s hat that she can keep until her hair grows back. The end of the book has a page where children can draw a picture of their own special story.
Overall, I think this would be a beneficial book for children going through chemotherapy. It is upbeat and positive, without getting into too much detail. I found it interesting that the book never mentions the word “cancer”.
H is for Hairy Fairy by Kim Martin
This book is a simple alphabet book for kids (and even adults) going through cancer. It is positive, lighthearted and illustrated with cute cartoons and encouraging messages from the “fairies” throughout the book”. Here are each of the letters in the alphabet. Each page also contains a few sentences about each of the descriptive words.
D- Doctors, Diagnosis, & Disease
F- Feelings of Fear
G- Good days
H- Hair Fairies (the book explains them as fairies who come and gather your hair while you sleep–a cute explanation for young children going through chemotherapy)
J- Journey & Joys
K- Kindness of Others
M- MRI machines
Q- Quick & Quiet
V- Video Games
Kathy’s Hats by Trudy Krisher
This sweet book is written from the perspective of a child named Kathy, who begins the book by telling about all the different hats she has worn during her life: a tiny ribbon when she was a baby and had no hair, a sun hat when she went to the beach, and a baseball cap at the ball game. Then the story takes a turn, “Then, one year, something happened to me. It was something that doesn’t happen to many children, but it happened to me. That something was a very serious disease. Its name was cancer.” The little girl then went on to describe how she had to stay in the hospital and miss school and how eventually all her hair fell out from the chemotherapy. Once she lost all her hair, lots of family and friends brought her hats but she no longer liked them anymore. After complaining to her mom about how much she disliked hats, her mother encouraged her to use her thinking hat (the most important hat of all) to help her think differently about her hats. Kathy began collecting pins to keep on her hat, which made her excited to wear her hats again. One day, her teacher asked all the kids in Kathy’s class to wear a hat and her mother brought cupcakes. The class celebrated that Kathy’s chemotherapy treatments were finished! The book ends with Kathy sharing her excitement of the other “hats” she’ll get to wear during her lifetime: a graduation cap, her wedding veil, and hats that she’ll get to give her own children someday!
Overall, this was a very positive book about a very scary topic. There is one sentence in the book that parents might want to omit if they haven’t already discussed the topic with their children. Kathy is describing her feelings and experiences after she learns she has cancer and says, “Because of the cancer, sometimes I felt sick, sometimes I felt mad, and sometimes I felt scared that I might die.” Although it is important to talk about these feelings, I recognize that you might not even want to talk about the possibility of death with a young children who has cancer. If this is the case, I would still recommend this book…I would just omit that part of the sentence. Also, if the prognosis for the child is very grim, this book might be difficult (especially for the parents) because the book ends with Kathy being in remission and looking forward to the rest of her life.
The Great Katie Kate Tackles Questions about Cancer by M. Maitland DeLand, M.D.
This book is much more detailed than the other books and probably appropriate for school-aged children. Suzy’s doctor thinks she may have cancer (which no doctor in his/her right mind should ever tell a child without knowing for sure, but that’s beside the point). While the doctor is talking to her parents, the Great Katie Kate comes to Suzy to answer some of her questions. A large, furry critter appears in the room, which Katie Kate refers to as the Worry Wombat. As long as Suzy asks enough questions and smiles when she can, the Worry Wombat will eventually shrink and dissapear. The Great Katie Kate explains to Suzy what a biopsy is and what will happen during the procedure. She then tells Suzy about the other tests she will have, like an X-ray or a CT scan. Katie Kate tells Suzy about staying in the hospital and having her family and friends visit. She describes what surgery might be like, and the Worry Wombat shrinks little-by-little as Suzy understands more about what is going to happen. The Great Katie Kate describes what chemotherapy might be like, including tummy aches and losing hair, as well as what radiation is like. At the end, the Worry Wombat disappears because Suzy isn’t as worried anymore. The Great Katie Kate zooms out the window just as Suzy’s parents entered the exam room. Suzy’s parents are confused when she tells them that the Great Katie Kate answered all her questions, but the doctor reassures Suzy that Katie Kate is famous around there. The book ends with Suzy’s parents wrapping her in a hug and Suzy’s doctor telling her she is brave.
I think this is a very beneficial book that explains things thoroughly in a very non-threatening and non-scary manner with bright, beautiful illustrations. In my opinion, however, the book, doesn’t properly acknowledge real feelings that someone facing cancer (and their family members) might naturally feel…like sadness, fear, and worry. Instead, the Great Katie Kate tells Suzy that the Worry Wombat will disappear if she keeps smiling. In reality, feelings of worry probably won’t go away completely and sometimes she might not feel like smiling. With the exception of the very first page, the parents faces in the book seem like they might be unrealistic…her dad has a big smile on his face on the last page. No one wants to read a Debbie Downer book, but acknowledging that it is a sad and scary time might be helpful as well. Having prefaced my thoughts, I would still recommend the book for school-aged children facing a cancer diagnosis.
Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois
This book is a generic book about hospital visits, not specifically about cancer or chemotherapy. Franklin gets hurt at his soccer game and have to go to the hospital and have some tests run. The book acknowledges the fear and worry that Franklin feels while he’s in the hospital and he thinks that everyone will see how scared he is on the inside when he has the X-ray. Franklin then has to have an operation to fix his cracked shell.
I really liked that this book acknowledges that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. It describes a hospital stay in a non-threatening way and would be a great book to compare and contrast Franklin’s experience with the child’s experience. Children undergoing chemotherapy might benefit from some of the other books mentioned above in addition to this one so that they know a little more what to expect. Overall, this is a helpful book for any young child facing surgery or a hospital visit.
For Siblings of Children with Cancer
What About Me? When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick by Allan Peterkin
Disclaimer: I have not purchased or even read this book in its entirety, but it looks like it would be helpful for siblings of children who are going through cancer or any other serious illness.
If you or someone you know has a child who has been diagnosed with cancer, what were some of the books, products, or toys that you found to be most helpful???