This edition of our Bookshelf series focuses on a topic that’s hard to talk about — particularly with younger family members. That’s why we’ve selected books which open conversations about a loved one’s cancer diagnosis in ways that are easier to grasp, even as the news is anything but easy to accept.
For Early Readers (ages 4-8)
Nowhere Hair by Sue Glader
A spirited approach to an intimidating topic, Nowhere Hair uses rhyme and true-to-life situations to introduce what it might be like for a child with a parent facing a cancer diagnosis. Seeing that her mother’s hair has disappeared, the main character begins a search for it, only to find that her mother has changed in more ways than just losing her hair: she has become occasionally irritable, and wears hats, scarves, and wigs. The little girl has found that cancer is not something that she can “catch” like other illnesses, and that really, her mom hasn’t changed on the inside; she is still her mom. This book is a comforting resource that gives children an accessible guide and a character with whom they can relate.
The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies
This book mirrors the progression of cancer treatments with the growth of a garden. A family gets the news that their mom has cancer, and when the doctor tells them that she will likely be better “by pumpkin time,” the idea for the garden sparks. A creative way to introduce what cancer treatment may look like from a child’s perspective, The Goodbye Cancer Garden explains such things as surgery, chemo, radiation, and perhaps the most obvious for a child: the shaved head. By the time the garden is thriving and healthy, so Mom should be as well!
The Hope Tree: Kids Talk About Breast Cancer by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Animal characters represent children whose parents have had breast cancer. They get together in a support group to discuss typical “kid” things such as movies, sports, and books, all while supporting each other in the process of their mothers having cancer. This book can be used as a familiar, age-appropriate way to open the discussion of children experiencing a parents’ journey through cancer.
For School Age Readers
Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings: When someone you love has cancer… a hopeful, helpful book for kids by Ellen McVicker
With beautiful illustrations and intentional characters, this story is told from a boy’s perspective as he shares his experiences of his mother’s battle against cancer with others his age. Exploring both the medical and emotional sides of navigating this journey, this award-winning book illustrated by an award-winning artist is a valuable addition to any bookshelf, as it offers the story of a journey familiar to far too many families.
For Teen Readers
Both Sides Now by Ruth Pennebaker
While examining the tensions and growth that a mother-daughter relationship undergoes when an experience with cancer is prolonged, Both Sides Now addresses the idea of control in the midst of a situation entirely out of one’s hands. Daughter Liza, a high school junior, is optimistic and hard-working, and mother Rebecca is facing a losing battle against her writing being rejected — and her painful treatment for breast cancer not succeeding. This book is a realistic picture of the difficulties life can throw one’s way, and the complicated truth that things rarely go as planned. It showcases the ups and downs and in-betweens of familial relationships, specifically in mother/teen relationships in the midst of trials.
What books have helped you as a caregiver?
Tell us in the comments below!