There are a lot of books on the market for children who have a parent with health challenges. It’s a great well of resources but not all of them fit every situation. I’ve gone through and read and researched a couple dozen and narrowed down my top pics for kids whose parents have NETs.
Disclaimer: I paid full price for these books and make no money if you click on any of the links.
When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide to Helping Kids Cope
Written by Alaric Lewis, Illustrated by R.W. Alley
This book is a part of the ‘Elf-Help Books for Kids’ series. From the back cover:
This book will help kids cope with the presence of cancer in their lives. May it guide them to a healthier understanding of how the disease affects their loved one, their family, and the world. May it offer – as much as possible – a little healing in the midst of sickness.
Each page has a different topic, addressed through text and image. The first, ‘What is Cancer?’ offers a basic description of cells and that sometimes something goes wrong. The illustration has students in a class with the teacher pointing to a diagram of organs and tissues in a sketch of a body, labelled ‘Your Body Parts’.
Through the book, we see two families of characters come up in the images again and again. One boy has a grandfather with cancer. One family has two girls, and it’s one of the girls who has cancer. They aren’t named and there is no narrative but the illustrations depict many scenes that cover a range of facts and information about cancer, scenarios the families find themselves in (at the doctor, visiting Grandpa who is in bed), and emotional responses – tears and sadness, anger, fear and happiness. There are pages that address death – the grandfather dies, and the last page mentions prayer, and suggests children can pray for things they need and things they are thankful for.
This one is excellent for reading to toddlers and young children as the text provides a good prompt and can be simplified for littler ones. Older children can be read to directly from the text, or can read it for themselves – the font is clear and the language is simple yet effective.
The Cancer That Wouldn’t Go Away: A Story For Kids About Metastatic Cancer
Written by Hadassa Field, Illustrated by Christina G. Smith
Includes “How To Use This Book” by child psychologist Rinat R. Green, Psy.D.
This narrative story is about a boy named Max, who is in the second grade, and his Mom has cancer again. The book tackles how she ‘doesn’t look sick’ this time, how her hair isn’t falling out. Max struggles to understand that it won’t just get better and go away. He wants a baby brother or sister, and his parents tell him that won’t happen. We see images of Mom and Dad worried and holding hands, we see their emotions as they respond to Max’s – his hurt and anger and fear and disappointment. We see moments when Mom has more energy and less, and how daily life is different from what they all thought it would be. Grandma is a minor character, illustrating that Max will be taken care of even when his Mom can’t be there. The theme of the book is one day at a time – as Mom’s energy is unpredictable, as they wait for test results, as they try new medicine, they take it one day at a time. Both Mom and Max acknowledge that they don’t like not knowing what is going to happen, and they encourage each other to take it one day at a time.
I particularly like this book for those of us with NETs. It is most often a ‘cancer that won’t go away’. Where many books show parents recovering, this one ends in limbo, in the unknown, with the family simply moving forward one day at a time.
Max is a second-grader and the reading level of the book is about a second-grade level. I read it to my young children and find the illustrations to be powerful. They are probably my favourite thing about this book. We see Mom and Dad’s emotions on their faces and Max’s too, and the pictures so clearly show the ‘one day at a time’ theme and the unpredictability of the situation.
Why Does Mommy Hurt?
Written by Elizabeth M. Christy, Illustrated by James G. Miller
How Many Marbles Do You Have?
Written and Illustrated by Melinda Malott
Both of these books are actually written for children whose parents have Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At our house, we adapt them, because many of the scenarios the families face are similar to ours. Both feature Moms who have chronic illness, with boys as the children.
In Why Does Mommy Hurt? the family faces the unpredictability of Mom’s condition. Sometimes she can play, sometimes she needs rest, and she doesn’t usually look sick. A range of emotions are experienced, validated and responded to – anger, sadness, frustration. The child learns the way he can help – hugs and kisses, picking up around the house, helping with grocery shopping (the child is just tall enough to push the cart!). The message of the book is ‘we help each other’.
In How Many Marbles Do You Have? a mom uses a jar of marbles to help her family understand her limitations. Similar to Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory, the marbles represent how much energy she has and how much she can do each day. Different activities cost different marbles. The child learns that she doesn’t have the same number of marbles each day, and that she can’t borrow marbles from him, even when he offers. The images show the different activities they can do, often modified for Mom who rests in bed or on a lounge chair. Days with very few marbles are shown, as are compromises – they want to go to the mall, but shop online in bed together instead. Near the end, Mom spends a day resting so that she has enough marbles for a treat to celebrate the child’s accomplishments on a special day. The message of the book is ‘a heart full of love is better than a jar full of marbles any day’.
My children are young (nearly 3 and nearly 2) and they love books. They love to be read to, but the also love to ‘read’ themselves, picking their favourite books and turning the pages, telling themselves the stories as they go. The ‘cancery’ books, as my son calls them, have really helped them articulate our message to them – they are loved, this is not their fault, cancer is bad, we will try to get rid of it, they will be taken care of, and perhaps, most importantly, their feelings are okay. All the big feelings they have, how strong they are, how fast they change, they are all okay to feel and we will help them express and process those feelings.
Have you found any books that have helped you talk about your cancer with you kids? What do you look for in a book for your kids?
Check out Part Two for more of my favourite books: Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings, The Invisible String, Let My Colors Out, and the American Cancer Society activity book for kids: Because… Someone I Love Has Cancer.