This cancer awareness season (Gold in Sept & Pink in Oct), I’ve been searching for picture books about cancer. The three books I chose to highlight introduce an image of what some cancer journeys are like. As more people share their stories, the picture will become more complete and those outside of the experience (as well as those new to cancer) will better understand the diagnosis.
My favorite is Catherine Stier’s When a Kid like ME Fights Cancer. The book starts abruptly, parallel to the “drop everything” interruption that happens when cancer becomes reality. In this book, a child shares what he learns after his diagnosis – the first thing being “that cancer is something you fight.” Interactions with his community are essential and that community grows to include the hospital and even strangers wanting to fight cancer with him. As a mom who has frequented Children’s Hospital Oncology Departments for the past fifteen years, this book is the best description I’ve seen of what life is like on the inside.
Angel Chang’s vibrant illustrations include emotions, subtly visible on the faces of those involved. And I especially I love her details, like a worker wearing a tag that reads “Child Life Specialist,” and paper cranes over the child’s bed. Printed in 2019, this book shows what oncology clinics were like pre-Covid. After attending chemo this week without any social interaction, I hope we get to a place where oncology playrooms and volunteers can return.
Cancer Hates Kisses by Jessica Reid Sliwerski is about a mom with cancer and is written for preschool aged children. It declares that mom is a superhero and describes what she does to fight cancer. The repeated phrase “kicks cancer’s butt” is rebelliously appropriate for the target age bracket. The descriptions of things that cancer hates are expressions of love (such as kisses) that will help children feel that they are a part of the battle. Mika Song’s watercolor and ink illustrations compliment the message and describe the mother’s cancer experiences through pictures readily recognizable to those who familiar with cancer treatments.
The Goodbye Cancer Garden is a happily ever after sort of story – the kind we need to read from time to time to see evidence that some cancer battles are won within a year. Janna Matthies beautifully describes how the family grows a garden to pass the time while the mother experiences her stages of her treatment. We do not know the long term challenges the family still faces, but the celebrations as treatment ends bring hope.
Kristi Valiant’s illustrations? Wow. They perfectly highlight the feelings found during the blur of cancer chaos. Her characters’ range of emotions enhance the story and show sincere joy in addition to fear and sorrow.
Two of these three books are published by Albert Whitman & Company. They are also the source of other diverse books in our school collection such as What’s Silly Hair Day with No Hair? about a child with alopecia and I’m a gluten-sniffing service Dog. Leaving behind September and October for the gratitude of November brings hope. As does companies that are using their strength to represent medically diverse children. It felt good to open my query letter to Albert Whitman & Company with a sincere thank you. Whether or not they respond, it felt right. I am back to querying.