October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My mother is a breast cancer survivor so this is a topic dear to my heart. I’ve gathered up books for kids and teens about cancer. What am I missing? Thanks for your help!
Books About Cancer For Kids and Teens
Henry and the White Wolf by Tyler Karu and Tim Karu
This is the right picture book to help very young children understand what it’s like to have cancer. Told through animal characters, a young hedgehog gets sick and his mother seeks the white wolf for help. Henry loses his quills and fur and has to drink terrible tasting elixirs that make him very tired but eventually, he is well enough so that they can return home. The smooth stone that the white wolf gives Henry reminds him that he’s a strong, brave hedgehog. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Nowhere Hair by Sue Glader, illustrated by Edith Buenen
With gentle rhymes, this picture book explains why mommy doesn’t have any hair. It’s not because they fought and it’s not a disease that is contagious. NOWHERE HAIR offers a comfortable platform to explain something that is inherently very difficult. Recommended by the American School Counselor Association and LIVESTRONG and used in more than 100+ cancer centers. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Mom Has Cancer! by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, illustrated by Marta Fabrega
As part of the Let’s Talk About It series, this book does the heavy lifting for kids who are told that their mom has cancer. It covers what to expect in terms of mom’s treatments and energy level, assuages guilt, and, for example, offers suggestions of how to help mom feel better. The gentle but factual tone of the book is calming and reassuring but this picture book is also realistic. This would be my recommendation to have on hand to help lead a discussion about mom having cancer. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Jana Matthies, illustrated by Kristi Valient
Janie and Jeffrey’s mom gets diagnosed with breast cancer but the doctor has good news. Probably by pumpkin time, their mom will be better. On the night before her operation, Janie has a great idea to plant a garden to remind them that mom’s getting better. Hello, pumpkins. Goodbye cancer! Hence, “The Goodbye Cancer Garden.” Her mom’s chemo and radiation treatments are marked by milestones in their garden. By autumn when they are playing baseball to celebrate the end of their mom’s cancer treatments, they find two perfect pumpkins in the garden! [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Kathy’s Hats: A Story of Hope by Trudy Krisher, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Kathy has worn many hats in her lifetime but the red cap she wears to cover her bald head makes her mad until she finds a way to make it special. A thinking cap is invisible but helps you think when you are faced with a challenge. Kathy puts hers on and applies it to her red cap by adding a teddy bear pin. Soon, her red cap is decorated with pins that are gifted to her. When she gets the great news that her cancer has gone away, the cap goes too but she’ll always keep her thinking cap. Trudy wrote this book about her daughter Kathy who was diagnosed with cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) at age nine. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Nana, What’s Cancer? by Beverlye Hyman Fead and Tessa Mae Hamermesh, illustrated by Shennen Bersani
What’s really great about this book is that is really written by a grandmother and granddaughter! Nana is a stage IV cancer survivor of almost seven years when she wrote this book with her eight-year-old granddaughter Tess. Tess wanted to write a book that explains cancer to kids.
This book is for kids who want to understand the terminology and science behind cancer. Tess’s grandmother has cancer, and she answers all the questions Tess has about exactly what that is. Young scientists will appreciate the easy-to-understand explanations. [advanced picture book, ages 9 and up]
What About Me? When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick by Allan Peterkin, M.D., illustrated by Frances Middendorf
Cancer puts stress on the entire family, particularly siblings when their brother or sister gets sick. This is the perfect picture book to give to siblings to help them understand that it’s not their fault and that they are also loved by their parents. Feeling left out, scared, and angry are natural and healthy emotions that need to be addressed with siblings who are also going through a lot. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love by Sally Loughridge
Younger siblings might not understand why their sick sibling is getting all the attention or even what cancer and the treatment is like. This is a great and realistic picture book from the point of view of the younger sibling and it’s a good tool to use for starting a discussion about cancer. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Angels and Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer, art therapy by Lisa Murray, photography by Billy Howard
Angels and Monsters honor the twenty-five courageous children who shared their fears and hopes as they battled cancer. Seventeen of the children survived cancer. It speaks to the resiliency of the human spirit and would be a great book to gift to any child battling cancer and it would let them know that they are not alone. [photographic essay, I’d match the pages of the age of the child in the book to the age of the child reading it]
And Still They Bloom: A Family’s Journey of Loss and Healing by Amy Rovere, illustrated by Joel Spector
For kids who have lost a loved one, this book will bring comfort in knowing that the strong emotions that they are experiencing — anger, sadness, fear, and hopelessness — are part of their grieving experience. Emily and Ben lose their mother to cancer and their father helps them express their feelings in a comforting way. Slowly, as a family, they find their way. Every grieving child should read this book.
Author Amy Rovere lost her mother to cancer when she was nine. This book was inspired by her loss and by her desire to help children going through a similar experience. [advanced picture book, ages 9 and up]
Her Pink Hair by Jill Dana
Told from the perspective of a young girl as she witnesses her best friend’s battle with cancer, this picture book uses clay figures to illustrate this sensitive story that ends in loss. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
Todd Parr helps kids to articulate how they might feel when they say goodbye to someone. While this picture book would work in a variety of situations (friend moving away, divorce, parent incarcerated, etc.), it also is a great companion book to Her Pink Hair. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Her Brown Hair by Jill Dana
This is the companion book to Her Pink Hair. It’s a look at the friendship between two girls as one battles cancer. In this story, the friend is feeling better and gets to go home from the hospital. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Children’s Books Heal has a series on Childhood Cancer Awareness for September. This is another great book she’s reviewed.
Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer: A Tale of Chemotherapy and Caring by Jewel Kats, illustrated by Claudia Marie Lenart
Jewell Kats has written a heartwarming and honest story about a girl and her dog both receiving a cancer diagnosis. This is a refreshing angle on a story. The bond between Jenny and her dog is realistic. Even though Jenny is still receiving chemo and feels sick many days, she bravely accompanies Dolly to her treatments. Together they love and support one another through many tough times. Jenny is a very courageous character. And Dolly is the best medicine for Jenny’s healing process. But the prognosis is not always good for dogs with cancer. As Jenny gets better, Dolly begins to weaken. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! by Sharon Chappell
The Little Green Monster Project: Helping Children and Families Impacted by Cancer was founded by Sharon Chappell during her own treatment for breast cancer. She raised donation and grant funds to publish and gift her book, The Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! to families impacted by cancer and the organizations that support them. The LGM Project helps parents and children talk about cancer diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, and the family’s emotional experiences through literacy and the arts.
The Little Green Monster Project is committed to providing quality, healing, creative experiences for all families regardless of their ability to pay. Their activities are volunteer and donation-based and grant-funded, and do not require payment from families impacted by cancer.
If you are interested in participating as a volunteer or know someone who could benefit from the Little Green Monster, please contact Sharon directly at littlegreenmonster2018@gmail.
M. C. Plays Hide & Seek: An Empowering Story for Healthy Children Who Care About A Person Living with Cancer by Eva Grayzel
A cancer cell may be tricky to detect but there are many doctors who are on the lookout. Use this book to promote dialogue about a cancer diagnosis. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
M. C. the Globetrotter by Eva Grayzel
Mr. C is a cancer cell that is known all over the world. This book introduces children who have a family member fighting cancer and how they cope with the changes that it brings. Use this book to empower children with different ways to help themselves and others. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Birds of a Feather: A Children’s Story of Love, Loss, and What Came Next by Tom Crice, illustrated by Ellen Rakatansky
This is a really comforting story of what it is like for a child experiencing loss without really having closure after his beloved grandfather passes away. I think it’s a very realistic portrayal of the range of emotions that kids feel, and this story lets them know that it’s ok to feel that way. The birds on a subway is a nice connection to processing these emotions from a different perspective. [early chapter book, ages 6 and up]
Middle Grade Books With Cancer Themes
Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart
Description from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors from the author herself:
“Abby is an introverted 12-year-old whose best friend moves to Israel and she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen to her. She’s wrong. Her beloved, hilarious older brother is diagnosed with testicular cancer, and everything changes. Abby and her two awesome moms have to help Paul get through surgery and treatments. It’s hard on everyone. Meanwhile, Abby tries to navigate seventh grade without her best (and only) friend by her side in a world that feels too loud and too busy. One of the things that brings Abby joy during this difficult time is the mysterious new boy who moved in next door. Abby explores her feelings for this boy while she also tries to figure out who she is and how she’ll manage the challenges in her life.
Echo’s Sister by Paul
Twelve-year-old El has planned on making her first week at a new school fantastic. She won’t go by her given name, Laughter. She’ll sit in the back of the classroom where she can make new friends. She won’t even have time to think about all the fun her old friends are having without her. Everything will be great.
But when her dad picks her up after school and tells her that her younger sister, Echo, has a life-threatening illness, her world is suddenly turned upside down. And with her parents now pressed for time and money, El feels lost and powerless.
Then she befriends Octavius, the only other kid in school who gets what she’s going through. As El begins to adjust to her new life, she soon finds that maybe a little hope and a lot of love can overcome any obstacle. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Story Time Secrets recommends this middle grade chapter book:
Finding the Worm by Mark Goldblatt
In this sequel to 2013’s Twerp, it is 1969, and Julian and the neighborhood gang are now in junior high school, preparing for their bar mitzvahs and dealing with an unexpected cancer diagnosis for their friend Quentin. As Julian tries to remain positive about his friend’s future, he also gets into a disagreement with the school principal, resulting in an assignment to write an essay about being a good citizen, which he resents so heavily it takes him all year to turn in an acceptable paper. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin
When eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.
After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Debut author Dan Gemeinhart has written a powerful and inspiring novel about a 12-year-old boy who has cancer. Mark’s dealt with chemo treatments since he was five years old. His options are running out. He’s angry. He’s lost. His parents and doctors are making decisions for him. Mark feels out of control and wants to make some choices about his life — and that may include how he dies. He confides his pain and secrets to his best friend, Jessie. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
Do Fish Sleep? by Jens Raschke and Jens Rassmus
A ten-year-old girl muses and struggles to understand what death means when her younger brother dies after a long battle with illness. While she and her family are under the dark cloud of grief, she, nevertheless, has dark humor and keen observational skills to ask the universe simple yet deep questions to make sense of this loss. This is a book that will help kids process grief and loss. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Glitter Gets Everywhere by Yvette Clark
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Kitty Wentworth’s mother has died after a lengthy bout with lung cancer, even though she didn’t smoke. Her father and grandmother as very supportive, and have her in therapy with a colleague of her mother’s, so she is able to articulate things that are bothering her. Her older sister Imogen is doing a bit better than Kitty since she has a boyfriend and more outside interests, but Cleo the cat, a friend of her mother’s, Kate, and neighbor Mrs. Allison, who is a contestant on The Great British Bake Off, as well as Sam, the therapist, are all helping. When her father has an opportunity to work on a long-term project in New York City, however, Kitty is aghast that she will have to leave London. There isn’t much of a choice, but she settles into her new school fairly well and makes friends with Henry, whose father is a famous actor. Their grandmother and Mrs. Allison visit, and it’s not long before it’s time to head home to England. When her father has an opportunity to spend several years living in New York, Kitty thinks that there might be some advantages to having two places she can call home.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Young Adult Books With Cancer Themes
Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin
In the story of WISH GIRL, Annie is once again battling cancer when she meets Peter, a boy who trusts the silence of nature more than his family. They meet by a natural pool teeming with hill country life. Peter is running from the world, while Annie is running toward it. They are both misunderstood by their families and rely on one another to find the peace of acceptance.
In Peter’s story, we learn that the noise of the world pushes Peter away from his family. His past is littered with the heartbreak of bullying from his peers, which brings disappointment to his father’s eyes. He will never be the tough kid his father wants–he can only ever be Peter.
Where he can’t find acceptance from his family, he finds it in Annie. Annie is not only escaping her cancer but the treatment plan her doctors have prescribed. There are dangerous side effects and Annie worries that she will be forever changed. Which is worse–vanishing into your own mind, or death? Annie isn’t sure. Before the treatment begins, Annie gets a final wish to attend an art camp, which is actually a crafting camp. Longing for real art, Annie leaves the confines of the camp each day and constructs art with the tools of nature. Creating together, she teaches Peter how to view the Hill Country as an art form.
Review from The Nerdy Book Club
Ever After Ever by Jordan Sonnenblick
Jordan Sonnenblick says that nurses Susan Shaw and Nan S. Songer urged him to write about the story of late effects of teen cancer survivors as the vast majority of us think that beating cancer means you are 100% back again. For Jeffrey and his friend Tad, both cancer survivors, their treatments have left ongoing side effects. The chemotherapy drugs and radiation can mess up your brain permanently. But right now, Jeffrey and Tad are just regular high school kids with typical issues like trying to get the cute girl’s attention and finding their way in the world. Why does cancer still have a hold when they are both in remission?
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Ester Grace Earl by Ester Grace Earl, Lori Earl, Wayne Earl with an introduction by John Green
If you’ve read The Fault in Our Starsand find that it’s difficult to let go of Ester Grace Earl, this is the book for you.
In full color and illustrated with art and photographs, this is a collection of the journals, fiction, letters, and sketches of the late Esther Grace Earl, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 16. Essays by family and friends help to tell Esther’s story along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green who dedicated his #1 bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to her.
12 Tips for Talking to Your Children about Cancer
By: CureDiva Guardian Diva, Nancy
- Decide who the best person is to tell your child/children – This might be the parent with the cancer diagnosis, the other parent, or another family member (or close friend) entirely. I left all telling up to dear hubby. I just couldn’t do it.
- Pick the right moment to tell them – Although there is no good time to break the news, try to pick an appropriate moment to have the initial cancer discussion when you can devote the time and extra mental energy it will undoubtedly require.
- Start simple and go from there – Start with a simple explanation and then see what questions or concerns come up.
- Take the lead from each child – Offer reassurance as honestly as possible and always give each child an opportunity to state his or her feelings and ask questions. They might need to process the information for a while, so be sure to “check back in” frequently.
- Find the right balance for each child – You don’t need to tell every cancer detail, but don’t feel you must hold everything back, either.
- Every child is different – Remember each child, even in the same family, might need more or less information and that’s fine. It doesn’t always boil down to age. Some younger children might want and handle more information better than older ones.
- Refrain from over-protecting your children – Kids can handle a whole lot more than we think they can. They don’t necessarily need protection all the time from the bad things in life and trying to protect them may, in fact, be more harmful in the long run.
- There are resources available to help – Use them if you need guidance or suggestions.
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help – Asking for help can be hard, and for some reason, sometimes asking for help after a cancer diagnosis can be even harder.
- It’s okay for them to see you vulnerable – Tell yourself as many times as necessary that it’s okay for your children to see you vulnerable. This one’s harder than it sounds.
- Don’t underestimate your children’s ability to cope – with your guidance, of course.
- Do the best you can – Remember, parenting before cancer is hard at times. Parenting during cancer treatment is hard at times. Parenting when cancer treatment ends will be hard at times, too.
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