Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Children's Books about Chronic Illness, Part 2

Writer Wednesday Children's Books about Chronic Illness

This is part 2 in a series of literature reviews for children coping with a parent who has a chronic or serious illness.  See Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.

In this post, I will review The Invisible String, You Are the Best Medicine, and What Does Super Jonny Do When Mum Gets Sick?

The Invisible String

By: Patrice Karst
Illustrated by: Geoff Stevenson
Age Range: 3 - 7
Hardcover: 36 pages
Publisher: Devorss & Co.; 16th Printing edition (September 1, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0875167349
ISBN-13: 978-0875167343
What to Expect: Two young children learn to cope with fear when their mother is away.

I found references to this book on several sites dealing with illness, death, and hospital visits.  This book is really about none of those, but provides a coping skill to deal with any of them.


This is a delightful story about twins who wake up afraid because of a thunderstorm. The mother comforts the children by giving them an "invisible string" that will keep them connected even when they go back to bed and Mommy remains in the living room. This invisible string that you can't see with your eyes "always connects people who love each other - even in school, jungles, space, and even, heaven. The children ask questions about who is connected with the string and if the string ever goes away.

This story is very comforting for any young child to still feel connected to someone they love who is not physically present, such as a parent in the hospital. While being comforting, it is also charming and entertaining and well-written for this age group.

You Are the Best Medicine

By: Julie Aigner Clark
Illustrated by: Jana Christy
Age Range: 3 - 7
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (November 15, 2011)
Sold By: Harper Collins
Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to Breast Cancer Research
What to Expect: A Mom tells her child about the stages she will go through in her breast cancer treatment and how the child is the best medicine at each stage.


The soft pastel illustrations in this book evoke the gentle nature with which a mother is explaining to her young child what it will be like for her to be treated for breast cancer. This book is written with gentleness and empathy for the child's feeling of vulnerability in mind.

The book begins with this statement: "When I tell you I have cancer, I will be sad. I will be sad because I am sick, but I will be happy because it is not a sickness you can catch from me, and so you can still kiss me and hug me and love me." This book immediately answers one question that children at this age will be concerned with - can they catch it? Remember, at this age, children are the center of their own universe!
Each action the child does or stage the Mom goes through evokes a memory of the child at a younger age which the mother shares. Simultaneously, the child is empowered by the fact that they are a comfort and a help to the parent.
Fear is balanced with safety, sadness is balanced with sadness, feeling sick with being comforted. There is a wonderful pattern throughout the book. The book ends with the mother imagining about the things she will do with her child once she is healed.
The ending is really my only criticism of the book. It is a very real possibility that a woman experiencing breast cancer may not get well and there is the reality that there will be follow up for a long time. I think the ending is wonderful if healing were guaranteed. As it is not, it may be making a false promise.  It is truly dependent on the severity of the mother's cancer and her prognosis and appropriate discussion would need to take place.
I wish this book were non-specific enough to deal with other illnesses as well, but it is a lovely book!

What Does Super Johnny Do When Mum Gets Sick?

By: Simon Colwill
Illustrated by: Jasmine Ting
Age Range: 2 - 9
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Books for Caring Kids (2014)
Sold By: Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-9941127-1-2
Note: This is the UK version. There is no US version, though it is available for purchase in the US through Amazon.

What to Expect: A young boy named Jonathan and his sidekick, Bear, are super heroes whose mission is to help their sick Mum.


This is a humorous and comforting story about a young boy, Jonathan, and his bear who are super heroes trying to help their sick mother who is in the hospital.  The adventure introduces Jonathan and Bear to a variety of hospital staff and what they are doing to help his mother.  Each staff member he meets, Jonathan tries to "assist" by leaving a gadget behind to help that staff member do their job even better.

Johnny is frustrated that none of the staff members let him help, but in the end, his mother tells him just how helpful he is, especially with his superhero hugs.

This story is a funny and charming way to take some of the fear away from visiting the hospital.  It also addresses the child's feelings of helplessness and empowers the child to know that he really does help his mother feel better with his hugs.

Included in the back of the book are guide notes for teachers and notes for parents on how to prepare a child for a parent's impending hospitalization.  This is a great feature!

Learn More

Want to see more books about children of parents with a chronic illness?  See Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.

Have you read any of these books to a child? Are there others you have read that address this topic? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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