Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Children's Books about Chronic Illness, Part 1

Writer Wednesday Children's Books about Chronic Illness, Part 1
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As promised in last week's Writer Wednesday post, I am providing some literature reviews for children coping with a parent who has a chronic or serious illness.  See Part 2 and Part 3.

In this post, I will review The Paper Chain and When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness.

The Paper Chain

By: Claire Blake, Eliza Blanchard, Kathy Parkinson
Illustrated by: Kathy Parkinson
Age Range: 4 - 8
Softcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Health Press (NM); 1 edition (February 27, 1998)
ISBN-10: 0929173287
ISBN-13: 978-0929173283
What to Expect: Two young children coping when their mother is diagnosed with cancer.

I found references to this book on several sites, including a multiple sclerosis site, however, it is specifically about breast cancer.  This underscores the need for other books for children dealing with a parent with a chronic illness.


This book presents the story of the mother of two young boys whose mother has breast cancer and the experiences they go through throughout the year.  It begins with surgery and proceeds through the mother regrowing her hair and regaining her strength.  

The delightful pen and watercolor illustrations in this book are bright, cheerful and comforting.  Information about certain cancer-related procedures such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are presented in a matter-of-fact  way without being frightening.  It models good coping skills throughout such as the paper chain, a yarn hug, pillow punching, toy play around the chemotherapy, and physical activity.  The book also includes a small glossary at the back that defines some of the cancer-related medical terms.

The intended audience includes preschool, but I think this book is beyond their grasp in a few areas. The timeframe is a bit too broad and unreferenced for that age group to understand, though it does a good job of presenting each stage the mother will go through with her cancer treatment.  I also feel that not enough attention is given upfront to the importance and comfort of their routine being maintained while these changes and events are happening.  It is addressed, but not until the middle of the book.

Strengths of this book include sharing the emotions of the various characters and sharing coping skills that the family implements, such as the paper chain.  This is the reason, I believe, this book is included as a resource for families dealing with other illnesses.  Several coping skills are presented and can be used as a springboard to discuss and implement with the children.  There is also a role given to the children as helpers, which is quite important to young children.

Also presented are common questions that children might have such as:
  • Can I catch it
  • Hospital again?
  • When will you get better?

No false promises are made.  When the mom is asked when she will get better, she responds that she and the doctors are doing everything they can to make her better.  And the story ends with the mother continuing to see the doctor to make sure the cancer doesn't come back.  I think this honesty is of utmost importance.

This book is for the adults as well, in my opinion by providing them a springboard with which to engage in discussion with their children.  It also presents them with a few ideas of how to help the children to cope with this new situation in their lives.  

The coping skills presented in the book : the paper chain, the yarn hug, pillow punching, toy play around chemotherapy, tears, teamwork, and physical activity, could apply to a child dealing with any serious illness a parent may have.

When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness

By: Marge Heegaard
Illustrated by: To be illustrated by children
Age Range: 8 and up
Series: The Drawing Out Feelings Series
Softcover: 36 pages
Publisher: Woodland Press; 1 edition (1992)
ISBN-10: 0962050245
ISBN-13: 978-0962050244
What to Expect: A workbook about chronic illness and related feelings to be completed and illustrated by the child with adult assistance.

I found references to this book on several sites. This book is really for slightly older children but could be used with or adapted for use with younger children with adult assistance.


This book is not a story but rather a workbook.  It is designed to help open communication so that children who are dealing with a parent or other special adult in their life who has a chronic illness. The book prompts the child to illustrate changes in their lives due to the chronic illness and the feelings associated with those changes. It also prompts the child to record what he or she knows about the illness and what questions the child would like to ask about the illness. This is a wonderful way to dispel misconceptions and misunderstandings about what is going on and address the child's questions.

There is a wonderful discussion about the difference between visible illnesses such as chicken pox, and invisible illnesses which happen on the inside of a person's body. The book then goes on to address how the person with the illness might change and the grief and other emotions the child may feel as a result of those changes. Children are led to focus on three particular emotions - anger, fear, and sadness - and how they cope with each one.

Also addressed are how people deal with stress, who is part of their support circle, and various coping skills the child may use.

Although this book is slightly above the age range I would like to focus on, I was really impressed with the comprehensive and thoughtful nature of this book. I do not recommend that a child works with this book alone but with a trusted adult. I also recommend that it is done in stages and not all at once. I think this may be a good resource for parents even with younger children to use portions of the book to help talk about what is happening - especially the idea of visible and invisible illnesses.

Learn More

Want to see more books about children of parents with a chronic illness?  See Part 2 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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