I know this isn’t a happy subject but I am getting more and more requests for books written for children about cancer. A few days ago, I was scrolling through my facebook feed and four statuses in a row were about cancer written by friends. There are no six degrees of separation when it comes to cancer. I hope you never need to read any of these books. I hope this list is the least used list on my site, but it’s here if you need it. This is not a definitive list. Please, if you know any books about cancer for kids, share the title in comments.
Some of these books explain treatment and are hopeful and some include death and grief. I have noted the end result of the cancer in each review because I want to help you find the right book.
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You Are the Best Medicine by Julie Aigner Clark stands out among these books. The book follows a mom sharing her new cancer diagnosis with her young daughter saying why she is both happy and sad about it. She relates everything back to happier times to put a positive spin on the challenges. The memories she has of time spent with her daughter and all the times she is still looking forward to will be the best medicine. Everything about this book is gentle and soft and ultimately positive. The book speaks of getting better like it’s a given and while emotions are absolutely discussed, loss is not part of this book. Its goal is reassurance and comfort.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is for kids – but much bigger kids. This YA novel is witty and funny and yes about cancer. It will also probably make you cry. It’s a love story about two teenagers who meet at a support group for kids with cancer. I don’t want to ruin it for you ( and I do encourage adults to read it, it’s not typical YA) but it captures the essence of cancer not being fair. It also captures the feelings parents might have when their child is very very ill. Many of the adults that I knew who read this book cried because they related to the main characters. I teared up reading the dialog between Hazel and her parents. Great book for young teens and older.
That Summer by Tony Johnson. I read this at the library alone knowing that my 3-year-old wasn’t ready for a book about death quite yet. I didn’t even try to conceal my tears. Not even crying, I was sobbing. The book is about the summer that one little boy watches his brother Joey get sick and die from Cancer. The author does a masterful job at relating grief, and the sadness of watching someone you love and don’t expect to die, get weak and leave you. As Joey’s condition worsens he learns to quilt and ultimately it’s his brother who finishes his quilt.
I can’t rave about this book enough. It simply makes the reader get it, as much as you can, without ever living this particular nightmare. The line that haunted me was: “I learned a lot that summer – how to grin when your heart is in shreds…”. That was the line that forced me into the “ugly cry”.
Champ’s Story: Dogs Get Cancer Too! by Sherry North is a sweet book about a little boy and his dog. While petting Champ Cody he finds a lump and it turns out to be cancer. Cody takes very good care of Champ while she goes through her chemo and she returns the favor when he is hurt. The story is touching and hits a few great points but the real gem are the back pages of the book that include facts and even quizzes about cancer.
Punk Wig by Lori Ries is about as funny and cute as any book about cancer can be. In the book, a little boy explains that his mom has cancer. As she goes through chemotherapy and looses her hair, they go shopping for a wig. The wig she ends up choosing is a punk one that looks nothing like her hair before she lost it. The banter between mom and son is adorable. It explains cancer as “alien blobs” and chemo as “zapping ” them with medicine. The overall feeling of this book is upbeat and even the parts where the mom is obviously sick have little bits of whimsy thrown in.
This is a good pick for preschoolers and for children curious about why a friend or acquaintance has lost their hair during chemotherapy. In this book, the mom goes into remission. It explains her recovery as all the alien blobs left and she gives her punk wig to her son for dress up.
And Still They Bloom: A Family’s Journey of Loss and Healing by Amy Rovere is a wonderful book about loss and grieving. The story follows two children as they navigate the loss of their mother to cancer. This book addresses so many issues. Issues include well-meaning but hurtful comments, anger towards the deceased, and fear of forgetting what they looked like. So much of this book deals with the anger that accompanies grief and how unfair it all is. There are no saccharine answers or platitudes, just real honest and frank discussions about the validity of emotions. The text is long and the target audience would be school age and up.
Mom and the Polka-Dot Boo-Boo by Eileen Sutherland is a simplistic rhyming explanation of breast cancer for young children. It keeps the facts simple and explains what is going to happen like being tired, and losing her hair. It also says that she will feel great and be able to play chase again when all the treatments are done. The illustrations are all children’s artwork and they help to balance the serious subject.
Hair for Mama by Kelly A. Tinkham is beautiful. The story is about a little boy who is desperate to find some hair for his mama who has lost hers to chemotherapy. Marcus wants mama to be in the family photo but she doesn’t want to be the way she looks. His mission comes to a climax when he shaves off all his own hair hoping to give it to his mama. When the barber sweeps it up with the other hair on the floor Marcus is heartbroken and goes home in tears.
I was sobbing reading this. I knew it was a story about a mom having cancer but the way the author wrote it was magical. The complex emotions this little boy felt for his mom and she for him, jumped off the page and you can’t help but cry. I wasn’t sad. The love and desire to fix his mom and make everything better and his parents’ tenderness to his feelings touched me. Really, I can’t recommend this book more highly. I should note that this is not a book for toddlers. I would probably wait until a child is 4-5 before reading them this gem. In the end, the mom is still fighting cancer.
Where’s Mom’s Hair? by Debbie Watters is a documentary in a book. The family consists of a mom, dad, and two boys and mom has cancer. They throw a big party for her when her hair starts falling out. Everyone gets their hair cropped super short. The book then is less of a party while she is going through chemo. However, it ends on a high note with new hair and seemingly great health. The book speaks from the perspective of one of her children. It talks about her being sick but never about the fear of losing her to the disease. I loved the photos in this book because it felt like you were right there with this family.
Mary Kate Wright says
Hi. I love your blog, you have some wonderful ideas that I have incorporated into my day with my kiddos. As for this post, I just wanted to share another book for you. It’s called My Blood Brother, A Story about Childhood Leukemia. I actually am the illustrator for the book and based the drawings on my two step sons. The book is for sale on Amazon if any of your readers are interested.
What about books for little girls dealing with a friends diagnosis and not dealing with death? I know that is kind of specific, but that is the situation we are in now. My daughter best friend was just diagnosed with leukemia. We have tried to explain in it terms that a 4 year can understand, but lets me honest… she isn’t able to grasp the concept of cancer. But she does understand that her friend is really sick. I would like a good book geared towards girls but has a positive outcome. Something that will show the stages of the chemo treatments, but doesn’t scare her. The last thing we want to do is plant the idea that she might loose her best friend. Especially since her friend has a really really good cure rate and the chance of death is slim.
Allison hendrix says
I really appreciate this list and resource. Thanks
Another reallly good YA book is Ever After Ever by Jordan Sonnenblick; about the after effects of chemo for the kids that survive and what happens next …
Thank you this! I am a recent follower of yours through pintrest and Facebook. Love your blog has helped me a lot this year with homeschooling my younger child. I just stumbled across this on pintrest and very thankful since I am a cancer survive since Feb 2011 and will be losing my hair to chemo for the third time pretty soon from another chemo switch. These books will help me with my kids this time for sure!! 🙂
Allison McDonald says
Michelle, I am so sorry you need these books but very happy to help you find them. I hope that you are healthy and done with all treatments soon.
Sue Glader says
Allison – I’d like to let your readers know about Nowhere Hair, a children’s book that, since 2010, has helped more than 7,000 families start to talk about the issue of hair loss due to chemo with their kids. I wrote this rhyming story (with whimsical yet strong pictures from a Dutch fashion illustrator)as a response to turn what what a yucky experience with breast cancer at age 33 into something hopeful and helpful. Many thanks for highlighting this difficult topic. -sue http://www.amazon.com/Nowhere-Hair-Explains-cancer-chemo/dp/0984359133
Wanted to add Ever After Ever by Jordan Sonnenblick, YA book about high school kids and the after effects of chemo. It’s an amazing book; I cried and read it again and cried again. But still uplifting. For those who like The Fault in Our Stars.
“Big Tree is Ill” is not only a sweet story loved by many children, also those not dealing with the situation, but it has a practical part with many ideas based on my own experience as a mother with breastcancer to play and be creative around “life-threatening disease” with very young children.
Please take a look at http://talismanneke.be/en/project/big-tree-is-ill/ and help me find a way to publish this book in English, because its a shame it isn’t available in English!
“The Lemonade Club” by Patricia Polacco is a wonderful story dealing with cancer. The teacher of best friends Traci and Marilyn fights leukemia and together with their classmates, they find a way to show her their support. If you have never read Polacco’s works before you are in for a real treat!
Allison McDonald says
I love her but I have never read that book! I am off to find it this week.
I was recently diagnosed with Stage 3B uterine cancer. My own kids are old enough to understand what is going on with me, but I am a Kindergarten teacher. I am continuing to teach and be in the classroom as much as I can. I have been up front with my students as to what is happening including the loss of my hair. I found a great book that talks about cancer and treatments in a non-scary way. “Cancer Party”by Sarah Olsher. I read this book to my class often (they ask me to read it) I also let them see/feel where my medi-port is and show them my bald head. I think the parents are having a harder time understanding my situation than the students.
Allison McDonald says
Heather, I am so sorry I missed this comment and to hear that you are facing cancer. I am so thankful for your book suggestion. I am sure I have other readers that will benefit from it. Sending you good thoughts and strength!