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.