No one wants to talk to their children about cancer. Unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary. But how do you find the right words? You don’t want to gloss over the severity of the disease or make false promises. At the same time, you want to keep your child from worrying.
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Here are some books you can share with your children about cancer and illness. All these books are available to order online as an ebook, paperback, or hardcover.
Here is a list of books about childhood cancer. Some are written for children who have the disease. Others are appropriate to read to children who know someone battling the illness.
1. Amazing Annabelle: A Story for Kids Fighting Cancer by Dylan Fox
A mom wrote this after her three-year-old was diagnosed with cancer. A portion of the sales of this book go to Pediatric Cancer Research.
The title character in the book, Annabelle, has cancer. She uses her imagination to help her through the treatment. There are extra pages in the back of the book. These are for children to fill out while waiting at a doctor’s office. This is the perfect gift to donate to children's hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses.
2. How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? by Vanessa Bayer
In How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? a young bear’s friend suffers from a serious illness. The author of this book is a childhood cancer survivor. She wrote this book based on her experience.
Don’t just buy this book to explain a cancer diagnosis. The message is generic. So it could be used to discuss other life-threatening illnesses as well.
3. The Puddle Jumper’s Guide to Kicking Cancer by Elizabeth A. Billups
In this book, young Gracie and her dog, Roo, share the side effects of battling cancer. Gracie’s real-life mother, Elizabeth Billups wrote the book.
Billups writes about surgery, chemo, and radiation. She also writes about how a huge team of doctors and nurses work to help kids like Gracie fight the disease.
The book is realistic and detailed. It has a glossary in the back of the book for easy reference. The book also includes journaling pages. Kids can write about their own experiences while undergoing treatment.
4. Goodnight Hospital Room by Marilyn Luce Robertson
Marilyn Luce Robertson wrote Goodnight Hospital Room as an homage to Goodnight Moon. Children familiar with Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book will enjoy this version. Especially if they spend a lot of time in hospital rooms.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Goodnight Hospital Room go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
5. The Berenstain Bears’ Hospital Friends by Mike Berenstain
Kids love the Berenstain Bears. In this story, Brother and Sister Bear visit a hospital. This book is not specifically about cancer treatment. But it teaches young children about the staff they will encounter on their visit to a hospital.
A portion of the royalties collected from this book go to The Stan and Jan Berenstain Healthy Kids Foundation.
6. Chemo to the Rescue: A Children’s Book About Leukemia by Mary Brent and Caitlin Knutsson
Mary Brent wrote this book about her daughter Caitlin’s cancer diagnosis. Caitlin struggled to understand why she had to undergo chemotherapy. And Caitlin was confused about why her treatment made her feel sick.
Brent wrote this book to help kids understand the steps of their treatment. And to encourage them to stay strong while going through treatment.
7. The Famous Hat by Kate Gaynor
Childhood cancer is a difficult thing to grasp for people of all ages. It seems so unfair when this disease attacks. And it’s especially difficult when young children are the victims.
The Famous Hat tries to explain the treatment a cancer patient may go through. The author writes about hospital stays, injections, tubes, and hair loss. The main character, Harry, goes through chemotherapy and loses his hair. Read this book to help a child understand what could happen during treatment.
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Some things are difficult to talk about with children. But as adults, we have to learn how to face delicate discussions head-on. We’ve had to learn how to offer condolences when someone loses a friend or family member. We’ve learned the importance of talking to kids about death. And we may have to learn how to tell our children about a cancer diagnosis for someone they love.
Thankfully children’s authors have here to help. Just as there are many children’s books about death, there are plenty of books that explain cancer. Here are some you may consider when having to share bad news with your child.
8. Nowhere Hair: Explains Your Cancer and Chemo to Kids by Sue Glader and Edith Buenen
In Nowhere Hair, Mom has lost her hair. She and her child have fun looking for it.
Although lighthearted in tone, this book still covers serious subjects. It talks about people losing their hair while going through cancer treatment. It also tells children that even though their mom may be tired, she is still the same person she’s always been. It will remind children of the importance of being kind to others, even if they look different from you.
9. Cancer Party! by Sara Olsher
Despite the fun-loving name of this book, Cancer Party breaks down the subject of cancer. Olsher explains everything in terms that kids can understand. The book uses illustrations to show the cells in the body. The illustrations walk through what leads to cancer in the body.
The author of this book, Sara Olsher, is a cancer survivor. She struggled with sharing her diagnosis with her child. And she couldn’t find any books to help her. So she wrote the book. And now others have it as a tool to share with their children.
10. Cancer Hates Kisses by Jessica Reid Silwerski
Cancer Hates Kisses depicts a family whose mom is undergoing cancer treatment. In this story, cancer hates kisses and dance parties. The family participates in such activities in hopes they will drive the disease away.
Silwerski, a cancer survivor, has lived through explaining her diagnosis to her family. Cancer Hates Kisses is a great story to share with a child who has a parent currently fighting the disease.
11. Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings by Ellen McVicker
This book is appropriate for a mother looking for help in sharing her cancer diagnosis with her children. The sweet, simple message is told through the eyes of the child.
The book’s tone is hopeful and positive. This is not the appropriate book to prepare a young child for a loved one’s cancer-related death.
12. Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Child’s Guide to Understanding by Robin Martin Duttmann
Written by a cancer survivor, this book teaches children about what cancer is. And it explains what it means when a loved one is diagnosed. The book also has a glossary in the back for reference.
To give children something to focus on the book includes fundraising ideas. And it has instructions on how to create a Memory Box.
13. When Your Teacher Has Cancer: Helping Children Cope in the Classroom and Beyond by Maryann Makekau
This is the perfect resource for a grade school teacher to explain her diagnosis to her class. The book answers questions children might ask, like if you can catch cancer.
14. Mom Goes to War by Irene Martin
This book describes a queen going into battle with the aid of her faithful companions. The queen is a mother, and the struggle is against cancer.
There is a lot of text in this book, so it may be better for older children. It requires a longer attention span. This book is an allegory, so there are no mentions of chemo and radiation. It may be a good companion book to one of the more scientifically focused on this list.
15. When Someone You Love Has Cancer: A Guide to Help Kids Cope by Alaric Lewis
This book is a more general guide to cancer. It explains the science behind the disease as well as the potential outcomes. And it discusses the emotions that children may experience after hearing the diagnosis.
No one wants to have to explain cancer to children. And knowing what to say can be very difficult. These children’s authors have given us resources to aid in the conversation. While the conversation won’t be any less difficult, you’ll be able to worry less about saying the wrong thing. Instead, you’ll be able to focus on helping your child understand this difficult issue.
If you're looking for more recommendations, read our guide to the best books about cancer.