Books to Help Children Cope with Cancer

Medical Psychologist
Pediatric Social Worker
Child Life Specialist
Monday, September 17, 2018 - 5:03pm

Cancer is confusing, and It’s hard to find the right words to help a child understand such a difficult disease. While we can’t tell you exactly what to say, we hope these books give you a good starting point for open and honest communication. The list includes insightful and educational stories to help your entire family find comfort and inspiration when it’s most needed. 

Books for Children Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

"My Cancer Days" by Courtney Filigenzi 

By helping children with cancer cope with their illness, this illustrated book approaches their emotions from diagnosis through treatment in a way that they can easily understand and can help describe what they are feeling. In the story, a young girl uses color to express her full range of emotions as she undergoes cancer treatment. Winner of  2016 International Book Awards, Children's Mind/Body/Spirit.

"Oncology, Stupology" by Marilyn Hershey

This delightfully illustrated picture book is for children (of all ages) battling cancer. The story is wonderfully weaved with humor and brightly colored pictures; while it takes you through a child's true emotional frustrations from being in the hospital.

"Be the Boss of your Pain" by Timothy Culbert, MD and Rebecca Kajander, CPNP, MPH

Speaks to kids ages eight and up with this message: Your body, mind, and spirit—working together—have amazing abilities to help you control how your body feels, even when you have pain. 

When you have pain, you often start feeling bad in other ways, too. You might have low energy, get poor sleep, or have no appetite. You might get in a lousy mood or be bored and worried. You might even feel disconnected or hopeless. When you start to have these problems, being the boss of your body can help. (Related Reading: "Be the Boss of Your Stress").

"The Long and Short of It" by Shennen Bersani

With colorful illustrations and a comforting message, this picture book follows the parallel stories of two young girls who are having problems with their hair. One wants to grow her hair longer, while the other, who has lost her hair during cancer treatment, would just like to have it back. Their friendship leads them to a new understanding of hair loss and the act of giving and teaches them about courage, generosity, and pride. A helpful reading and discussion guide for parents and a list of fun, related learning activities for kids are also included. 

"Draw It Out" & "Ink About It" by Art with Heart

"Draw It Out" is a therapeutic activity book for elementary and middle school aged with complex and confusing emotions. Developed under the guidance of 27 mental health experts, the age-appropriate, research-based prompts serve as a springboard for courageous conversations, helping children develop strategies for healing. 

"Ink About It" is a therapeutic activity book that uses creative expression to help middle school youth cope with difficult circumstances. "Ink About It" was developed in collaboration with experts in the mental health field and features a combination of writing and art prompts, blending therapeutic modalities with world-class illustration to support middle schoolers as they develop an understanding of themselves and their emotions.

Books for Children Coping with a Family Member's Cancer Diagnosis

"Our Family Has Cancer" by Christine Clifford

When their mother is diagnosed with cancer, sixth-grader Tim and his younger brother visit her in the hospital where they learn about radiation, chemotherapy and help with the chores at home.

"Because... Someone I Love Has Cancer" by American Cancer Society  

This inspired publication is designed to address the basic goals of therapeutic support for children who have a loved one with cancer. This activity book, featuring five self-sharpening crayons to inspire creativity also includes a 16-page removable guide for caregivers with family and group activities, as well as activities that offer ways to discover inner strengths and enhance self-esteem.

Books for Children Coping with Cancer at School

"Victoria's Smile" by Rita Geller

When Victoria, the new girl in class, is shunned by her classmates because of how she looks, her mother comes to school one day to explain about Victoria's battle with cancer so they will understand.

"Takin Cancer to School" (Special Kids in School Series) by Kim Gosselin

This beautifully illustrated and fun-to-read storybook simplifies and normalizes complicated childhood conditions, like cancer. When read aloud, other children can identify why a peer may be treated differently and begin to empathize with them. In addition, children whose conditions set them apart as being different begin to feel accepted and safe.

Books for Coping with a Sibling's Cancer Diagnosis

"What About Me, When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick" by Allen Peterkin, MD

When a child is seriously ill, siblings experience mixed emotions and hurt feelings, and wonder about the future. In this heartwarming story, the narrator, a confused young girl, expresses all of these concerns when her brother goes to the hospital for an extended stay.

"Oliver's Story- For "Sibs" of Kids With Cancer" by Michael Dodd

This book tells a story about one child. But there is an important story to be told for every brother or sister of a child with cancer. That's because when you find out your brother or sister has cancer, all of a sudden, life can get turned upside down.

Children's Books for Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

"And They Still Bloom" by Amy Rovere

Responding to the fact that coping with a parent's death can be especially hard on young children, this beautifully written and illustrated book is a valuable resource for parents and counselors. Ten-year-old Emily and seven-year-old Ben must deal with the loss of their mother to cancer. Guided by conversations with their father, they embark on a journey of grief and healing, each searching for a path to acceptance.

Fiction Novels for Teens and Preteens:

"Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie" by Jordan Sonnenblick

Steven has a totally normal life (well, almost). He plays drums in the All-City Jazz Band (whose members call him the "Peasant"), has a crush on the hottest girl in school (who doesn't even know he's alive), and is constantly annoyed by his younger brother, Jeffrey (who is cuter than cute - which is also pretty annoying). But when Jeffrey gets sick, Steven's world is turned upside down, and he is forced to deal with his brother's illness, his parents' attempts to keep the family in one piece, his homework, the band, girls, and Dangerous Pie. (Related reading: "After Ever After").

"I'm Not Her" by Janet Gurtler

Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that's okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture-perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn't hold it together, who will?

"The Bald-Headed Princess: Cancer, Chemo, and Courage" by Maribeth R. Ditmars

With her parents by her side and new friends to tell her bad jokes, eleven-year-old "soccer princess" Izzie Salida learns to cope with her leukemia diagnosis and treatment.

Roswell Park's Resource Center for Patients and Families has a lending library of books for your convenience. Stop in to find these titles and learn more about additional tools to help your child cope with cancer.

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