Recommended Reading

Our professional child life staff recommend the following books to help you and your children through illness.

Books For Parents

A Tiny Boat At Sea by Izetta Smith, M.A. (2000)
This book is for parents, caregivers, and professionals helping children in their adjustments to the cancer diagnosis of an adult family member.

Cancer in Our Family by Sue Heiney PhD, RN & Joan Hermann, MSW, LSW (2013)
A comprehensive book published through the American Cancer Society, this publication offers information for parents and activities to help children cope.

How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness by Kathleen McCue, M.A., C.C.L.S. & Ron Bonn (1994)
Kathleen McCue offers a broader view of parenting children through any parental illness and provides guidance for parents on supporting their children and helping them cope with the many challenges and changes illness brings.

Kids Worry Too by The Nebraska Medical Center
A free PDF guide for adults to help children understand a hospitalization. Interventions to increase coping and examples of feelings and behaviors that may be expressed during a hospitalization.

What Do I Tell the Kids? by Cancer Support Community
A free PDF guide overviewing children’s understanding through different age groups, how to talk about cancer and tips for answering common questions.

When a Parent has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children by Wendy S. Harpham, M.D. (2004)
This book for families, offers clear, direct, and sympathetic advice to parents trying to raise healthy children while fighting a potentially life-threatening illness.sympathetic advice to parents trying to raise healthy children while fighting a potentially life-threatening illness.


Books For Children

Preschool Children
2-6 Years Old

Let My Colors Out by Courtney Filigenzi (2009)
Helps children identify their feelings and form a rainbow of hope through a parents diagnosis. This book helps children realize they are not alone and can help open up channels of communication between parents and their children.

Sammy’s Mom Has Cancer by Sherry Kohlenberg (1993)
Written by Sherry Kohlenberg, a mother of an 18-month old son, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, this story helps young children understand and accept the changes in their lives when a parent is diagnosed with cancer.

School-age Children
5-10 Years Old

Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings by Ellen McVicker (2006)
Ellen McVicker shares the story of a young boy who learns about his mother’s cancer and finds hope and strength.

I Wonder What It’s Like When a Parent Has Cancer: Max’s Story by Jacquelyn Rebecek, illustrated by Anna Boxall (2023)
The first book in the Wonders & Worries Book Series. This story follows a boy, Max, as he learns about and copes with his dad’s cancer diagnosis. Strategies for sharing information with Max and his sister about cancer are brought to light. Max explores common feelings and questions throughout the book, and challenging points in the story are supported with “helpers” and coping ideas that assist Max along the way.

Nowhere Hair by Sue Glader (2010)
This story focuses on hair loss in a fun, non-threatening way. Using rhyme and colorful illustrations, it provides honest information about cancer and hair loss.

Our Mom Has Cancer by Abigail & Adrienne Ackermann (2001)
Sisters Abigail and Adrienne Ackermann, ages 11 and 13, describe what it was like for them when their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy.

Someone You Know Has MS by Martha King (2012)
A free PDF book about Michael and his Mother who has MS. An in depth explanation of Multiple Sclerosis, coping, and adapting to changes after a diagnosis.

The Hope Tree by Laura Numeroff & Wendy Harpham, M.D. (1999)
This book is a compilation of stories from children whose mothers have breast cancer. The children describe life in their family from the time of diagnosis through treatment.

The Rainbow Feelings of Cancer by Carrie Martin & Chia Martin (2001)
This book invites children to share their thoughts, feelings, and questions when a life-threatening illness has touched a parent or someone they love. Written and illustrated by a mother and daughter experiencing their own diagnosis of cancer, it is appropriate for preschool to elementary-age children.

What Happens When Someone I Love Doesn’t Feel Good: A Book About Chronic or Terminal Illness That Won’t Go Away by Sara Olsher and Jenni Rogers
Explaining a chronic or terminal illness to a kid is hard. Medical terms are difficult to understand as adults, but figuring out how to translate them into kidspeak can be next to impossible. Join Mia and Stuart as they learn how bodies work, why some bodies don’t always feel good, and what to do when someone they love has an illness that won’t go away. Help kids learn to manage their expectations and cope with disappointment and big feelings. This groundbreaking book approaches a difficult topic with humor and honesty.

What Happens When Someone I Love Has Cancer? Explain the Science of Cancer and How a Loved One’s Diagnosis and Treatment Affects a Kid’s Day-To-Day Life by Sara Olsher
Join Mia and her stuffed giraffe Stuart as they explain the science of cancer and how a loved one’s diagnosis and treatment affects a kid’s day-to-day life. What Happens When Someone I Love Has Cancer? uses bright and fun illustrations to show how cells can turn into cancer, and helps reduce confusion about how cancer treatment affects a person and the kids in their lives.  A helpful book for families that want to explain what cancer actually is and how it affects a kid’s life, and applies to mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and many types of cancer, including breast cancer, colon cancer, blood cancers such as leukemia, and bone cancers.

When Eric’s Mom Fought Cancer by Judith Vigna (1993)
Judith Vigna shares the story of a young boy’s ski trip with his father when he feels angry and afraid about his mother’s diagnosis with breast cancer.

When Mommy Had a Mastectomy by Nancy Reuben Greenfield (2016)
A children’s book that explains in a simple and clear manner what a mastectomy and reconstruction are all about. It tells the story of a mother and daughter discovering new ways to show they care despite the painful illness of breast cancer and subsequent breast reconstruction surgery.

When Pete’s Dad Got Sick by Kathleen Long Bostrom (2004)
A story about a dad who has an illness that impacts his energy level and the use of his legs. He uses a cane and a wheelchair. The illness is never named and the book could apply to a variety of chronic conditions including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, etc. The story does have a Christian focus and references prayer, God, and the Bible but the pages with Christian references could be skipped.

Why Does Mommy Hurt? by Elizabeth Christy (2014)
A young boy shares his journey learning about Mom’s illness. This story puts the power into the hands of children learning about coping and understanding an illness. This book works for a wide variety of illnesses associated with chronic pain such as fibromyalgia and autoimmune disease.

Pre-Teens and Early Teens
10-13 Years Old

Can I Still Kiss You? by Neil Russell (2001)
In a question-and-answer format, Neil Russel deals with questions frequently asked by children and adolescents about cancer. It is both an informative narrative and an interactive journal.

Nana, What’s Cancer? by Beverlye H. Fead & Tessa M. Hamermesh (2009)
This tale captures the questions of a young teen girl as she asks her grandmother about her cancer. The book provides honest answers to her questions and addresses questions related to recurrent cancer.

The Year My Mother Was Bald by Ann Speltz (2002)
Written as a diary from a 13-year-old girl’s perspective during the year her mother went through cancer treatment, this book provides a helpful teaching tool for discussing cancer cells, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. It includes separate teaching pages appropriate for pre-teens and teens.

13 Years and Older

Both Sides Now by Ruth Pennebaker (2000)
As the control of Liza’s once predictable high school life unravels, she sees her mother’s courage facing recurring breast cancer in a whole new light.

My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks by Maya & Mark Silver (2013)
Written by 15 year-old Maya whose Mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Provides practical guidance including how to talk about the diagnosis, outlets for stress, friends, school, and therapy.

Books For Stress & Coping

These books introduce children and teens to the concept of stress and the mind, body and spirit connections. They lead children and teens, along with adults, through a variety of coping strategies including belly breathing, positive self-talk, positive imagery, aromatherapy and acupuncture.

A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes & Sasha J. Mudlaff (2000)
Ages 4 to 8

This book follows Sherman after he sees something terrible happen. He becomes anxious and angry, but when a caring adult helps him talk about these emotions, he feels better.

Be the Boss of Your Stress by Timothy Culbert, M.D. & Rebecca Kajander, C.P.N.P., M.P.H. (2007)
Ages 5 years to adult

Timothy Culber and Rebecca Kajander speak to kids ages 8 and up with the following message: When your body, mind, and spirit are balanced – or working together – they can help you stay healthy and positive, even when you are dealing with stress.

Don’t Pop Your Cork on Mondays! by Adolf J. Moser (1988)
Ages 5 to 10 years

Adolf J. Moser explores the causes and effects of stress and offers children practical approaches and techniques for dealing with stress in daily life.

Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean (2009)
Ages 5-10

Introduces children to a fun playful way of meditation and learning how to let go of frustrations.

Books About End of Life


Dying to Know: Straight Talk About Death and Dying by Tani Bahti (2006)
This book is for adults who are facing the end of their life – and for their caregivers. Easy to read in short bursts, the book is filled with valuable information about end-of-life care. A nurse who has worked in hospice care for many years, Bahti honestly and gently answers important questions about the dying process and teaches us how to gently let life go. Readers have found comfort and peace in this practical book.

What Will I Tell the Children by The Nebraska Medical Center
Free PDF pamphlet about helping a child cope with a death. Goes through different age stages and their understanding of death with interventions to help increase processing and understanding.

Preschool Children
2-6 Years Old

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (2000)
A story that teaches of the tie that really binds. The Invisible String reaches from heart to heart helping overcome loneliness or separation.

The Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon by Audrey Penn (2014)
This book tells the story of a baby raccoon who does not want to leave his mother for the first day of school. His mother shares the secret of the Kissing Hand with him so he can find comfort every day.

Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman (2012)
This is a beautiful story about how love is something that we can carry with us always, no matter how near, far, young or old we are. Tillman focuses on a parent’s unending love for their child.

School-age Children
5-13 Years Old

Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying by Joyce C. Mills (2003)
This is a comforting story about a tender-spirited tree who is dying, and her relationship with her friends in the forest. A healing metaphor, it addresses feelings of sadness, love, disbelief and anger, and provides children with a transformational way of viewing death and dying. This is a helpful book for beginning conversations with children about a loved one who is facing the end of their life.

What Happens When Someone I Love Can’t Get Better: A Book to Prepare and Cope with End of Life by Jenni Rogers and Sara Olsher
Millions of families, when faced with a shortened life expectancy, struggle with how to talk to their kids about it. We don’t want to take away their innocence or end their childhood. How do we have this conversation in a way that isn’t devastating or super scary? We start by making it make sense, from a scientific point of view.  Join Mia and her stuffed giraffe Stuart as they explain how bodies work and what happens when important body parts aren’t able to do their jobs anymore. What Happens When Someone I Love Can’t Get Better uses bright and engaging illustrations to explain what keeps bodies alive and helps reduce confusion about why bodies die.

13 Years and Older

A Teen’s Guide to Coping: When a Loved One is Sick and Preparing to Die by Fairview Hospice (2003)

Fairview Hospice’s booklet is for teenagers who have a loved one who is very sick and facing the end of their life. It provides answers to common questions facing teens, focuses on positive ways to cope, and provides information about what to expect in terms of feelings and grief. The booklet also provides space for teens to write and draw to express their emotions and capture memories.



Men Don’t Cry… Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes of Grief by Kenneth J. Doka & Terry L. Martin (1999)
Emphasizes many ways to cope with grief and offers readers a refreshing change from the popular gender stereotypes of grief. Looks at grief patterns and theories of grief, patterns of coping that may influence grief and interventions on how to be effective with different types of grievers.

Preschool Children
2-6 Years Old

I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas (2001)
This book helps young children understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them to have following a loved one’s death.

School Age Children
5-13 Years Old

How I Feel: A Coloring Book for Grieving Children by Alan D. Wolfelt Ph.D. (1996)
Wolfelt’s coloring book for children explores many of the feelings grieving children often experience and the simple text accompanying the drawings provides grieving children with words to describe their new, sometimes scary feelings.

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie & Robert Ingpen (1983)
This sensitive book is a useful tool in explaining to children that death (including the loss of pets) is a part of life and that, eventually, all living things reach the end of their own special lifetimes.

What’s Heaven? by Maria Shriver & Sandra Speidel (1999)

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Brown & Marc Brown (1996)
This guide explains what it means to be alive and what it means to die. Appropriate for preschool- and elementary-age children, Laurie and Marc Brown also cover the importance of the funeral and other aspects of loss, including feelings that young children may experience at these times.

Ages 5 to 13 years

Through a grandmother’s death, Maria Shriver and Sandra Speidel discuss how parents can start talking to their children about death.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley (1984)
Ages 5 to 13 years

In this book, animals share memories of their friend, Badger, after he dies. The special things the animals learned from Badger continue to live on through them.

The Brightest Star by Kathleen Hemery & Ron Boldt (1998)
Ages 5 to 13 years

The Brightest Star tells the story of a little girl grieving the death of her mother. She finds comfort in looking for the brightest star in the sky to remind her of her mother’s love.

13 Years and Older

Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins: A Journal for Teenagers Experiencing a Loss by Enid Traisman (1992)
Ages 13 to 18 years

This journal allows teens to write letters, note lyrics, create songs and finish conversations with the loved one who died in a creative way.

Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert & Chuck DeKlyen (2004)
Ages 13 to adult

In this book, Grand has suffered a big loss in her life and is cooking up her own unique batch of Tear Soup for her own grief process.

Books About Parenting

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. (2015)
Dr. Siegel shows parents how to turn one of the most challenging developmental periods in their children’s lives into one of the most rewarding.

Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel & Mary Hartzell (2013)
In Parenting from the Inside Out, child psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and early childhood expert Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., explore the extent to which our childhood experiences shape the way we parent.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D. (1998)
This book is a guide to teaching children to understand and regulate their emotional world.

The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell (2016)
This book helps young children understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them.

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman (2016)
This book helps young children understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them.

The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. (2010)
Explosive kids are lacking some crucial skills in the domains of flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving, and they require a different approach to parenting. Throughout this compassionate, insightful, and practical book, Dr. Greene provides a new conceptual framework for understanding their difficulties, based on research in the neurosciences.