Because of this, life may feel unfair to them. Sometimes, they may feel ignored because they think their sibling is receiving more attention. They may also believe they are responsible for making their sibling sick. These thoughts can lead to feelings of sadness, anger and guilt, even if they love their sibling unconditionally.
People do not always realize the level of stress that these family members are going through. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of books that I think may be helpful to siblings of children with critical illness, or indeed, anyone who has a sick friend or relative. I have selected books for a variety of age groups so that there is something for everyone.
Of course, every child has their own unique needs and limits when interacting with a new book. Knowing this, I have purposely chosen books where you can easily skim the reviews to get a sense of the contents. I leave the ultimate judgment up to you!
“When Molly Was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children” by Debbie Duncan and illustrated by Nina Ollikainen
This picture book is based on Duncan’s family and their experiences in the hospital. When her youngest daughter, Molly, was diagnosed with celiac disease, all her loved ones had to weather the medical visits with her, including Molly’s two older sisters. Their emotional reactions during that difficult time are the focus of the book, told for a younger audience through delicate drawings.
The book itself describes the fictional hospital stay of baby Molly and her older sister, Anna, as they wait for Molly to go into surgery. While Molly does not have a critical illness, the book centers on Anna’s emotions and could potentially apply to any sibling with a brother or sister who has been in the hospital. The format is most suited for children in preschool, kindergarten and early grade school.
“Counting Thyme” by Melanie Conklin
Conklin’s interest in cancer began when she learned that her neighbor’s son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at only four years old. Shocked, she began volunteering and fundraising for children’s cancer research. And though it wasn’t the original plan, her book is another step toward spreading awareness of childhood cancer.
“Counting Thyme” tells the story of how Thyme, an 11-year-old girl in middle school, and her family move across the country to New York City. They are forced to leave their old house to begin 5-year-old Val’s cancer treatment trials. Though she clearly loves her brother, Thyme and her older sister are quite unhappy with the whole predicament.
While the story is told from Thyme’s point of view, there are many details that won’t be spared on non-sibling readers. Cori, the teenage sister, and Thyme’s mom and dad all react to cancer, the move, and the stresses of medical treatment in their own ways, giving an honest glimpse into a family coping with unexpected illness.
“Ghosts” by Raina Telgemeier
“Ghosts” is partially inspired by Telgemeier’s cousin, who had cancer, and her own upbringing in San Francisco. Unlike the other books in this list, it is a graphic novel, reading like a comic book or manga instead of a traditional story book. It follows the journey of big sister, Catrina, who must move to Northern California because the air will help her little sister, Maya, with cystic fibrosis.
Just like “Counting Thyme,” this book explores how moving away – dropping school and friends for an entirely new place – can have an impact on a sibling. Even though it is aimed at middle schoolers, it doesn’t skip over tough topics. Complex subjects like embarrassment, frustration, fear and spirituality are cleverly examined alongside beautiful illustrations, which makes the book’s contents a lot less scary. And just in case you were wondering – yes, you will see ghosts in this book!
“Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie” by Jordan Sonnenblick
This book was written as a gift to one of Sonnenblick’s students, whose brother was in treatment for cancer at the time. When Sonnenblick couldn’t find the right book to help her, he buckled down and wrote it himself. His writing has inspired others ever since.
“Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie” tells the story of Steven, a teenager who loves the drums, navigates the dating scene and copes with that fact that his little brother, Jeffrey, has leukemia. Steven must adjust his life, avoiding contact with Jeffrey while sick and trying to maintain family balance. The follow-up novel, “After Ever After” tells Jeffrey’s story of life in remission and may be more appropriate for those currently living with an illness. But be forewarned: without giving away major plot points, these books do have sadder elements than the previous three, so proceed with caution.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more books about illness exist out there, and I encourage you all to do some digging to find the best book for you. In the meantime, I hope that these books may provide some relief for siblings of children with critical illness.
Please let us know in the comments what other books about illness have had a positive impact on your life and share this post on Facebook and Twitter.