Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sometimes when there are no words, books can help.
I really believe that.
They give us a mirror into our souls.
And a window into the world.
And, if nothing else, they cry out, "You are not alone."

I am always on the lookout for books to add to my arsenal of "You never know when you might need a book about…" I stumbled across two new ones this week.  Both are books about girls who are dealing with their mom's cancer, and might, I think, be helpful to kids struggling with this issue.

BRUSHING MOM'S HAIR by Andrea Cheng is not a brand new book (it was published in 2009), but it's new to me. The book, a series of poems, follows 15-year-old Ann as she copes with her mom's breast cancer surgery and the treatment that follows. Ann, a dancer and poet, has all of the typical adolescent worries- what to wear to a school dance and whether her sprained ankle will heal enough to allow her to participate in dance classes- but these are greatly compounded by worrying about her mom-- how can they get her to drink the required 80 ounces of water, do Ann and her sister Jane have the breast cancer gene, and whether Ann's mom will recover. Ann copes with her mom's illness through her dance and art classes. Her mom does eventually recover; in later poems she and her daughters watch the crocuses bloom in the yard, and work around the home. The book is realistic and yet hopeful, and  would be perfect, I think, for an upper intermediate or middle or high schooler in a similar situation.

IF ONLY, by debut YA novelist Carole Geithner (a grief counselor who also happens to be married to US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner) is a very different novel. Thirteen-year-old Corinna's mom is diagnosed with cancer and given four to six months to live. When the book opens in August, Sophie, a concert musician, has just died, and Corinna and her father, a high school teacher, are trying to regroup and get themselves ready to go back to school.

"If seasons were tubes of paint, last fall would have been deep, dark black," Corinna says. "Winter was also dark, but more like a foggy gray with lots of huge black blobs mixed in. . . . Grief is hard. Really hard. And you can't put the cap back on when you want to, like you can with a tube of paint."

Everything is hard. It's hard when the secretary in the office says, "Why didn't your mom send the enrollment form back?" It's hard that Corinna's best friend, Joci, only came over once the whole summer and doesn't seem to understand Corinna's sadness. It's hard to concentrate on algebra or focus during soccer practice. It's hard to be around Sophie's best friend, or the elderly neighbor who wants to help, but really seems more nosy than anything. Corinna's dad tries to be there for her, but he is dealing with his own grief and sadness. And he doesn't know how to do things like take his teenage daughter for haircuts or buy clothes at the mall.

Corinna finds solace in her dog, Maki. She writes in a journal (but not the fuzzy pink one that her mom's best friend gave her). She makes a new friend, Claire, whose father died three years earlier. She participates in a grief group at school. And gradually, over the course of a year, she and her father begin to heal, and find a little joy again.

I loved both of these, because you never know when you might need to say to a child, "You are not alone."

1 comment:

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

Two awesome books, Carol. I am not familiar with either, but I think it's essential to have books like these in our classroom libraries. Last year, I had a student facing what Corinna is going through - it would have been wonderful to have been able to suggest this read. Thanks for sharing these.