Saturday, December 18, 2010

You are the best medicine by Julie Aigner Clark, illustrated by Jana Christy

A mother diagnosed with cancer reassures her little girl that she can endure all the bad things by thinking of the good things they have together and how much they love each other.

I'm always a bit ambivalent about "sick parent" or similarly themed books for several reasons. This particular book is probably the best of the ones I've seen. It deals with various aspects of cancer and chemotherapy - losing hair, being tired, feeling sick - in a gentle and reassuring way by having the mother remember all the good things about her daughter and the fun they've had together that she loves. It's hopeful and comforting, finishing with the message that "love and kindness really are the best medicine." The soft pastel illustrations fit the hopeful, gentle theme of the book.

What bothers me about this type of story, is how focused it is on reassuring the child that their parent will, of course, eventually recover. This story seems to say that the mother's memories, hope for the future, and mutual love between her and her daughter will triumph over her illness. Now, I'm going to assume this book is referring to breast cancer, on the rather flimsy basis that there's a strong pink theme, plus it's the most common cancer for women. Now, just grabbing some random percentages off the internet - 20% of women with breast cancer die (random stats! do not call me on them please!) the point is - sometimes your parents do not get well. Sometimes all the love and kindness you have to offer isn't enough.

So where does that leave the child whose mother has died? Wondering if they just didn't love mommy enough? If she didn't have enough happy memories to help her through?

Of course, on the other hand, how on earth do you convey the possibility of death in a picturebook to a young child? Do you really want them to be aware of their mortality at that age, even if they're capable of grasping it? I guess somehow I want something a little less definitely "you will get well" and more focused on the warm memories and togetherness of the earlier parts of the story.

Verdict: While I have reservations, this is still probably one of the best dealing with cancer in a parent books I've seen up until now, so I would recommend it for your tough topics or parenting collections.

ISBN: 9780061956447; Published September 2010 by Balzer + Bray; Borrowed from the library

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