Following on from last Friday’s post, today we will look at the book “A mom of many hats.” This is a children’s book, for ages 3-12, that helps adults explain a cancer diagnosis to a child.

A Mom of many hats, by Debbie Fink and Lisa Perea Hane. 

Summary

The author suggests this book is appropriate for children of any age. The illustrations (by Caroline Smith Heming) and storyline provide not only tools for adults to help children cope with a cancer diagnosis, but are also empowering for children to take action.

The book is being translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

In the three-chapter storybook “A mom of many hats,” we follow young siblings Brad and Olivia as they learn that their mother has breast cancer. Over time, the children’s emotions change. As they see other people helping their mom, they want to help also, so they plan a surprise hat party. The hat party allows for expression of emotions and leaves the whole family stronger.

Debbie Fink is a writer and performer. She was inspired to write this book by the other author, Lisa Perea Hane, who had a breast cancer diagnosis.

Content

One of the key strengths of this book is that it includes a “note to adults” on how to use the book for children of different ages. As the story is written in three parts, the authors recommend reading the book over several months – just like cancer treatments might take several months. This approach allows for changes in the children’s emotions and coping skills. The reader is advised to be aware of when enough is enough.

There is also a brief index in this section relating to different stages of loss that children might experience, such as shock, depression, and denial and linking them to specific pages and characters in the book. It might be useful to focus on these pages when and if these emotions arise for children.

 Cancer-related knowledge:
  • Cancer is described as not being contagious, but no further explanation is given.
  • However, both surgery and chemotherapy are discussed, with chemo being the “medicine that kills cancer cells.”
  • Hair loss and tiredness/fatigue are described by the mother as being related to her treatment.
  • For the party, Brad decided to serve “heaping bowls of blueberries and broccoli, our favorite antioxidants.” The illustrations also show tea, grapes, and dark chocolate. This is a lovely way to bring into the story the idea of food helping their mother.
Impact of maternal cancer:
  • The impact of the cancer diagnosis on all members of the family is described. It is acknowledged that these feelings vary from day to day.
  • Their daily life changes but there a good parts such as “the high point was when Grandma arrived.”
  • Honest, open communication is highlighted via what and how the adult family members communicate with the children about cancer and its treatment, and how they explain what is going on and what to expect.
Coping strategies:
  • Brad and Olivia describe how talking to their grandmother helped normalize their feelings of anger.
  • Coping strategies illustrated in the book include talking to adults and their other sibling, distraction by keeping busy and feeling empowered into doing something special for their mom to help her. The children realize that they can comfort others.
  • Hats are used in the party to help support the mother. The hats indicate courage, perseverance, hope, faith, and courage.
  • The children learn that even if they can’t talk about their emotion, they can let the family know in other ways – like wearing a hat – so that others know what they need.
  • Several times in the book, the mother starts to say what she needs. Then she changes it to show that all of them have needs. “I’ll — we’ll — take all the courage we can get!”

Conclusion

The authors have created a heart-warming book that is both a tool for discussing cancer with children and is empowering. The over-arching theme is that the strength of the family will get them through this.  They will be able to go from being fearful to being strong, and they can all support each other.

The different approaches recommended for reading this story make it accessible for a wide age range audience. I include the adult reader in this too, as the story is delightful.

Final Note

Both of these books – “A mom of many hats” and last week’s “Nowhere Hair” are beautiful resources for families, schools, and healthcare providers. Sadly, when looking for this type of book for this review, I went to two libraries – one in Sonoma County and one in Marin County. Neither had any books of this type to offer.

One factor that maternal cancer books seem to neglect is addressing the impact of cancer on children’s school life. One way to help resolve this would be to utilize this resource more frequently in schools, especially when a parent of one of the students has a cancer diagnosis. This might promote the discussion of children helping their peers, and encourage children to talk openly to their teachers.

These types of books should be more readily available as they enable young children to identify with the characters in the book and understand that what they are experiencing is not just happening them. They also provide an opportunity for children to express their own concerns when they read alongside their parents, which helps to develop an honest and open rapport between them.

Here are links to purchase A mom of many hats and Nowhere Hair.

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