Children’s Book Looks at Parent’s Cancer and Hair Loss
Glader's book Nowhere Hair is blessed with insights into hair loss and cancer issues as well as stunning illustrations.
The National Cancer Institute estimated that 1,529,560 Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2010. The changes that come when cancer becomes a part of a person’s life are many and varied and frequently include hair loss due to chemotherapy treatments.
Sue Glader describes herself variously as a copywriter, mother, wife, driver of an old German convertible sports car, recovering chronic school volunteer and cancer survivor; she is uncomfortable with all of them as labels because each applies to different facets of her whole being, but the fact that she is a mother and a cancer survivor prompted her to write the delightful Nowhere Hair (Thousand Words Press, 2010), a book for children of a parent with cancer.
Glader was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 33. As a writer, she was interested in what books were out there and found the existing children’s books on the subject a bit off-putting. She eventually wrote 16 stanzas of light verse, which evolved into Nowhere Hair and contacted Dutch artist Edith Buenen to collaborate with her (via e-mail and computer) on the book.
A young girl learns about chemotherapy and hair loss
It’s a charming and engaging addition to the growing (and very much needed) body of children’s books about cancer. The story is pleasingly spare: A little girl knows that her mother has lost her hair because of chemotherapy, but she is intent on finding where the hair has gone. Is it under the bed? In her Mom’s purse? Has it been made into a warm cloak for a chilly cat? As the girl talks about her search for her mother’s hair, she also begins to talk about how her mother’s cancer has (and has not) changed her.
Glader is a graceful writer; perhaps because of her copywriting background, she clearly understands that economy of phrase is of enormous importance when writing for children. Every word has to count, and every word has to be just the right word. One word too many or one slightly-off word can derail the flow and damage the meaning. This is never a problem with Nowhere Hair. Something as seemingly simple as
“Dad promised me
(he crossed his heart)
It’s not because we fought”
could have been spoiled by changing it to “Dad crossed his heart and promised me that it’s not because we fought.” That interrupting parenthetical aside captures both the chaotic formalism of childhood thought and word patterns and the importance to the narrator of the fact that the father went so far as to cross his heart; my revised version gets across the same message but does so with far less character and impact.
A child whose mother or father is meeting the challenges of cancer often feels some responsibility for this and may need special reassurance that he or she is not in some way to blame. These children may also lack the life experience to understand that changes they see happening to their parent because of cancer, such as hair loss, may not be permanent. Glader addresses both of these points calmly and reassuringly.
Nowhere Hair blessed with graceful art and words
Nowhere Hair is also fortunate to feature Buenen’s eye-catching illustrations. Beautifully colored in a palette that is bold without being either brash or brassy, her art has the same graceful simplicity as Glader’s words. Her sense of composition is flawless, and she fills her pictures with elegant curves that grant her figures a lively fluidity. Energy and a sense of life flow from her pen and brush and spill across the page. Buenen also meets the challenge of presenting an array of hats that are whimsical, charming and amusing while at the same time being realistic; one smiles with these hats rather than at them.
Of course, most importantly, Buenen masterfully creates figures with faces that convey all the emotion and meaning the text demands.
For children, baldness is often the manner in which a parent’s cancer is made physically manifest; it symbolizes the illness in a very real and often disturbing way. Nowhere Hair helps to address the fears and anxiety this hair loss presents to children and helps them to cope with their parent’s journey through cancer.
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