The Goodbye Cancer Garden

The Goodbye Cancer Garden

Janna Matthies, author

Kristi Valiant, illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Ages 4-10

Themes:  Parent with cancer, Family support,  Hope, Gardens

Opening/Synopsis  “In our backyard, where first base used to be, is a special garden.  We didn’t expect to plant it.  But Mom says things don’t always go as expected.  For example, Mom didn’t expect the doctor to say she had breast cancer.”   Mom and Dad tell Janie and Jeffrey that Mom has breast cancer.   Both kids are worried, but the parents involve them in discussions and have them meet the doctor.  When Jeffrey asks if his mom is better, the doctor responds, “Not yet, but we’re working very hard to make her better–probably by pumpkin time.”  This gives Janie an idea.  Mom prepares to go to the hospital for surgery on Valentine’s Day.  Janie points out the window and says, “Let’s plant a garden!  Watching it grow, and eating healthy veggies, will remind us Mom’s getting better.  Then before we know it…Hello, pumpkins, goodbye cancer!”  Her Mom thinks her idea is perfect.  The garden is planted with vegetables, flowers and pumpkins.  During the summer Mom goes through chemo and radiation and loses her hair.  The family lovingly tend to the garden and to Mom.   As fall arrives, pumpkins appear and Mom is well on her way towards recovery.

Why I like this book:   Janna Matthies’ book is realistic and optimistic.  The story is based on the author’s own experience with breast cancer, and she wrote the book while undergoing treatment.  Even through the difficult times, there is an abundance of support from family and friends.  Planting a garden does help the family focus on healing.  Kristi Valiant portrays Mom smiling and positive in a charming way.  Kristi’s  illustrations are warm, rich and full of life.   This is a beautiful story for moms and grandmothers with breast cancer to share with their children/grandchildren.  Visit Janna Matthies at her website.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden was selected as Best English Language Children’s Book at the Sharjah (U.A.E) International Book Fair in November of 2011.  With this honor the book may be published in Arabic and touch the lives of readers in the Middle East.

Resources:  This is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  For families undergoing a life changing event, planting a garden is a healing activity and helps them focus on living.  Janna travels around the country speaking to children and families about cancer and her book.  She’s discovered that many families in similar situations have planted gardens of hope in their backyards.   Other activities to help children cope can be found at Bear Essentials website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.