If kids are confused, feeling hurt or have questions, they turn to their parents for answers. But sometimes parents feel tongue-tied or unsure of the message they want to convey.
“Some topics are just tough to talk about, but a good children’s book can serve as a great bridge into the conversation,” said Alyssa Bonnell, library manager at Akron Children’s Hospital. “The combination of pictures and words can be very helpful in broaching topics and serve as a springboard to ask children how they feel. Plus, whether you have toddlers, early school-age children or adolescents, you can always find a book with age-appropriate language.”
At Akron Children’s Hospital, children’s books are routinely used by pediatric psychologists, child life specialists, the hospital’s chaplain, and palliative care team members who work with families dealing with children who have chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Books covering a variety of parenting topics, general pediatric health concerns and specific diagnoses are available for parents to check out of the hospital’s Family Resource Center. And picture books are given to all children from birth to age 5 on well visits to Akron Children’s Hospital’s Pediatrics offices as part of the “Reach Out & Read” program.
Here are some favorite book titles from pediatric specialists at Akron Children’s Hospital. If you need help finding an age-appropriate book on a particular topic not listed, consult with the children’s librarian at your favorite library branch.
Title: Made in China
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
“Made in China deals with real-life sibling conflict within a family which has adopted a child,” said Ellen Kempf, MD, medical director of the Oak Adoptive Health Center at Akron Children’s. “If you are adopting a child, read this book to all of your children again and again.”
Title: Franklin Goes to the Hospital
Author: Paulette Bourgeois
“This book is perfect for pre-schoolers,” said child life specialist Gena Valloric. “Franklin, the turtle, cracks his shell while playing soccer. His visit to the hospital introduces children to the people, equipment and procedures they will likely see if they are hospitalized – everything from their hospital ID badge to X-rays and IVs.”
Kids with Special Needs
Title: What’s Wrong with Timmy?
Author: Maria Shriver
“This book gently expresses how a little girl meets a boy with a developmental disability and she is uncomfortable interacting with him,” said Nancy Carst, bereavement coordinator with Akron Children’s Haslinger Family Pediatric Palliative Care Center. “Her mother guides her in appreciating the common, as well as the unusual, aspects in each of us, and how we all desire acceptance and inclusion.”
To help a child cope with a seriously-ill sibling or family member, Carst also recommends When Someone has a Very Serious illness by Marge Heegaard.
Title: Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children
Authors: Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen
“We use this book in our Good Mourning bereavement series for children,” said Karen Ballard, chaplain at Akron Children’s. “All lifetimes, whether long or short, have beginnings and endings and living in between. This book examines, in simple terms, how to deal with the feelings of grief when a loved one dies.
A good book to help young children understand the loss of a baby is We Were Gonna Have a Baby But We Had an Angel Instead by Pat Schwiebert.
Title: The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls
Author: Valorie Schaefer
“This book is part of the American Girl Library. It’s a sensitive guide to puberty and growing up, encouraging girls to accept and love their bodies and understand the changes taking place,” said Bonnell. “It’s one of the most popular books available in our Family Resource Center.”
The What’s Happening to My Body? books are also highly regarded. Author Lynda Madaras has written one for boys and one for girls and they cover the full range of puberty-related concerns.
Navigating these years can be difficult for parents too. So the adolescent medicine specialists at Akron Children’s often recommend parents do some reading of their own. Anthony Wolf’s Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager will help parents better understand the physical, intellectual and social changes their child in undergoing, often with a healthy dose of humor.
Title: Hello, World! Greetings in 42 Languages Around the Globe
Author: Manya Stojic
“’Hello World’ is a way for children to welcome new friends around the world in 42 languages,” said Karen Carbaugh, Reach Out and Read coordinator at Akron Children’s. “The illustrations depict an accurate representation of diversity. It’s a great opportunity to convey acceptance of different appearances and to help children discover and appreciate cultures beyond their own.”
Ellen Sabin’s The Autism Acceptance Book: Being a Friend to Someone with Autism not only teaches children about autism but also stresses the importance of being kind and accepting to all children regardless of their appearance or differences.
Title: Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families
Authors: Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
“The key factor in using children’s books to help discuss sensitive topics is that the child likes the book and finds it engaging,” said Geoffrey Putt, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s. “Kids like Dinosaurs Divorce and, hopefully, they will walk away with the idea that their family is not alone in going through this and that divorce, while painful, is not the end of the world.”
Whenever dealing with difficult topics, Dr. Putt recommends keeping the conversation going once the book is closed.
“It’s always a good idea to find out what your child already knows about a topic and what information they are getting from other sources, such as friends or TV,” said Dr. Putt. “Keep your answers simple, ask them more questions, listen to their concerns and offer assurance.”
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