8 brilliant children's books about family illness
Published on: 17 July 2022 Author: Rab Ferguson
In Rab Ferguson's book The Late Crew, main character Tyler isn't just dealing with what happens when a spaceship crashes into his school - he's also caring for his mother with M.E. and his autistic brother Levi.
Here, Rab recommends eight more fantastic children's books which explore young carers and family illness.
1. A Dangerous Game by Malorie Blackman
Sam is desperate to go on a school trip to the Scottish Highlands, even though his parents are worried about him going away with his long-term illness. He finally convinces his Mum and Dad - but the trip becomes dangerous when the other boys want to stray from the path.
Sam is a young boy who wants independence and adventure, and his parents are understandably protective. It's great to see Sam prove himself, while learning how to manage his sickle cell disease. Also, it's an easy-read book, printed in a way to be more accessible to readers with dyslexia.
2. The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
Illustration: Alexandria Neonakis
When Natalie's science teacher suggests she enters an egg drop competition at school, she has her own idea... to use the scientific method to 'fix' her mother's depression.
Natalie's science-loving personality is wonderful, and her developing understanding of how her mother's depression functions feels true to life. Along the way, Natalie learns how powerful talking about difficult things can be.
3. Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Merci Suarez is going through changes in her life. At school, she's trying her best to fit in as a scholarship student at a private school. At home, her grandfather has started forgetting things, and no-one will explain why.
This book brilliantly describes how it feels to be a child when no-one is explaining things to you, but you know something is wrong. Merci has a strong relationship with her grandfather, the family living across three neighbouring houses, which makes her even more desperate to understand his Alzheimer's disease.
4. Echo's Sister by Paul Moiser
Illustration: Sveta Dorosheva
12-year-old El (short for Laughter) is determined that joining a new school will be a fresh start for her. But when her Dad tells her that her younger sister Echo is sick, all her plans go out of the window.
It's powerful to see the emotional story of Echo's cancer told from her older sister's point of view, as well as to see the whole family struggling. What's key is the love and hope they find along the way.
5. Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans
Elliot keeps his Mum's illness secret from everyone. When the secret becomes too much to bear, he makes a wish upon a star... but doesn't expect that wish to be answered by real-life Greek gods!
Elliot supporting his Mum with her mental health is combined with outlandish fantasy around the Greek gods. It means the book can educate around real-life issues, while also letting the hero have a rip-roaring, and very funny, adventure. And there are three more books in the series after this one!
6. Miraculous Miranda by Siobhán Parkinson
IIllustration: Karen Radford
When her younger sister Gemma is taken into hospital, Miranda retreats into writing about her own fantasy world. She discovers that her fantasy world is able to cause little miracles in real life, and she hopes that she can write a big miracle for her sister.
Imagination can be so important to us when facing difficulties in life, and it's great to see this laid out on the page. Plus, Miranda is a narrator who isn't afraid to tell the reader what's what!
7. Locked Out Lily by Nick Lake
Lily doesn't want to be unwell anymore, and she definitely doesn't want her parents to have another baby. She stays with her grandmother while the baby's born, but when she returns home, her parents have been... replaced.
This tale is great for young fans of Neil Gaiman or other gothic-style stories. Lily's fear of losing her parents' affection, especially after having been ill and needing dialysis, combines with a creepy fantasy adventure – and Lily eventually accepting the new addition to her family.
8. Skellig by David Almond
When Michael's younger sister is born with a heart condition and has to stay in the hospital, he is left feeling confused and alone. He explores his new house's garage, and finds a peculiar creature inside...
This children's classic is often remembered for the angel-like creature of Skellig, but the heart of the story is Michael's worry about his younger sister, and how that impacts his relationships with friends and family. It's a beautiful story, filled with hope.