I feel very honoured to be asked to write another blog post for CHECT for World Book Day 2023. In my previous post, I talked about how books were important to me as a child, and how it’s come full circle now that I am a children’s author. I was just a baby when I was diagnosed with Bilateral Retinoblastoma, and I had treatment for a number of years. When I was in hospital, books provided an escape from the long days on wards, and the long journeys down to London. Children today are really lucky because there are so many wonderful children’s books out there that not only take them away on adventures and journeys but also can help with their mental wellbeing. If got me thinking that they would have been really helpful for me when I was little but there weren’t as many then, all those years ago. So, for this blog post, I thought I would recommend some children’s books that could be beneficial for families affected by Retinoblastoma.

The image shows two books - Ruby's Worry and Perfectly Norman

The first one that sprung to my mind was ‘Ruby’s Worry’ by Tom Percival, which is from his best-selling series ‘Big Bright Feelings’. This story is ideal for talking to children about their hidden worries. In the story, Ruby finds a worry. At first, it is only small but as time goes on, it grows bigger and bigger and it makes Ruby sad. Ruby finds a way to get rid of the worry and start to feel more like herself again.

All of the books in the series are fantastic, and great for helping children deal with their big feelings. Another one that I feel compelled to mention is ‘Perfectly Norman’. This is an uplifting story about celebrating diversity.  ‘Norman had always been normal, perfectly normal… until the day he grew a pair of wings!’ At first, he finds having wings is the ‘MOST FUN EVER’. But soon he worries about what others think and decides to keep them hidden. The story is about Norman finding the courage to show his wings to the world. I know that as a child, I felt different to other children due to my experiences with Retinoblastoma, and a book like this would have helped me no end.

The image shows two books - Superheroes don' get scared and Shelter

Hospital visits can be scary for children. Hospitals are very big and bright. They have strange noises and unusual smells. ‘Superheroes Don’t Get Scared… Or Do They?’ by Kate Thompson and Clare Elsom, is a fantastic book, which has a strong message at its heart, ‘that bravery cannot exist unless you first feel… FEAR.’ It helps normalise the experience of fear and anxiety. In this story, we meet Maisie Brown, who doesn’t feel brave at all. She dreams of being a superhero because they never get scared… right? Maisie soon discovers that even the strongest, bravest heroes can sometimes feel scared.  This book is sure to make your little superheroes giggle with its comic style illustrations and host of hilarious superheroes!

The book shows the front cover of Every Bunny is a Yoga bunny - with animated bunnies doing yoga

My debut picture book ‘Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny’ by me and Deborah Allwright was published last World Book Day. It’s a story about an energetic bunny called Yo-Yo, who finds it tricky to feel calm, and through the help of her Grandpa, she discovers how yoga is a useful tool to help her feel calm. There are simple step-by-step instructions at the end of the book so children can stretch, feel calm and be a yoga bunny too. ‘Every Bunny is a Yoga Bunny’ focuses on the calming and relaxing qualities of yoga. There are other wellbeing benefits too. Yoga can help with stress, improve focus, or help you feel brave.

When a child is diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, the whole family is affected. ‘The Perfect Shelter’ by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland explores the emotions we feel when a family member is diagnosed with a serious illness. The story is about a child whose sister is ‘really sick’ and how at first, nobody knew. When the family learn that she is sick, really sick, it feels as though a storm has engulfed the whole family. The child experiences a range of emotions, but ultimately, the story ends with hope. ‘But, we will ride out this storm. And though today may be different from yesterday, today is the perfect day to build a shelter, together.’

I hope some of my recommendations will be helpful to families affected by Retinoblastoma.

The front cover of The Blue Umbrella features two children under an umbrella

My latest book, The Blue Umbrella, written by me and illustrated beautifully by Momoko Abe, is about a child who finds a blue umbrella on their doorstep. The umbrella turns out to be no ordinary umbrella, however. And the more people the child shelters, the bigger the umbrella grows. And under it, a community comes together, bound by kindness and friendship.