An Ode to Tender Topics

It’s the stuff we don’t like to think about, let alone talk about with our children.  Death.  Drug use.  Incarceration.  Inappropriate adult behavior.  Illness.  Divorce.

While fear of saying the wrong thing often ties up parental tongues, like it or not, children faced with confusing and difficult experiences need help in working through these issues.

Fortunately, children’s librarians can offer parents help with the words they so desperately need.  After all, we teach children through storytelling.   It’s far easier to use a neutral third-party book, especially if the topic is sensitive.

In my case, I needed to explain cancer and the hair loss that comes with chemotherapy.  In 1999, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33 with a young son at home. What I longed for and didn’t find then was a book that portrayed the mom as strong, beautiful, able to mother, and yes, bald.  I wanted something to address guilt (did fighting with my brother give mom cancer?), worry (can I catch cancer like a cold?) and love (will mommy still love me even though she is sick?).  I wanted a children’s book that remembered to be silly in parts, yet honest all over.  One that would provide a clear path to conversation.

About 60,000 mothers each year struggle with the same issues I did, and countless more grandmothers, teachers, and friends seek to explain cancer to their children.  I know both from personal experience and lovingly written thank-you notes, that tender books like “Nowhere Hair” fall into the “never-want-to-need-it-but-when-you-do-you-are-so-grateful-you-found-it” category.

I encourage every children’s librarian to create a Tender Topics shelf or reading list, and remind adult patrons that help is only a book away.  Consider highlighting a monthly Tender Topic in the library online newsletter or website, or ask to speak at your local mother’s group about what the library can offer to new parents.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than reminding patrons that there is always a book for anyone (big or little) struggling to find the words.

Please share which Tender Topic books have helped at your library.


Our guest blogger today is Sue Glader. Sue is the author of “Nowhere Hair” (Thousand Words Press 2010) available from the publisher at
(415)388.2757 or through Quality Books, Inc.  Visit her at PLA 2012 in Philadelphia (T5-Thousand Words Press).

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


  1. Charmaine Ng

    This is a wonderful post, and I applaud you for stepping up and writing the book that you felt was missing in the world. It isn’t always easy to talk about these topics, and for some people, a great book might be the answer.

    1. sue glader

      Thank you, Charmaine. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Isn’t that what we say?

  2. Lisa

    Great idea! Thanks. The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies (Albert Whitman 2011) is another picture book on the same topic.

  3. sue glader

    After attending my first PLA conference, Nowhere Hair was picked up by Brodart and BWI/Follett, and is also available from Amazon. Please order this book for your Tender Topic shelf.

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