Dancing Cancer is a children’s picture book intended to help children who are frightened by the cancer diagnosis of a loved one. It’s told through the story of Alex and Michaela’s grandmother, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Nana comes to stay with the family, and even though she is exhausted by her treatment, she is eager to spend time with her grandchildren. By following her doctor’s orders, eating well and resting, Nana is soon feeling much better and telling the children her life story. We learn that Nana survived cancer twice before, once as a child and later during her pregnancy. She is passionate about dance and believes this lifelong creative engagement helped fuel her recovery.
The details of Nana’s life may well inspire adults, but young children may find it difficult material. The author has faced multiple episodes of cancer over her long and fulfilling life and is clearly a role model for others. Yet you have to wonder if this story, heartfelt as it is, speaks to families whose health issues have a more challenging outcome. It offers few answers for children if eating well and following the doctor’s orders doesn’t result in remission or cure for their loved one. Nana conveys to the children that faith in God combined with a positive attitude make for a life defined by love and creativity, and not fear. But children faced with the real possibility of a loved one’s death aren’t likely to heed or appreciate her message.
Dancing Cancer is an intimate story of survival and faith warmly illustrated by Mary Connor’s vibrant and engaging art. McDonald’s book aspires to be an inspirational balm during a family crisis. In the end, adults may draw more comfort from it than children.