The Goodbye Cancer Garden

The Goodbye Cancer Garden

Janna Matthies, author

Kristi Valiant, illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2011

Suitable for:  Ages 4-10

Themes:  Parent with cancer, Family support,  Hope, Gardens

Opening/Synopsis  “In our backyard, where first base used to be, is a special garden.  We didn’t expect to plant it.  But Mom says things don’t always go as expected.  For example, Mom didn’t expect the doctor to say she had breast cancer.”   Mom and Dad tell Janie and Jeffrey that Mom has breast cancer.   Both kids are worried, but the parents involve them in discussions and have them meet the doctor.  When Jeffrey asks if his mom is better, the doctor responds, “Not yet, but we’re working very hard to make her better–probably by pumpkin time.”  This gives Janie an idea.  Mom prepares to go to the hospital for surgery on Valentine’s Day.  Janie points out the window and says, “Let’s plant a garden!  Watching it grow, and eating healthy veggies, will remind us Mom’s getting better.  Then before we know it…Hello, pumpkins, goodbye cancer!”  Her Mom thinks her idea is perfect.  The garden is planted with vegetables, flowers and pumpkins.  During the summer Mom goes through chemo and radiation and loses her hair.  The family lovingly tend to the garden and to Mom.   As fall arrives, pumpkins appear and Mom is well on her way towards recovery.

Why I like this book:   Janna Matthies’ book is realistic and optimistic.  The story is based on the author’s own experience with breast cancer, and she wrote the book while undergoing treatment.  Even through the difficult times, there is an abundance of support from family and friends.  Planting a garden does help the family focus on healing.  Kristi Valiant portrays Mom smiling and positive in a charming way.  Kristi’s  illustrations are warm, rich and full of life.   This is a beautiful story for moms and grandmothers with breast cancer to share with their children/grandchildren.  Visit Janna Matthies at her website.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden was selected as Best English Language Children’s Book at the Sharjah (U.A.E) International Book Fair in November of 2011.  With this honor the book may be published in Arabic and touch the lives of readers in the Middle East.

Resources:  This is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  For families undergoing a life changing event, planting a garden is a healing activity and helps them focus on living.  Janna travels around the country speaking to children and families about cancer and her book.  She’s discovered that many families in similar situations have planted gardens of hope in their backyards.   Other activities to help children cope can be found at Bear Essentials website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

34 thoughts on “The Goodbye Cancer Garden

  1. What a wonderful, beautiful book, Pat. It sounds so positive and constructive – giving kids an idea of what to do when they might feel helpless and scared. And I’m so happy it ends well! Thanks for sharing 🙂


    • Susanna, I was so excited when I found this book as I’d been looking for books with this theme for a while. Perfect for Breast Cancer Awareness month and our list. It is realistic but upbeat. And, I was glad that I could show cancer from two different perspectives, with Kathy’s Hat which I ran Oct. 8.


  2. This book sounds just wonderful, Pat. We have friends who are going through this right now– the mom has breast cancer and they have three really little ones! I am going to share this with them… thank you!


  3. What a beautiful book and what a great idea for something positive to do while dealing with cancer. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a pumpkin the same way again!

    We have a friend who went through the breast cancer ordeal, along with her husband and two children, and one of the special things they did was to start the journey at an incredible spot in the forest where an amazing spring bursts forth with rushing, cold, and some might say healing water from a nearby mountain. The whole family plus some dear friends all allowed that rushing water to flow over them. They returned to that spring every year. Five years later, when all the treatments were done, they returned to that spring once again to celebrate healing.

    Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful books that not only heal, but provide food for the difficult journeys towards healing.


    • Craig, I’m glad you liked the selection. Thank you for sharing about the ritual your friends created. So positive. My husband’s daughter went through this six years ago and was so upbeat. I’ve been looking for books on this subject to share. I was so happy to find it. I reviewed a book on Monday about a child with cancer, “Kathy’s Hats,” which is very upbeat.


  4. This is so important and I’m sure there aren’t many picture books out there that deal with breast cancer. What a great resource. Thanks for sharing!


  5. Pat, what a beautiful book to share. Loved that it gave kids a realistic view on such a universal subject and gives them a focus -how long it takes for somethings. With this book kids become more aware, understand to some degree and feel they are tributing to the healing process. How cool! It is also Breast Cancer awareness month here to. (I have a work colleague undergoing an operation this week) This book would touch the hearts world wide! (I am wondering… is there possibly a Grandma’s view for kids, waiting for you to write?)


    • Diane, thank you for you lovely observations. I think it is national here, but I looked up the New Zeland Breast Cancer Foundation and they seem pretty linked t what’s going on in the U.S. Same ribbons worldwide. You might check it out for you colleague. But, it is a beautiful book and available on Amazon and B&N. No, it’s not a book for me to write. I mentioned grandmas because many grandchildren are tring to understand what’s going on with grandma. It is published by Albert Whitman & Company, and both you and I have reviewed many of their books.


  6. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Canada, too. I so appreciate you highlighting this book — it’s such a scary thing for families to face. I love the idea of a Hope Garden. Thank you!


  7. What a lovely book. I hope that I never have to share it with any of the kidlets in my kindergarten class, but it is good to know that there is a beautiful, healing book about a mom experiencing cancer.



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