I know from personal experience that helping a child understand – really understand – living with type 1 diabetes is often a long-time and constant pursuit. For parents who don’t want their child to live diabetes first and a happy childhood second, this can be a challenge.
There is something I’ve found that can help, and it rests right in a parent’s hands: books that talk about life with diabetes for a child living with type 1 or for a child who has a loved one with diabetes. These books are plentiful, but those that use helpful language can help parents explain things simply and positively. These books may help children grasp a complicated situation in an enjoyable and even relaxing way. A fun and easy to understand story may have a child wanting to read the book again and again.
Some things to look for in books include a relatively recent publication date (while age is not everything with a book, you will want to make sure it’s up-to-date with information like diabetes tools and food allowances), optimism (you don’t want any books that suggest anything but positivity) and readability (if it’s not a fun story, children may not want to pay attention, let alone come back to it again).
While shopping for books to educate, you’ll want to be sure there are few if any negatives, such as the old and no longer true “I cannot have sugary foods,” and the use of the term “testing” blood sugar instead of “checking.” But most of all, my advice is to make sure any book is equal parts education and fun.
A nice byproduct of using literature to help educate a child about diabetes is that, adults often end up finally “getting it” via these books, as well. The parent, the friend, or the teacher who may have yet to truly grasp what diabetes means to your child’s life may oftentimes learn in this simple way. Here are a few of my favorites:
Lara Takes Charge
By Rocky Lang and Sally Huss (Cable Publishing, 2004, 2012)
Simple sentences, a basic story, and bright, crisp illustrations make this book a great choice for younger children living with type 1 diabetes, their friends, and siblings. In the book, Lara can do anything she wants, just with some extra thought. She shares her activities and thoughts in a bright and positive way that children ages four and up can enjoy.
Even Superheroes Get Diabetes
By Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Micah Chambers-Goldberg (Wild Indigo Publishing, 2007)
This book is longer, and might take more than one bedtime to read. But the story is fun and creative, mixing the reality of what a child faces living with diabetes with some fun fantasy that can open children’s minds while entertaining them. From Kelvin’s comical yet very real trip to the hospital for diagnosis to the imaginative moment when “fly-a-betes” (the superhero with diabetes!) enters the picture, this book is one that both boys and girls will laugh with while also learning from.
Taking Diabetes to School
By Kim Gosselin, illustrated by Moss Freedman (JayJo Books, 2004)
One of the best-known and most-used books for children with diabetes, this book spends a day at school with Jayson, who is on multiple daily injections, and Laci, who is on a pump (and was smartly added to the book in 2004). The story talks in basic terms about why each child must do what they do, how they feel when they are high or low, and exactly what type 1 diabetes is. The “Kid’s Quiz” is a great tool, and the “Tips for Teachers” section at the end should, in my opinion, be a must-read for any school professional. Even children with diabetes who have yet to go to school will enjoy this story, and it’s an excellent classroom tool.
Can Mom Have a Piece of My Birthday Cake?
By Rochelle L. Stern, illustrated by Rosalind Orland (Word Association Publishers, 2002)
In an effort to to explain to children (in language they can understand) what it means if a parent has diabetes, this book, written by an adult living with type 1 diabetes, has great basics that can even help children discover ways to actively participate in helping their parent. A spouse or family friend reading this book to a child may also benefit from a better understanding of what it means to live with diabetes. Since the story is told from a child’s point of view, children may be able to mirror their own thoughts and concerns about their parent as they read, and hopefully learn to not be afraid of what mom or dad is going through. The activities in the book for children make it fun and make kids think. One suggestion: don’t do the activities in pen. Kids will want to try them over and over.
Moira McCarthy is an acclaimed writer, author, and public speaker who has shared her story – and lessons – on raising a child living with type 1 diabetes in the media, through books, and on her popular blog, despitediabetes.com. McCarthy has appeared on CNN Live, Good Morning America, and Fox News. She was recently recognized as the JDRF International Volunteer of the Year. Her six books include the top-selling The Everything Parent’s Guide To Children With Juvenile Diabetes and the upcoming Raising Teens With Diabetes: A Survival Guide For Parents. McCarthy is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience