How do help a young child whose friend or relative is seriously ill? American actress and comic Vanessa Bayer offers a comforting, empowering tool: a book for children ages 2-6, How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear?
As a teen, Bayer (pronounced “bear”) endured 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy for leukemia. She remembers how much being “surrounded by friends” helped. Knowing how youngsters can feel afraid or confused by the changes in a sick friend, Bayer used colorful illustrations by Rosie Butcher and spare prose to tell such children the story of “You and your friend Bear.”
Bayer begins with images of a joyful, loving relationship where “You know each other so well.” She then matter-of-factly addresses what to do if your friend gets sick, with suggestions such as making cards and bringing books. The next few pages prepare children for changes in their sick friend: hair loss, fatigue, sadness, and the desire to be left alone. For that last one, Bayer offers a healthy, hopeful response: “If she wants to be alone, you’ll find another time to play.”
Of the book’s 20 sentences, only two address the emotions a child might experience when visiting an ill friend. And that’s fine. Bayer effectively hammers home the key message: Friends are friends, even when illness changes how one friend looks or acts, or keeps them apart at times.
In the illness literature for youngsters, How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear is especially calming and loving.