Friday, January 15, 2016

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket by Sally Loughridge

A beautiful and important book
Available in Paperback here!

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket is the tale of a young boy whose older sister gets cancer and, from his perspective, far too much of the family's attention. Filled with evocative watercolor illustrations, the book traces the impact on Daniel of his sister's illness and treatment in the context of his ongoing emotional and cognitive development. The author's unique background as professional artist, cancer survivor, and retired clinical child psychologist enriches both the story and the art. Grounded in sound knowledge of child and family psychology, Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket can help children become more comfortable sharing their feelings, enable family discussion about difficult health matters, model strategies for parents, and aid young siblings in understanding one another more empathetically.

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket can help children feel more comfortable speaking about their feelings, enable family discussion about difficult health matters, model strategies for parents, and aid both sick and healthy children understand one another more empathically. While the book can assist children and families, it is not a substitute for therapeutic intervention.

Sadness, anger, worry, envy, loneliness—young Daniel experiences each of these intensely when his older sister gets cancer, and from his perspective, too much of the family's attention. Written and illustrated by Sally Loughridge, Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket focuses on the emotional impact of Kate's illness and treatment on him.  Loughridge's unique background as a professional artist, cancer survivor, and retired clinical child psychologist enriches both the story and the art.

When a child has a life-threatening illness such as cancer, parents must cope with the illness and treatment course, their own emotional responses, and each of their children's understanding, reactions, and adjustment. Daniel's changing connection to his special blanket reflects—literally and metaphorically—his psychological growth. Over time, and with his parents' patient help, his understanding and empathy grow. Despite fierce attachment to his blanket, he learns to share and comfort his sister with it. At the book's end, he expresses his love for his sister in a generous, creative gesture.

The audience for Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket includes siblings, patients, parents, and the broader family on a journey through life-threatening pediatric illness such as cancer or cystic fibrosis. Each year there are over 15,000 children between birth and 19 years diagnosed with cancer (American Cancer Society 2014) and over 1000 new cases of cystic fibrosis (Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 2010). Of these diagnosed children, over 75 percent have siblings (Pew Research Center, US Census Bureau, 2014).

Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket can be used in the home setting or with the guidance of a pediatric oncology counselor, child life specialist, social worker, art therapist, psychologist, teacher, or other childhood professional. The book can support the younger sibling of a child with a life threatening illness; help both the ill child and their parents understand reactions of younger siblings; and model strategies for parents in balancing attention to all their children.

"Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket is a compassionate and validating story for families balancing the needs of all their children when a child is diagnosed with cancer. Sally Loughridge has provided a valuable resource for navigating the emotional and relational struggles when a sibling has cancer." Tookie Bright, LCSW Youth and Family Services Coordinator The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, Lewiston, Maine

"Daniel and his Starry Night Blanket is a beautifully illustrated book that takes on a rarely addressed and important topic-the experience of a healthy sibling when another sibling is seriously ill...What is most remarkable about this book is its emotional tone, which is 'pitch perfect.' It is warm, whimsical, and a pleasure to read aloud." Paula K. Rauch, MD Director, Marjorie E. Korff PACT Program (Parenting at a Challenging Time) Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts

"This lovely story acknowledges the many dimensions of a sibling’s experience when a brother or sister is diagnosed with cancer," says Darah Curran, MSW, LCSW, Pediatric Oncology Counselor at Inova Life with Cancer in Fairfax, Virginia. "The thoughtful words and illustrations normalize siblings’ feelings and encourage more open dialogue within families about an often overlooked aspect of pediatric cancer."

About the Author
Sally Loughridge, PhD, is a professional artist, cancer survivor, and retired clinical child psychologist who believes strongly in the power of art in its many forms to foster understanding, connection, and healing. "Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket" is the tale of a young boy as he is impacted by his sister's cancer journey. A story of illness and sibling love, the book reflects Sally's deep empathy for those going through serious illness, whether as patient or family member, and her expertise as a child psychologist and visual artist. "Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket" has been awarded the 2015 Gelett Burgess Children's Book Award for outstanding contributions to children's literature in the Lifestyle Emotions and Feelings Category.

Raised by creative, curious parents, Loughridge lives on the coast of Maine where she is inspired by the beauty and ruggedness of the landscape and the resourcefulness of her people. She exhibits her paintings in galleries and invitational shows. Using the mediums of oil and soft pastel, she seeks to convey her emotional responses to the beauty and power of Maine and the ever-changing light which graces it. 

Loughridge earned her BA from Smith College and her PhD from Cornell University. She is also the author of "Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment" (Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society 2012). Winning four national awards, the book presents the personal visual and written diary she kept over thirty-three consecutive days of radiation treatment after surgery. As a clinical psychologist, she co-authored three books for children going through significant family change: "The Divorce Workbook," "Changing Families," and "My Kind of Family" (Burlington, VT: Waterfront Books 1985, 1988, and 1990).

Ways to Use This Book…
This book can be used in many ways to support young children during a sibling's life threatening illness. Whether shared in the home, medical, counseling, or school setting, Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket can be a catalyst for expression, connection, and understanding. It provides another tool for helping families impacted by critical pediatric illness, but in itself is not a substitute for professional treatment.

Suggestions for parents with their children…
  • The book can be shared individually with your children or together, based on the age and comfort level of each.  
  • Reading the book several times, or even in parts, may work best for a young child.
  • Leaving the book accessible will invite a child to return to it and help normalize intense reactions similar to Daniel's.  
  • Your child may identify with the story's characters or distance himself from them. Whatever his perspective, the book can be a springboard to help a child feel more comfortable and safe in expressing feelings.
  • If  your child is regressing in achieved milestones or behaving repeatedly in unusual, hurtful ways, speak with his or her doctor for guidance and the possible need for therapeutic assistance.

Suggestions for activities for children (selection dependent on age)…
  • To encourage expression and provide support, invite a child to draw in response to one or more of these trigger ideas.
  • Draw your family.
  • Draw your sister or brother before and after they got sick.
  • Draw yourself with your sister or brother.
  • Draw yourself doing something fun with your mother, father, or sibling.
  • Help the well child find ways to spend time with the ill child, even in new and different ways.
  • Help the well child find ways to do kind things for the ill child, and vice versa.
  • Schedule private activities for the well child with parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends.

Suggestions for therapists and counselors working with children and families…
  • This book can be a therapeutic tool, much like other books, toys, and art supplies that a counselor might use.
  • Use the book as an example or model to spur a child to tell his or her own story or even write his or her own book.
  • Let the child look at the book as he or she wishes, even without reading the story if that is most comfortable initially.
  • Use trigger questions for conversation, depending on the age of the child, such as:
  • Why does Daniel feel angry at Kate?
  • Do you think Daniel might be scared?
  • Have you ever felt like Daniel (in a given scene)?
  • Does your brother or sister ever get mad at you?
  • What do you like to do with your brother or sister?
  • Has this changed since he or she became ill?

Trigger questions for professionally led adult discussion groups…
  • How can normal development be impacted by illness?
  • How can parents best balance the needs of a very seriously ill child and those of siblings?
  • What are some ways in which Daniel's parents are able to balance attention to their children?
  • What are some warning signs that a sibling may need professional help?
  • Should younger siblings be taken along on medical visits (diagnostic testing, consultation, chemotherapy, radiation)?
  • How much detail do you think parents should share with the ill child or the well child?
  • How and when should parents share a child's dire prognosis with a younger sibling?
  • How can parents be honest about a health situation and at the same time maintain hope and resiliency?
  • How can teachers, neighbors, and friends best help the siblings in such a family?
  • What role does Daniel's grandmother play in helping him?
  • How do you think you would feel if you were Daniel or Kate?

A beautiful and important book
Available in Paperback here!


Unknown said...

Thank you for posting about my book about the emotional impact of pediatric illness on the siblings of the ill child. Despite the tough subject, I smiled when I first saw the book poised on the bale of hay. Alas serious childhood illness does not exempt any group, even those that ride.

I learned to ride Western when I was 45 and have many fine memories of riding in Montana and Colorado. Riding brought me connection, communication, and challenge with the horses.

Gina said...

Hi Sally! Thanks for connecting! I loved your book, even though the story is profound, and often close to home. I have an office at my barn and keep a library of the books I review. The hay/horses don't seem to mind if I use them as props. My mare, Zubedia, is munching hay in the background. Somehow horses make everything better. If you would like to share your horse memories/stories, you are always welcome to share on Riding & Writing! We are a riding and writing community, sharing the world over.

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