The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh

One of the hardest, but most important, booklists I’ve made to date is my list of children’s books about cancer. As I said when I wrote that post, I am a firm believer in the power of books to help our children process and understand the world around them, as well as their personal lives. After multiple requests from friends and followers for titles of good children’s books about cancer, I finally began to curate a formal list of children’s books about cancer, because, unfortunately, it’s an incredibly important list that more people than I’d hope really need. Today, I’ve got an addition to that list — The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh, illustrated by Asa Gilland.

We do children no service in cutting them off from transcendent works of the imagination, even if it means introducing them to troublesome ideas and assumptions, and to characters we would rather they not admire. Like life itself, literature is unruly. It raises moral, cultural, and philosophical questions. Well, where better to talk about these things than at home? The human story is messy and imperfect… We needn’t be afraid of it… It is far better to talk about what we think of these matters with our children, using books as a starting point for the conversation.

Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, page 172

The Perfect Shelter is a story about cancer. But, more than that, it’s a story about family relationships, about love, about walking next to someone who is ill (though cancer is never explicitly named in The Perfect Shelter, a discerning eye sees it for what it is), about showing up when you are scared. In Welsh’s story, two unnamed sisters love to build forts with each other. But one day, things aren’t quite the same; the older sister is tired, and a storm starts to blow in.

We watch the family toil and the sisters rebuild, but the storm (both of the cancer and the actual storm outside) continues to pound them with one obstacle after another. Sickness and rain, operations and lightning, hospitalizations and snow. But, the sisters manage to find their smiles again, even in the hospital, and even in the hospital, they realize that there is no time better than the present “to build a shelter and be together.”

Children’s books about cancer are never easy to read, especially when the character with cancer is a child. But the love of this family, from parents to children and sister to sister, is powerful, and the illustrations are bright and accessible. I pray you never need to read this book, but I do hope that The Perfect Shelter provides an outlet for important conversations and support for those who do. And for those who don’t need it but read it anyway, I believe The Perfect Shelter is a gentle door through which conversations about cancer and serious illness can start, helping our children to start to make sense of the messy and imperfect human story.

I have added The Perfect Shelter to my larger list of children’s books about cancer, which you can find by clicking here. The Perfect Shelter is currently available in the UK and can be shipped worldwide through Book Depository. It can also be purchased in the United States through Kane Miller/Usborne Books and More. A big thank you to Kane Miller for sharing this book with our family in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions of this book are my own. 

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