Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love is the tale of a young boy whose older sister gets cancer and, from his perspective, too much of the family’s attention. Written and illustrated by Sally Loughridge, the book focuses on the emotional impact of his sister’s illness and treatment on him. The author’s unique background as a professional artist, cancer survivor, and retired clinical child psychologist enriches both the story and the art. Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket is an appealing fictional full color picture book, yet one grounded in sound knowledge of child and family psychology.
When a child has a critical illness, parents must cope with the diagnosis, the treatment course, and their own emotional responses, but as importantly, each child’s understanding, reactions, and adjustment. Young siblings may feel abandoned amid intense parental attention to a sick brother or sister. They may envy the special treatment a sibling receives—gifts and even stays on a pediatric ward. They may believe that they caused the illness because they were mean to a brother or sister. They may be scared they too will become ill or die. Emotions often vacillate quickly, from sadness to anger, envy to worry. In the face of such a crisis, emotional development may even be temporarily derailed.
There are several other books about healthy siblings of children with serious medical challenges, but none attends to the younger sibling. This book addresses the impact of his sister’s illness on him in the context of his ongoing emotional and cognitive development, which affects his ability to understand and stay steady during her treatment journey. His changing connection to his special blanket reflects—literally and metaphorically—his emotional growth. Despite Daniel’s fierce attachment to his blanket, he learns to share and over time, to comfort his sister with it.
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. The book was released on August 1 by Maine Authors Publishing. 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.
“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.”
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.
When Loughridge had breast cancer in 2010, she used art and writing as a personal coping strategy on each of thirty three consecutive days of radiation treatment after surgery. This private visual and written journal later became Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment, published by the American Cancer Society in 2012. This book has won four national awards: Gold Medal in the book category, Association TRENDS All Media Contest 2012; Finalist in Women’s Issues category, Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2013; Winner, Women’s Issues, USA Best Book Awards 2013; and Finalist, Health-Cancer, USA Best Book Awards 2013. As a psychologist, Loughridge 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).
by Elise Bogdan
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.
About the author: Sally Loughridge, Author and Illustrator
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.
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 tries to convey her emotional responses to the beauty and power of Maine and the ever-changing light which graces it.
Loughridge is also the author of Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment (Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society 2012). 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).