Bookshelf : Books for the child afraid of medical procedures


Books for children who fear medical procedures





Books for the child afraid of doctors, hospitals, and medical procedures

There are many ways that pediatricians, health professionals, and parents can address common childhood concerns about visits to the doctor and hospital admissions. One is children's books. Although many books fail to distinguish themselves at first glance (with many titled So and So Goes to the Doctor/Hospital), several offer unique and age-appropriate approaches to coping with medical visits. Some authors focus on accurately presenting the facts about what to expect from a check-up or a hospital stay; others rely on familiar fictional characters that children love and trust to present typical fears and emotions and offer optimistic resolutions. All but a few are well worth reading to children before they are faced with an injury, hospital stay, or surgery, and before they develop a fear of going to the doctor. Readers may copy and distribute Bookshelf to families of patients in their practice without permission from the publisher.* —Laura A. Jana, MD

*Editor's note: All other uses of this article require written permission of the publisher.

For the very young child

Barney & Baby Bop Go to the Doctor, by Margie Larsen, Scholastic Inc., 1996. In this part of the Go To books series, characters Barney and Baby Bop head off to their pediatrician's office for a checkup. With a simple yet accurate description of the well visit from a child's perspective, this book helps make the most common aspects of a doctor's visit—including the cold stethoscope—more familiar. This book adds an extra dimension of reality by using color photos of a real doctor's office, a nurse, a doctor, and children. For parents whose young children respond well to a concrete, direct approach—especially those who already know and love the big purple dinosaur and his sidekick sister—this is a particularly good book to read when anticipating a visit to the doctor. Ages 2–4

Clifford Visits the Hospital, by Norman Bridwell, Scholastic Inc., 2000. Clifford is a puppy small enough to sneak into the basket of cookies his owner, Emily Elizabeth, and her mother are taking to Emily's grandmother in the hospital. The result is a relatively broad, lighthearted look at hospital routine—from getting shots and taking medicine to visiting hours and the newborn nursery. This book offers Clifford and the young children who read about his antics a nonthreatening introduction to the hospital and what goes on there. Ages 2–6

Curious George Goes to the Hospital, by Margret & H.A. Rey, Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1966. While dated in its portrayal of male doctors, female nurses, and the all-but-nonexistent house call, Curious George's mishap in swallowing a puzzle piece, being seen by the doctor, and then making his way through the characteristic rituals of hospital admission familiarize children with the general concepts. At the same time, this fictional story is lighthearted and fun to read. It deviates from the reality of hospitalization enough to allow George to take a ride down a hospital ramp in a wheelchair where he makes a huge mess. As in many of the Curious George books, the little monkey's talent for upsetting things is overlooked. This time it is by the head of the hospital (and the visiting mayor) because Curious George is able to do what no one else could do—cheer up a sad patient named Betsy. Ages 3–6

Doctor Maisy, by Lucy Cousins, Candlewick Press, 2001. Because Maisy and Tallulah are well-loved from their Nick Jr. television show, many toddlers are likely to take to this very simple story about how the two characters play hospital and pretend to be Doctor Maisy and Nurse Tallulah. The only concrete medical aspects (aside from the role-playing) are listening to each other's heartbeats and discovering that Panda has a fever. What permeates the book most, however, is the sense that doctors and nurses are friendly, caring people (or in this case, cartoon animals) who take care of others and make them feel better when they are sick. Ages 1–3

Going to the Hospital; Usborne First Experiences, by Anne Civardi and Michelle Bates, EDC Publishing, 2001 (America). After a young boy named Ben goes to see his doctor for recurrent ear infections, he is admitted to the hospital for ear tube surgery. Aside from the use of the British term "auroscope" to describe what is more commonly referred to as an otoscope, this book, first published by Usborne in Great Britain, proceeds to present universal aspects of visiting a doctor, being evaluated by nurses and doctors, the unique features of hospital rooms, and what happens when you undergo surgery. In paying attention to details that are important to a child but that may be overlooked by adults and health professionals, the book even mentions hospital attire (e. g., gowns) and the long hallway to the operating room. Incidentally—Ben's surgeon is female. Ages 3–6

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? by Jane Yolen, The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic Inc., 2003. Due to reach bookstore shelves in 2003, this large children's book is worth watching for. Using vivid illustrations and simple rhyming prose beginning with "What if a dinosaur catches the flu? Does he whimper and whine in between each Atchoo?" this author uses dinosaurs to portray the common behaviors and the reactions or fears children have when they become sick, need to take medicine, and go to the doctor (including wailing, outright refusal, and closing their mouths when asked to open wide). In the end, the huge diplodocus agrees to take all his medicine without a fight, and the styracasaurus willingly crawls into bed as his (human) parents turn out the light. This is an especially good book to recommend to the countless parents whose children are intrigued by (and want to emulate the behavior of) their beloved dinosaurs. Ages 3–6

Little Bill: A Trip to the Hospital, by Kim Watson, Simon Spotlight/ Simon & Schuster, 2001. Well-known to "Nickelodeon" enthusiasts, the usually carefree Little Bill (animated rendition of Bill Cosby as a child) finds himself whisked off to the hospital for a broken arm after one too many "giddyaps" when playing cowboy in his backyard. The ensuing details of his hospital visit resemble what a child arriving at the hospital with a broken arm will probably experience (seeing the doctor, getting an X-ray, being casted). A strong underlying and universal emphasis is placed on how family support, clear explanations, and a sense of familiarity in the midst of the unknown can make a world of difference in allaying a child's fears about medical treatments. In the end, Little Bill declares that he wants to become both a cowboy and a doctor. Ages 3–6

The Berenstain Bears Go To The Doctor, by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Random House, 1981. In the comfortable style characteristic of this classic, popular series of children's books, The Berenstain Bears Go To The Doctor is based on an important life lesson for children—in this case, that it's normal to be apprehensive about going to the doctor, but that going is an important part of staying healthy and getting well if you are sick. This 32-page story addresses head-on one of the more common childhood (if not adulthood) fears: getting shots. Sister Bear dreads getting a shot, only to find out it's not nearly as bad as she had anticipated. Along with her shot comes an honest explanation from her doctor, Dr. Grizzly, who tells her that shots contain "a special kind of medicine that keeps you from getting sick," and that they don't hurt "nearly as much as biting your tongue or bumping your shin." In keeping with a common theme found in the Berenstain Bears books, Papa Bear blunders his way through the book—this time insisting he isn't sick, only to find himself put to bed at the end of the story by his family under doctor's orders and taking the pink medicine (presumably amoxicillin) prescribed for him. Ages 3–6

The Get Well Soon Book: Good Wishes for Bad Times, by Kes Gray, Millbrook Press, 2000. If it is true that misery loves company— or even that young children like humorous tales about the mishaps of animals such as Connie the Crocodile and Harry the Hamster—then this is the right book to recommend for the young child who is unenthusiastic about visiting the doctor or taking his medicine. Most of the book is filled with simple but zany descriptions of the injuries and accidents that the many animals have, and then concludes by saying that "they all followed the doctor's orders and they all took their medicine, and they all got better in . . . the end!" Ages 2–6

Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital, by Virginia Dooley, Mondo Publishing, 1996. Luke, a school-age African-American boy, shares his child's-eye view of what it's like to be admitted to the hospital for ear tube surgery. In the 31 colorfully illustrated pages, children are given a concrete, fair presentation of what to expect at the hospital. As a bonus, the book also depicts racial diversity and female doctors. Scattered throughout the book are highlighted facts, definitions of medical words (as well as their pronunciation), and some very useful explanations of related medical topics—including IVs, otoscopes, the reason for not eating before surgery, and a description of who anesthesiologists are and what they do. Ages 3–8

What To Expect When You Go To The Doctor, by Heidi Murkoff, HarperCollins/HarperFestival, 2000. With child-friendly, cartoon-style illustrations, one of the co-authors of the famed What To Expect series shifts gears and explains to children what to expect from a visit to the doctor. Angus, a friendly dog, narrates this 24-page book that answers some of the basic questions young children have—such as What is a doctor? A nurse? A doctor's office?—and gives the reasons why doctors perform all the parts of a routine checkup. This book is likely to help parents make their child's doctor visits less of a trip into the unknown. Ages 3–6

When Molly Was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children, by Debbie Duncan, Rayve Productions, 1994. Accompanied by beautiful black-and-white illustrations, this 31-page book deals with a toddler's hospitalization as seen by her school-age sister. In her first-person narrative, Anna describes what it is like for her when her baby sister Molly becomes sick, gets admitted to the hospital, undergoes surgery, and eventually recovers. Based on the author's own experience when one of her two daughters was diagnosed with celiac disease, this true-to-life story captures the reality of how a sibling's illness, hospitalization, and surgery affects family dynamics and the range of emotions—including fear, anger, jealousy, love, and frustration—that siblings of patients often experience. Ages 3–8

For the young child

Franklin Goes to the Hospital, by Paulette Bourgeois, Scholastic Inc. (Toronto, Kids Can Press), 2000. Franklin the turtle cracks his shell playing soccer and finds out from Dr. Bear that he needs to have surgery to get it pinned so that he can continue to "grow big and strong." While the book exposes children to what it's like to get injured, go to the hospital, get radiographs, and undergo surgery seen through the eyes of a child-like turtle, the author does an even better job of addressing a child's typical fears. In this case, Franklin is most afraid of getting an X-ray because he worries that everyone will be able to see the fear inside him. Dr. Bear assures him that being scared and being brave are not mutually exclusive and that X-rays only show bones, not emotions. While this is a book that portrays doctors, hospitals, and medical procedures accurately and in a positive light, it is yet one more book in the well-loved series of Franklin books that all children— not just those facing a hospital stay—would particularly enjoy reading. Ages 4–7

Good-Bye Tonsils! by Juliana Lee and Craig Hatkoff, Viking/Penguin Putnam, 2001. Dedicated by the author "to all children who have to go to the hospital," this book illustrates the wonderful, caring way in which a young girl's doctor and family prepare her to have her tonsils surgically removed. Her first-person description covers becoming sick and getting diagnosed all the way through her surgery and subsequent recovery. It includes detailed accounts of packing for the hospital, receiving the blue plastic ID bracelet upon arrival, and the blue paper masks worn by the doctors in the OR. An opening "Note to parents" section sketches the history of tonsillectomies and offers useful guidelines for helping children who must undergo surgery. Observant readers will notice that the main character and the principal author have the first name Juliana. The fact that the book is based on a childhood journal, written (with her father, Craig) when she had her tonsils removed at the age of 5, offers a good explanation of why this book is particularly realistic in its portrayal of how children experience hospitalization and surgery. Ages 4–8

Going to the Doctor, by T. Berry Brazelton, MD, Perseus Publishing, 1996. This 48-page book takes children step-by-step through a routine doctor's visit as presented by a pediatrician who needs no introduction. Dr. Brazelton's insights are apparent as he describes and explains a routine doctor visit through the eyes of a child. He fully discusses everything from the purpose of pediatricians to the hows and whys of each part of the exam. The book is enhanced by photos of Dr. Brazelton with children, and also by illustrations drawn by his 9-year-old grandson. ( lists the book as out of print and with only limited availability, but parents may find it in the municipal library.) It is especially good reading for children who feeling uneasy about going to the doctor. Ages 4–10 

The Hospital Book, by James Howe, Beech Tree Paperback, 1994. Based on the premise that knowing what the hospital is like can make it easier for a child (and his family) to be there, this book successfully uses black-and-white photos (albeit slightly outdated ones) and thorough text descriptions to address the most common Who? What? When? Where? and Why? questions children (and parents) have when they are faced with hospitalization. Ages 4–12

For the older child

A Night without Stars, by James Howe, Atheneum, 1983. This thoughtfully written 178-page novel is about a sixth grader faced with puberty, cliques at school, the upcoming seventh grade, and also major surgery. Asymptomatic since birth, 11-year-old Maria suddenly finds herself full of fear and uncertainty when she is scheduled for open-heart surgery to repair a hole in her heart. The book offers an accurate look not just at what a hospital stay and surgery are like through the eyes of a preadolescent, but also at the bigger picture: family dynamics, tolerance, friendship, faith, fear, and hope. Ages 8–13

For parents

Your Child in the Hospital: A Practical Guide for Parents, by Nancy Keene and Rachel Prentice, O'Reilly & Associates, 1999. The practice of pediatrics not only must remember to address children's fears but also should help parents to do the same. When taking their children to the hospital, many parents are overwhelmed by the hospital rules, the medical aspects, and the day-to-day functioning of health professionals and hospital staff. In a what-to-expect manner, this 160-page parent-centered guide offers concrete, useful insights into how hospitals function and how parents can comfortably become a part of the process. It also explains medical tests and how to cope with a sick child emotionally, physically, and even financially.

[Also available in Spanish as Ayudando A Su Hijo En El Hospital: Una Guia Practica Para Los Padres.]



DR. JANA is a practicing pediatrician with Physicians Clinic in Omaha, Neb. She is co-founder of The Doctor Spock Company, a national parenting media company, and maintains special interests in early childhood literacy and in childhood safety and injury prevention. She is the mother of three young children and an avid collector of children's books.


Bookshelf : Books for the child afraid of medical procedures. Contemporary Pediatrics 2003;2:137.

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