Amelia Frahm sent me a copy of Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy for review on my blog and Examiner page. It’s the story of a young girl trying to cope with her Mom going through the chemotherapy process for breast cancer. Breast cancer affects the entire family, not just the woman undergoing treatment. Children are often confused, and this book can help them go through the process.
Amelia was kind enough to answer an extensive list of questions about her book, her publishing company, and breast cancer.
Who is Tickles Tabitha? Where did she get that name?
Tabitha is my daughter. I always liked the name (Remember Bewitched?) and before she was born I had a cat named Tabitha that sadly got hit by a car. She likes to tell her friends she was named after a dead cat-which is what her mean ole Mommy (me) used to tell her.
The Tickles part of Tickle Tabitha was really a game I played with my son Jordan. He had a Tickle me Elmo, but his favorite game to play was Tickle me Jordan.
When I first penned the book I wrote it for and about my own family and our experience. The title was Tamoxifen Mama, but I thought the makers of Tamoxifen (a breast cancer drug I took) might not appreciate it. The title was changed to Mean old Mama, and finally to Tickles Tabitha and later to Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy.
It is one thing to write a story for your own children and another to publish a children’s picture book. I quickly learned that the title Tickles Tabitha though short, sweet, and catchy which is what is ideal did not convey that it was a book about cancer. I needed to make sure readers knew it was a children’s book about cancer, but at the same time I wanted readers to realize it was not too sad.
Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book almost 15 years ago after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer, but did not publish it until October 2001. Back when I was diagnosed with cancer talking about it to children was not exactly encouraged. The internet was in its infancy and I felt like the only young mom alive coping with a cancer diagnosis and raising young children.
Why is this book so important?
It was the first children’s picture book to show a young Mom with cancer and the emotional stresses and strains it place upon not just her but the entire family. It is an honest glimpse into what life was like for my own family. I will always remember that the illustrator had thought Mom should be in a house robe-recuperating, but that was not my reality. Also the book reassures children, but does not make any promises about living or dying. The Mom promises she will always love her kids no matter what. I was lucky enough to survive my cancer, but my friend, Laura did not. She was 39 when she died.
What makes this book stand out in this competitive children’s book market?
Its author and her passion to see that other women and their children never feel as isolated and alone as we did.
I am a cancer survivor and due to my personal experiences with my own children, and the loss of my best-friend to cancer I felt strongly enough about it to take a risk and publish it myself. At the time it was the only book of its type that did not have the backing of a large non-profit. (I did get an endowment after I published.)
It is as relevant today as it was when I penned it. Let’s just say prior to reality TV my honest portrayal of a mean and mad Mom with cancer, kids making a mess, and Dad in denial was not always appreciated. The emotional stresses and even depression that is touched upon in the book are finally being talked about openly.
Still when given the option of a feel good story and a story about cancer school’s with limited money in the budget usually opt for the feel good story. So it is my mission to let them know that Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy offers both awareness and giggles.
What is most important for children to understand about cancer?
It’s not their fault and nothing to be ashamed about.
What is most important for parents to understand about cancer?
Children need to know the above! No matter how young a child is he or she will recognize that something is not right in their household. Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy helps establish a dialogue between parent and child to talk about what is going on.
All adults need to know when they whisper about a topic or adopt a pitying tone of voice when asking a child about a parent who has cancer it often makes the child feel as if cancer is something they should be ashamed of. Parents should also understand cancer affects the entire family and extended family. Survivors need to know that despite feeling grateful to be alive, when you are back to being your mean ole self it is a sign you are getting better. Cut yourself some slack and find another adult to vent.
Why did you start your Nutcracker Publishing Company?
Mainstream publishers wrote me wonderful rejection letters, but told me they did not believe that there was a market for such a niche topic.
What was the inspiration behind the name?
After my cancer diagnosis I got into painting these Christmas Nutcrackers people either really liked or not, and someone was less than kind about one of them which made me like them more. I thought the name Nutcracker sounded perfect for a children’s book company and I could use my nutcrackers to try and get attention.
I was visiting my friend Laura to say good bye, she was a patient at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, and died shortly afterwards. While there her sister called her a Nutcracker, I took it as a sign I was on the right path and was meant to publish my book.
What awards have you won?
Benjamin Franklin, Nutcracker Publishing also received an endowment from Barr Laboratories who manufactured the Breast Cancer drug Tamoxifen, and was I awarded a scholarship to PMA’s Publishers University at Book Expo America in New York City. The last one I had to turn down. The kids were too young to leave alone, my husband was working out of town, and our family lived many miles away-so getting a sitter was out of the question.
Describe the presentation for schools.
Crack Open A Book! This time we’re cracking open Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy and encouraging children to talk about cancer. The program integrates cancer awareness and character education which is popular in schools across the country. As I told you I find the book is as relevant today as the day I penned it. I had never heard of character education back then, but when I started writing the curriculum for Crack Open A Book! I discovered the very character traits my family used to cope with cancer are now being taught in schools.
The program includes the book, illustrations on Powerpoint, and a teacher’s guide. It is broken into six segments, but teachers may use the guide to fit their own classroom needs. Student will read the book, discuss it, and the character trait(s) the characters in the book are implementing and then do an activity relating to what they read. There is a wide variety of activities for children from an exercise on table manners, creating their own story, to a relay race.
Why did you choose to donate a copy of the book and 10% of sales of the book at the event back to the hosting school?
While a cancer education program for elementary children sounds like a great idea, especially if you have had cancer. The reality is schools today have very little time to teach anything outside of what children are being tested on at the end of their school year, and a very limited budget. Most author visits are scheduled through the PTA and I am having to work hard to convince members that not only is a program about cancer needed, but despite the serious subject the program is fun and entertaining for children. So I hope by offering the book as a fundraising tool it will encourage more schools to invite Tickles Tabitha for a visit.
I encountered the very same attitudes years ago when I first published Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy. A children’s book about cancer was slightly ahead of public perception-today such a book is not a big deal. It may take a while but I believe eventually Tickles Tabitha’s cancer education program will be welcomed into schools everywhere.
Who else can benefit from this presentation?
I know from experience that when a person has cancer it does not just touch them, but everyone they come in contact with. I believe anyone who has been touched by cancer can benefit from this program. Especially anyone who teaches children, as a teacher is usually the first one to notice a change in a child’s behavior.
What other resources would be helpful to families and educators?
Your local library, hospital, and the internet search engines. If a family does not own a computer they may borrow one at the library. Just because a resource is not on the shelf of your local library or hospital does not mean it is not available. Search the internet for your particular situation. You may find what you are looking for and often a librarian or hospital liaison can obtain it for you. I list some resources on my site, but today there are many and just the other day I was contacted by a non-profit I had not heard of before.
Also classroom teachers might check out Skype An Author at: http://skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com/
It provides teachers and librarians a way to connect authors, books, and young readers through virtual visits. I just became a member.
Have you published any other books?
No, but I have a work in progress. I know a children’s book sounds simple, but one of the things children learn during any author’s visit is writing and publishing a children’ book is not that easy.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I have finished a children’s book manuscript about how a nuclear power plants work. I will be looking for classrooms to act as guinea pigs and offer their feedback if anyone is interested.
What advice do you have for young, aspiring authors?
Perseverance – was the most important character trait I used to become a published author. Never let someone else write your goals or dreams for you.
Where can readers find out more about you?
www.nutcrackerpublishing.com click on the links on the left.
How can readers contact you?
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
The toddlers I wrote the book for are now all grown up. It has been 15 years since my diagnosis, and I just knew back then that by now we would have a cure for cancer. While there is no cure, life expectancy for breast cancer survivors has improved thanks in part to education and early detection. Yet, just today I received a call and did an interview for a reporter wanting my opinion on a news release about an Update of the 2002 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation statement on screening for breast cancer in the general population.
Recommendations: The USPSTF recommends against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years. I would be dead now if I had listened to this recommendation. I was not high risk or even average risk at the time of my diagnosis. What I tell my daughter is regardless of what any expert says you are your own health care advocate. I know from my own experience until it happens to you–we all –think we’re invincible.
The earlier we start educating ourselves and our children about cancer the better.
Crack Open a Book!
Thank you so much for your time!