Review: Where The Magic Happens

I’m no stranger to the ordeal of brain tumours and while the trauma of diagnosis and treatment is beyond taxing for those related to brain cancer sufferers, it can be positively paralysing for those dealing with it firsthand, especially if you are just four years old.

This joint project by children’s author, Coral Vass, illustrator, Nicky Johnston and nurse and director of Hand in Hand Fighting Brain Cancer Foundation, Amanda Christensen, is in my humble opinion a beacon of golden shining light. As a relatable, touching children’s picture book, Where The Magic Happens is oozing with warmth and tender moments. As a resource for those children, parents, siblings, teachers and friends who have been impacted by brain cancer in some way, it is exemplary.

Cooper is a pre-schooler diagnosed with an aggressive, incurable brain tumour. Where The Magic Happens is told through his eyes, the same ones that see double now and then because of the brain tumour. His experience is relayed in a kind of confidential sharing of information, really important information and speaks directly to every reader especially the young ones. Cooper’s secret is that he is a superhero and he wastes no time telling us how this wonderful transformation occurred.

Through the need to undergo radiation treatment, Cooper takes us through the requirements of superherodom, what it entails and how it feels. He explains hope makes the most effective superhero capes while best friends like his favourite stuffed toy, Mikey, become brilliant shields. Equipped with this kind of armament, Cooper assures us anyone can be a superhero.

Cooper expertly guides us through the daunting corridors and procedures of an extended hospital stay, likening it to a place where the magic happened. Some days are less enjoyable than others. Cooper’s body hurts, his appearance transforms and occasionally his spirit wilts but his mantra remains resolute; true superheroes must never give up.

Devastatingly, in real life, Amanda’s young son’s body did give up, but not his legacy: to help youngsters afflicted with brain cancer and their families to better understand and cope with their illness and treatment.

Coupled with the gentle, emphatic storyline are Johnston’s heart-floating illustrations. There is much to note from them, namely the embracing warm hues used to portray a continued air of hope and optimism. Ochres, oranges and golden yellows surround Cooper and Mikey transforming their darkest moments into incidents of enlightenment. Detail is secreted in plain sight thereby removing the scary from the reality of overwhelming strangeness.

I remember reading a Little Golden Book, (A Visit To The Hospital), detailing a small boy’s hospital visit for a tonsillectomy when I was five. I obsessed over this storybook in the days leading up to my own tonsillectomy until I knew the procedure better than the surgeons! I wager Where The Magic Happens will have a similar effect on children and their families when faced with a condition far more daunting than having your tonsils removed, which is why it is also far more important to distribute to families affected by childhood cancer; this being the all-encompassing aim of its creators.* Imagine having a resource given to you at the time of a life-altering diagnosis that you can share in your children’s language with them to instil a sense of hope and understanding rather than just abject finality and confusion.

Regardless of your personal situation, this book is one to share and cherish to promote empathy and comfort. It will make you weep and make you smile. Ultimately, it will help us all appreciate superheroes a bit better.

If you wish to learn more about the Hand to Hand Fighting Brain Cancer Foundation, visit their website or contact Carolyn Oldano, founding director.

*Both book and toy (Mikey the Martian) will be given as a gift to every child suffering from childhood brain cancer, in every hospital around Australia, the creators believing that the book and the toy go ‘Hand in Hand’.

Title:  Where The Magic Happens
Authors: Amanda Christensen & Coral Vass
Illustrator:  Nicky Johnston
Publisher:  Hand in Hand Fighting Brain Cancer Foundation, $24.99 (Toy Book Bundle $40)
Publication Date:  June 2021
Format:  Paperback
ISBN: 9780646828589
For ages:  3 – 8        
Type:  Picture Book

June 7, 2021 at 12:32AM DimbutNice