When Pete's Dad Got Sick is part of the "Helping Kids Heal" series. This particular title focuses on chronic illness and honestly deals with the emotions kids feel when facing this difficult situation in their families.
The book never specifies what's wrong with Pete's dad, only that he's sick. Pete remembers when he and his dad would race around the backyard. Now his dad can hardly walk. He uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair. Pete misses playing with his dad the way he used to. Pete is scared and can't understand why God doesn't make his dad better. He doesn't like having other people bring them meals or visiting all the time. He wants his family back the way it was.
One day a friend comes over to play. After racing for a bit, the other child notices Pete's dad on the front steps. He asks "Who's that old man? What's wrong with him?" Pete gets very angry and sends his friend away.
The next day Pete has a talk with his dad. His dad initiates the conversation, but Pete asks most of the questions, the questions that have been bothering him lately. Pete's dad answers them with honesty and compassion. He tells him that no, he probably won't run fast again, but, yes, he's still the same person and he still loves Pete very, very much. He also tells Pete that God didn't do this. "Sometimes people get sick or hurt. I don't know why. I only know that God loves us and wants what's best for us, and that God gives us everything we need." He may not have strong legs, but God's love gives him strength. Then Pete's dad retrieves an box of old medals and ribbons, things he won in high school and college. The next day Pete comes home to find the backyard set up like a racetrack. His dad greets him: "I may not have fast legs, but I can still teach you a few things about running." When Pete crosses the finish line, his dad places a medal around his neck and reminds him to "always look ahead."
The back of the book offers notes for parents about helping children deal with a chronic illness in the family. The first was written by the author; the second was written by R. Scott Stehouwer, Ph.D., professor of psychology and clinical psychologist.
Illustrator Cheri Bladholm created vibrant, life-like paintings for this volume. A few pictures are child-like in style, representative of drawings Pete may have done.
What I Like: The characters provide authentic emotions. I especially like the honest discussion Pete has with his dad and the resulting effort his dad makes to help Pete see he's still the same dad. I like the focus on looking forward rather than back and the biblical emphasis on faith in God's goodness. The illustrations are fantastic.
I don't see this as a book to be read to children facing chronic illness in their family. In that case, parents should just talk to them, not read them a book that may actually raise more questions than answers. Rather, I see this as a help to children whose friends are dealing with chronic illness. It makes an excellent resource for friends of "Pete."
What I Dislike: The book mentions Pete's mom only to show how much has changed -- friends and neighbors come to help around the house so Pete's mom can work. Other than that she's never mentioned. She is never pictured. I wish the book involved her more. I wish the mother and father together helped Pete face this difficult situation.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Age Appeal: 4-8
Publisher Info: Zondervan, 2004; ISBN: 0310706556; Hardback; $9.99