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  • Nina Ferrari

Explaining to children that their mother is ill: a book can help



This article was first published in April 2018, and thanks to a crowdfunding campaign The Patience of the Pebbles was published in the Italian language in the summer of 2018. If you wish to order your copy in English, contact the authors on their Facebook page!


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Ierma Sega is a woman, a journalist and a mother. She lives in a house in the middle of the woods and has the determination of a writer who lives thanks to the stories she tells. She has a husband, two children and two cats plus an imprecise number of goldfish and a vegetable garden full of good food to eat. Dynamism and irony are the tools of her trade and, once, a philosophy of life as well. Until the day in November 2013 when she was diagnosed with cancer.

The fear that she wouldn’t make it overrode everything in her life, with the one exception of her children who are her strength and her goal in life: she couldn’t, didn’t want to not be there for them as they grew up. However, being a mother means also helping children to understand the painful course of the illness and its treatment and to comprehend what is happening to their family in a language which is aimed at their level: “When I was diagnosed I needed a book which would help me to find the way and the words to talk to my children Luca and Eva and to explain what was happening to me and to us”. But this book didn’t exist. Ierma tried to come up with her own words – ironically even a writer can be unsure of her words in such a moment – and decided that as soon as she could she’d write the book herself.

“The Patience of the Pebbles”, an illustrated book which recounts illness to children in a delicate way, is the result of this personal experience. Narrated in the first person by Luke, a lively boy of primary school age, what begins as an episode in the writer’s life moves on to become a universal story for everyone: “The book is not strictly autobiographical. Obviously I started from my own experience but I wanted to write a book in which everyone could see themselves. And – naturally – the story leaves the ending open. It couldn’t be any other way”. Ierma’s intention is to help both parents and children, because nobody should find themselves at a loss for words if life forces them to explain to their own child what it means to have cancer.

Faced with such a delicate topic and to be sure she wasn’t making a mistake, Ierma shared the first draft of the book with health professionals, for example oncologists and psychotherapists, but also with parents and educational experts, making changes where necessary in order to make the book truly suitable for everyone. It takes particular care with the language, because telling a story to a child doesn’t mean avoiding reality: “I decided to call things by their real name. Cancer is not ‘a nasty illness’, it has a name and this name needs to be used. The same goes for ‘chemotherapy’ and all the other technical terms. I am persuaded that using words badly or inappropriately can cause harm”. Children understand everything, you just need to find the right way to tell them about the world around them.

“The Patience of the Pebbles” came about without the involvement of a publishing company. But in the process of writing the book Ierma met an equally enthusiastic fellow adventurer in the illustrator Michela Molinari, the co-author of the book, who fell in love with the project and drew the illustrations that you can see on this page. “Michela and I are very different and I really like the fact that she is tough, always positive and has an infectious laugh”. After two years of work, the illustrated book is ready: the words have been found, the pictures tell the story of little Luke and his family with poetry and care, recreating the colourful world of a child who is trying to explain to himself the dark change, with its slow passage of time and its new routine, that his mother’s illness has brought into his life and into that of his little sister and his father.

I would like to be able to tell you that this book is available to buy in bookshops but this is not the case. After various ups and downs, which included one publisher dropping the project when it was already well under way, “The Patience of the Pebbles” has no sponsor. But Ierma and Michela are not the kind of women to be put off by such obstacles: they decided to produce the book themselves. They then had the good fortune to meet a small publisher who, while offering to look after the publication of the book, does not have the means to pay the production costs.

This is why they decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money for the production costs of the book and, if we all chip in just a small amount, not only will we all have given this precious book the chance to exist but perhaps we can also receive a copy each. Or more than one if we wish! The crowdfunding campaign will begin on 9th April 2018 and as soon as the amount needed has been raised we’ll have a copy of “The Patience of the Pebbles” just a few months later.

In order for the book to reach the greatest number of people possible, “The Patience of the Pebbles” will be published in five languages: English, Spanish, Italian, German and Ladin (the latter of which is a minority language in Northern Italy). When you make your contribution and order your copy, you just have to specify the language you’d like. The book will be a hardback edition, 21x31cm in size, with 48 pages and full colour illustrations, and printed on 120g uncoated paper.

Now you know everything, so save the date – 9th April – and don’t forget to order your copy!

PS: Well, you know almost everything. For example, why is the book called “The Patience of the Pebbles”? This book was inspired by "Luke's Story", the award winning short novel that Ierma Sega wrote right after she was diagnosed with cancer and that won the Aviano Cancer Centre's "Espressioni di cura" literary prize. In "Luke's Story" the four treatments that Luke's mother needs to undergo before she heals are represented by four pebbles put on the home's windowsill - and every time one of the treatments is over, one of the pebbles is replaced with a little plant, symbol of hope and optimism.The pebbles are the child-oriented depiction of time and of patience, that author Ierma Sega used during her own healing process to represent time to her children - so the pebbles have become now protagonists of the book's title! Because this wonderful and important literary project is, in the author’s own words, “not only a book, it’s a tool, an embrace and also a support and a way of sharing”.


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This article was first published in April 2018, and thanks to a crowdfunding campaign The Patience of the Pebbles was published in the Italian language in the summer of 2018. If you wish to order your copy in English, contact the authors on their Facebook page!


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