When Petra Kotrotsos was six years old and playing in a park with friends, she fell off a roundabout, landing on her back. The pain didn’t settle, and Petra was taken to the doctor. An x-ray revealed a large tumour (a neuroblastoma) in her chest.
Now 20, Kotrotsos has written a book for children who find themselves faced with the same kind of challenge. I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess begins with a statement of courage and fortitude:
My name is Petra and I am seven years old. I’ve always wanted to be a fairy princess, but when cancer attacks, you have to fight it. You have to be a warrior.”
I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess follows young Petra through her diagnosis and first rounds of treatment. Medical procedures, like X-rays, surgery, the insertion of a Hickman line, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, are clearly explained. Petra-in-the-book is a guiding friend, the kid who’s been through what you’re going through, who recognises you as a fellow traveller, and who knows you need straightforward information and reassuring support in equal measure.
Kotrotsos doesn’t shy from writing about tough times, describing for example how chemotherapy made “me feel a bit sick”, and how sad she felt when her hair began to fall out. “A fairy princess always has long hair,” she cries.
Yet Kotrotsos weaves the longer view through every difficult episode, always reminding her readers that these treatments have a purpose: to make Petra better. Petra’s hair may be falling out, but this is part of a powerful transformation in Petra’s identity. “But wait!” she says. “I was starting to look more and more like a warrior fairy.”
What shines through the book is how ‘making Petra better’ is, at all levels, a creative, imaginative and loving process. Actually making things (making pictures, making stories, making things up) turns out to be a crucially important part of her treatment. The imagination and creativity of Petra and her supporters form an enormous part of Petra’s ‘warrior’ resource kit. Petra draws her tumour (it is ‘very big and very ugly’), imagines her Hickman line as her ‘warrior sword’, and finds words to write her story. Her mother collects up Petra’s hair and makes a nest for Petra’s dinosaur egg. A family friend makes a wine called ‘Petra’ (“I told Mum I’d open it at my 18th birthday party”), and a nurse makes a special fairy princess poster with 17 stars to represent 17 radiotherapy sessions. “Pretty soon, there were no more stars to fill up. Radio had done its job. I was very happy.”
The beautiful illustrations by Christina Irini Arthimos complement the text perfectly. I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess is informative, comforting and inspiring. Above all, it’s helpful. It will be a hang-onto-book for many kids and families dealing with cancer.
Sue Wootton is co-editor of Corpus.
I’d Rather Be a Fairy Princess is published by Mākaro Press. Purchase details are here .