It was the first weekend of August in 2008–the last Canadian long holiday summer weekend. Insurance agent Darren Ulmer woke up on a sunny, warm Sunday morning at his cabin at the lake, ready to head back to work and leave his family there to enjoy another week before the inevitable Fall back-to-school rush. As he got up, he felt something on the right side of his neck with his hand, that he thought might be a bug bite.
It turned out to be much more. Darren was diagnosed shortly after with a form of throat cancer. As a father of two young children, he and wife Chanda faced the terrible task of telling them about it, and what would come next…even though they themselves were unsure.
Christmas 2008 was a confused and frightening one for the Ulmer kids. After just finding out about her father’s illness, 8-year-old Hanna wrote her annual letter to Santa. Only that year it was a little different. Instead of asking Santa for a long list of gifts, she innocently asked only for her father to get well.
Since Darren’s recovery, he has been sharing his story of inspiration and hope verbally around the work through speaking engagements. Hanna’s actual letter has been translated into 18 languages and shared with more than 10,000 people in places around the world like Batu, Malaysia and Macua, China.
His experience and the overwhelming reaction to the story compelled him to write Hanna’s Letter with his family. It was also a way for Darren to pay tribute to his family, who stayed with him throughout the very difficult treatment process.
This charming and beautifully illustrated story is meant to be read to children 5-8 by their parents, or self-read by 8-10 year olds. Hanna’s Letter is meant to create a safe space for parents with a critical illness to engage their young children in conversation about treatment processes and their potential impact on the family. It encourages parents to not only have these talks but to move beyond the story to discussing the family’s own ideas for coping and staying close.
Coteau Books is a Saskatchewan cooperative that in 2015 celebrates 40 years of publishing the very best of Canadian fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, children's and YA books.