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Utah husband-wife author team revisit daughter's cancer battle in new middle-grade novel

SALT LAKE CITY — According to the 12-year-old title character of the new middle-grade novel "Mustaches for Maddie," lip ‘staches are hilarious.

The sixth grader also loves potatoes, is trying to fit in at school and has just auditioned for the part of Juliet in the school play. But when her mother notices she's been tripping when she walks and her hand often curls up oddly by her side, she's taken to the hospital, where the doctors discover she has a brain tumor.

Amid visits to the doctor and surgery, Maddie also has the typical sixth-grade problems of dealing with a bully, trying to make friends and rehearsing her part in the play. However, Maddie's sense of humor, creativity and compassion for others help her face her challenges. And in turn, the community comes together in a show of support as friends, family and neighbors send her pictures of them wearing crazy mustaches.

Authors Chad Morris and Shelly Brown based their book on the experiences of their own daughter, Maddie. While much of the story is a fictionalized version of events, it is very much drawn directly from Maddie and her family going through this journey of diagnosis, surgery and recovery.

Morris and Brown have both published books for middle-grade readers — the Cragbridge Hall series and "Ghostsitter," respectively. While "Mustaches for Maddie" is their first published collaborative work, the real Maddie, too, played a large part in the writing of this story.

"We made her pull out her journals and tell us what it was like because it was written in first person," Brown told the Deseret News. "No matter how many times I took her to get an MRI, I never got inside the machine."

"Mustaches for Maddie" never shies away from difficult subjects like medical procedures and the possibility of dying. They're presented in such a way that children can understand the gravity of the situation. For instance, Maddie and her parents meet with the doctor on a few occasions to discuss how the surgery to remove the tumor will happen and what could go wrong.

Morris told the Deseret News that children are extremely bright. "You don’t have to dumb anything down, but you do want to make it accessible in a way they can understand."

"Mustaches for Maddie" is a story that is ultimately about compassion. Maddie is not the only one in her class who is struggling with a challenge that can't be seen at first glance. She comes to realize that everyone is in need of compassion.

"We actually didn't end it overly saccharinely happy because not everybody’s story ends happy like that," Brown said. "We recognize that if we were the person who lost somebody in a medical situation like that, it might hurt to read a story where everything’s a big pretty bow."

"For every story that ends great, there's a story that has a tough ending," Morris said. "We think the message goes for both."

If you go …

What: Chad Morris and Shelley Brown book reading and signing.

Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East

When: Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m.


Note: The signing line is reserved for those who purchase a copy of "Mustaches for Maddie" from The King's English.