Woman Illustrates Children’s Book for Boy Who Beat Cancer

Posted by: Roy Wilbur

Katie Brubaker is using her artistic talents for a worthy cause. The recipient of the Sis Grenald Women’s Leadership Fellowship, Brubaker, a sophomore Illustration major, will spend her summer illustrating a children’s book written by a 12-year-old boy who battled cancer and won.

Over the next two months, Brubaker will sketch, take reference photos and research the medical field as she prepares to illustrate the book, written by a brave boy named Peter Zucca.

Peter, of Harleysville, PA, was diagnosed with cancer at 10 months old and by his first birthday his parents were told he had two months to live. Against all odds, Peter fought his sickness and prevailed. But at age 10 he lost a leg above the knee to another tumor. He learned to walk again after treatments to battle the cancer at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.

Today, Peter is a vibrant 12-year-old who is cancer free, but lives daily with the repercussions of his illness: a prosthetic leg and hearing aids. He started The Peter Powerhouse Foundation in June, 2014, to raise money to fight childhood cancer.

Peter and his family plan to publish his book to help ease the journey of other hearing-impaired children. The book talks about Peter’s experience getting hearing aids (he is hearing impaired from chemotherapy treatments) and how it helped to turn him into “Peter Powerhouse,” a superhero.

“The idea is that the difficult things he experienced have made him strong and brave, so he has become a superhero,” Brubaker said. She met with Peter and his mother, Dawn, to help collaborate on the story. She said she is inspired by the family and wants to assist them in reaching their goals.

Brubaker, who hails from Souderton, PA, first learned about Peter through her father, the pastor of Towamencin Mennonite Church, the church that Peter’s family also attends.  Brubaker’s parents had supported Peter’s foundation in the past.

“My mom was wearing one of Peter’s foundation t-shirts and she told me his story and how he was not supposed to live past one year,” Brubaker said. “She said I should illustrate a book about his story. I didn’t think I had the time, but one week later I found out about the Fellowship program. I contacted the family and they said they were looking for an illustrator. It all came together.”

Leadership fellowships at Moore are designed to help students develop personal qualities or skill sets they need to be effective leaders. Brubaker said she was surprised when she heard her name announced at Honor’s Convocation. “I felt like my idea was unique and attention-getting, but I was still really nervous. I’m really excited about it.”

“This project will be a challenge, but I believe that leaders are people who allow themselves to be stretched,” she said in her fellowship application. “I will continue to develop my leadership skills as I complete this project. Peter is a leader who empowers people daily. I would love the opportunity to empower him and his family in return.”

Dawn Zucca said she was glad to meet Brubaker and touched that she wanted to help.

“We met and we looked at everything she had,” Zucca said. “We saw her sketches – her work was beautiful. So we were thrilled.”

Brubaker is just beginning the illustration process. She has the manuscript for the book and is breaking it up by pages and generating ideas. She hopes to finish the book by the end of the summer, while at the same time maintaining a part-time job at a local farmer’s market.

“We don’t have a publisher yet but Dawn is a real go-getter, so if anyone can get it done, she can,” Brubaker said. “I have built into my budget some money to self-publish the book if that falls through.”

Brubaker transferred to Moore from Montgomery County Community College, where she was a Fine Arts major. She chose Moore for the Illustration major and because of the small size of the College and the fact that it was all women. She also loved the work that the Illustration students displayed on the walls.

“This year has been about teaching me to slow down and plan out my illustrations instead of just going for the finished piece,” she said. “We learn to do sketches and then refine them and do line drawings and value studies beforehand so that your final piece is strong. That has been really helpful for me.”

Brubaker said she has always been interested in art but didn’t realize she could have a career as an illustrator. “I really like how Illustration is straight forward, that it’s meant to portray something that everyone can understand, whereas fine art is up to interpretation by the viewer. I really feel like illustration meets all of the qualifications for what I love and am good at when it comes to art.”

Brubaker, a Visionary Woman’s Scholar, works once a week as a nanny for 3-year-old and five- month-old boys. Her love of children is one of the reasons she wants to illustrate books for them. “I like to read children’s books to the family I watch and think about the language and what they are connecting to and find interesting.”

To learn more about the Peter Powerhouse Foundation and join the Facebook page,

Read a story about Katie’s project in Philly Voice

Read a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Read a story in The (PA) Intelligencer