When my 13-year-old daughter was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, we were gifted with unicorn blankets, rotisserie chickens, Mandala coloring books, rosaries, holy cards of Padre Pio and holy water from Lourdes. But what brought us the most comfort was found within the paintings on the walls of Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

During my daughter's first round of chemotherapy, she became neutropenic and lost the lining from her mouth to her stomach, and would push a button for morphine. We were in a room opposite paintings by Lisa Sanditz — one of an Egyptian black cat decorated in gold, another of a gushing blue fountain in San Pietro, Rome; and one of a large red bed with a yellow canopy. The book "The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," was the inspiration for all, Ms. Sanditz explained on an informational plaque displayed with the works. "'The Fountain' is a place to make wishes," she wrote, "the 'Egyptian Cat with Earrings' is a symbol of health and youth, and a luxurious bed from one of the [Metropolitan] Museum [of Art's] historic rooms is a place of rest and recovery."


Those days were hard, and their outcome uncertain, but we drew strength from such stories on those walls.

All of the artwork at Hopkins is literary themed, but not all genres are represented. Only fantasy, fairy tales and literary nonsense books have earned a place here. While looking at the paintings and reading about the stories that inspired them, I realized we needed this — this type of fiction, this type of story. We needed something that defied common sense and created a new world as much as we needed blood transfusions, something that would allow us to remain logical, even though everything happening to us appeared to be completely illogical.

It wasn't necessarily the paintings themselves I was drawn to, but rather the small plaques besides them that told of the artist's inspiration, words that spoke what it was exactly about the story that they carry with them. I loved, for example, that California artist, Terri Friedman, saw "The Chronicles of Narnia" as a way to "transport children through difficult challenges and battles into a world of fantasy."

That's what we needed. I fell in love with these plaques and these words, then I fell in love with the paintings, and I finally fell in love with the books, systematically reading them with my daughter.

One of my favorite paintings is on the ground floor. It is of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Nightingale" and shows two Moroccan blue feathered birds with gold wings. Montana artist Casey Ruble wrote, "growing up, my best friend lived a mile away and her parents had two peacocks with emerald green feathers and very loud voices that I could hear all the way from my own house. The peacocks call seemed magical because when I heard them, I felt close to my friend, even when I wasn't with her."

Entering the hallway to the Inpatient Pediatric Oncology floor, you see paintings of the seven characters that Milo encounters in "The Phantom Tollbooth" — King Azaz, Rhyme and Reason, the watchdog and so on. "The most important reason from going from one place to another is to see what's in between," one character says. "And remember," added Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map, and many things you want to know are just out of sight, or a little beyond reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow."

It was wonderful secrets of tomorrow we were pining for. Whenever I felt discouraged or hopeless, I would set out in search of another painting that would bring me to the next book my daughter and I would read.

Edward Lear "The Owl and the Pussy-cat" is in the E.R., the Map of the Land of OZ is in an Outpatient Examination Room on the 11th floor. The 4th floor Radiology department is the literary nonsense floor with Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" and Hans Christian Anderson's "The Ice Maiden." The 12th floor, the psychiatric floor is "The Secret World of Arrietty," by Mary Norton.

As my daughter underwent chemotherapy treatment, blood transfusions, surgeries, biopsies, pet scans, CT scans, pediatric intensive care admission and radiation, we continued our treasure hunt. It was a great search for solace, comfort and peace found through these paintings and artworks, which opened so many wonderful books to us. I discovered words that we could float on, words that would pull us through, like the swallows pulling Dr. Doolittle's boat away from the pirates. I just had to trust and leave my keys with the horse, as Dr. Doolittle had done before setting off on his journey. And listen for the peacocks, reminding us that our loved ones are always close.

Karla Pahel lives in Catonsville; her email is Kapahel@fastmail.fm.