A requirement of working in a school in the 21st century is to understand food allergies. Inly is a nut free school. My sister, a principal in an Ohio elementary school, provides a nut-free table in the school cafeteria. I’ve read the articles, listened to the speakers and, most importantly, talked with the kids. I’ve known students who can’t ride the bus on a field trip. They can’t go to a baseball game (peanuts and Cracker Jacks are in the very air of the park), and they can’t go trick-or-treating. I’ve learned to pack nut-free lunches, but I don’t really understand what it’s like to live with the constant vigilance a food allergy requires. Fortunately, along with this heightened awareness about allergies, are a number of books by authors who “get it.”
I looked at a few of the books, and it seems to be a mixed bag. Given the prevalance of the issue, I think there will be new books with characters who have allergies, but much of what is now available is pedantic and uninspiring. A few of them seem to be written by parents who want to educate others about their child’s allergy. A worthwhile pursuit, but not the stuff of good children’s books.
There’s one I really like – The Peanut-Free Cafe by Gloria Koster and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. This one is a real story that kids can relate to. There are other books, most notably a solid series by Nicole Smith, that explain allergies. The Peanut-Free Cafe, however, has a believable plot and a sympathetic character in Simon, the boy who struggles to give up his daily peanut butter sandwiches. Cocca-Leffler’s bright cartoon-like illustrations are a perfect complement to a story which is as much about food allergies as it is about friendship and empathy.