Nurturing the Souls of Children With Food Allergies
by Gina Clowes
About the Author: Gina Clowes is the Founder of the online support group AllergyMoms serving thousands of families and professional members worldwide. Active in food allergy advocacy, her interviews and parenting tips have appeared in numerous print, radio, and television features including People, Kiwi and Child Magazine. Gina lives in Southwestern Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. For more information, please visit http://www.allergymoms.com/ .
Introduction: Families of children with food allergies know that this invisible condition requires constant vigilance. The necessity of keeping these children safe cannot be overstated; however, their emotional well-being is equally important. Food is used in almost every type of celebration, and is often a focal point of these events. Even in day-to-day life, food is everywhere. Children who have food allergies may be excluded from many of these activities. Some seem to take it in stride, while others feel varying degrees of sadness, anger, or fear. This book was meant to shed light on the emotional side and to help children cope with these challenges. It also serves as a reminder that even though this condition must be managed on a daily basis, it need not stop them from enjoying a wonderful life and becoming everything they were meant to be.
As many of you know from reading my blog, I have a 10 year old son with major, life threatening food allergies. I believe strongly in educating those around us as this is a way of life for us that others don't often understand or experience. It is also vitally important to educate and support children with and without food allergies so that they can understand that when you are living with a food allergy you need to make some adjustments in your life and social activities to keep yourself safe. Even though children have to do things a bit differently, they are no different inside their hearts and souls than anyone else. I was excited when I heard about Gina Clowes book, One of the Gang. I contacted her and she graciously sent me a copy of her book to read and review. My son and I immediately sat down and read it together after I received it in the mail. He is often excited to read things related to food allergies and to connect with others that are like him. We liked that this story was told in pictures as it gives you a connection to what a child experiences in a real-life situation. My son was older than the target audience for the book which is ages 3-8 years old. Although, he enjoyed the story and felt it would be very helpful for younger kids to read. His favorite part were the pictures at the end of the book where adults with food allergies were featured, some were celebrities and sports stars. His eyes brightened and he asked me, "Do these people all have food allergies?". I confirmed that, yes, they do and it was heartwarming to see him brighten up and realize that there were endless possibilities ahead of him for his future. Thanks to Gina for writing this book and for sharing it with myself and my son and other children with food allergies as well as the communities they live in.
Q& A with Author Gina Clowes of:
One of the Gang
Nurturing the Souls of Children with Food Allergies
Why did you write this book? My passion has always been to enlighten others about the emotional toll of food allergies. There is the obvious need to care for our allergic children’s health but their emotional well being is equally important and often overlooked.
Who are you targeting? My target audience is young children 3-8 years old but I have many moms who have told me that they’ve purchased this for teachers, school nurses or relatives who really had no idea how our kids see the world, which was really my secret agenda.
Do you really have a secret agenda? My hope is that in seeing the world though our children’s eyes, other adults will realize how hard it is to be excluded and how good it feels to kids when they’re included. We socialize so often with food. It’s how we connect; we break bread. That birthday cake is the focal point of the celebration. It’s hard to be the one left out of that.
What do you hope to accomplish? Several things really. I want to validate the feelings these children have. Some people tend to deny their children’s feelings of sadness or anger or fear yet these are the same moms who come to our local support group meetings to share their frustrations. Kids need help with their feelings too and finding ways to cope is healthy.
I also like to help kids to put their food allergies in perspective. It’s just one part of them and they need to know that food allergies won’t stop them from having a great life and being everything they were meant to be. I’m hoping the adults in the book will help to make this point.
What is special about the adults in the book? The adults at the end of the book all have food allergies yet they’re thriving and living terrific lives. Since food allergies are invisible, kids don’t get to see that there are people all around them with food allergies. So I included photographs of food allergic adults such as Superbowl champ Jermone Bettis, an NHL Hockey star Tom Poti, Television News Anchors Lori Stokes , Dr Robert Wood, Mrs Maine USA, and more.
Why did you decide to use photographs instead of having it illustrated? There are a lot of terrific children’s books on allergies but most of them feature a talking animal character playing the part of a child with food allergies. My kids are very literal and my son actually asked me “Do elephants really have peanut allergy?” So I knew early on that I’d want to use pictures to make it real for kids like mine.
Why was it important to you to use children who have food allergies? When we set up different scenes in the book, such as the birthday party where one girl is eating a safe cupcake while all of the other kids are eating the birthday cake, I wanted the expression on her face to be authentic. I’m not sure a typical kid would “get” what this is like for children who have food allergies. Often we (allergy parents) can’t even get adults to understand.
What is the reaction to the book? Adults love that the pictures can express what words cannot say. Kids love the pictures of the adults and are thrilled to know that Super bowl champs, hockey stars, television news anchors and even beauty queens can all have food allergies and still be out there having fun. I had one teacher say that when she read it in class, it sparked a long conversation about differences and all of the kids were yelling out things that are different about them. It was as though they recognized that everybody is dealing with something and that is okay. That was music to my ears!
Here is a link to Amazon.com to purchase One of the Gang.
Here is one to Barnes and Noble to purchase One of the Gang.