Today I’d like to introduce you to Sharon Chisvin, the Canadian author of The Girl Who Cannot Eat Peanut Butter. We purchased the Kindle version of the book last week and love it. What a fantastic way to teach and discuss peanut allergy.
Sharon graciously agreed to drop in here at RedWhiteandGrew.com to talk about the book.
What prompted you to tackle such an important topic as food allergies, particularly peanut allergy?
I was prompted to write The Girl Who Cannot Eat Peanut Butter when my eldest daughter, who is allergic to peanuts, started first grade. I thought that the book would be a good way to remind her of the constant need to be careful around food, and that it also would demonstrate to her that ‘everyone is different’ in one way or another. I guess I was worried about her feeling left out or apart from the rest of her classmates. I should add that that was actually 20 years ago. After writing the book and sharing it with my daughter and her younger siblings (one of whom also has a food allergy) I did a couple of readings at local schools. I then filed the book away for many years, finally taking it out last spring and deciding to publish it. The illustrator, Carol Leszcz, is a close friend of mine, a nursery school teacher and a very talented artist, so she was a natural choice to do the drawings. Both her children, now teenagers, have allergies, although they were discovered after she illustrated the book.
Can you tell us about the process of writing the book?
I wanted to write a book that would be simple and straightforward enough for young children to understand. I wanted it to be educational, but not frightening or too technical, and I also wanted it to be fun and engaging. I thought the best way to do that was to write the book in rhyme. I determined the content by considering what I felt were the most important elements for young children to know about food allergies. The content was also slightly determined by my ability to think of good rhymes. It took me a few days and a few revisions to write the book.
Why was it important for you to articulate that a food allergy is another form of “difference”? What were you hoping to convey about the social impact of food allergies–specifically peanut allergy?
It was important to articulate that a food allergy is another form of different because I was concerned about my daughter feeling that it was unfair that she had to deal with something that no one else had to. I wanted her to realize that everyone has something that sets them apart from everyone else, and that being different is not a negative thing. Being different just means that you are special in a specific way. I guess I was worried a little about her being bullied or teased, although that never happened. I know that food allergies can have a negative social impact on children, but I think that my book can empower kids and help them ‘own’ their allergies. I think it can also help other children be more compassionate and understanding. I wrote about peanut allergy specifically because that is what my daughter has.
In your experience, what are the trickiest times of years for peanut allergic kids? When and how do they feel a sense of isolation during “normal” events?
I remember Halloween being a very stressful day for us. Birthday parties, holiday celebrations and catered events also were difficult, although we found people understanding and helpful. I think any event in which food is served has the potential for a child with allergies to feel isolated, although good planning can usually alleviate that.
What do you wish that everyone understood about peanut allergies?
I think that the general understanding of peanut allergy has increased significantly in recent years, but I think there are still many people and places out there that don’t understand the seriousness of peanut allergies. I absolutely hate when television sitcoms and movies make jokes about peanut and other food allergies.
Thanks, Sharon. You can learn more about Sharon’s book at AllergyPictureBook.com.
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