Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children's Book Review - "The Peanut-Free Cafe"

We went to our local small town library the other day to pick up some books and videos to pass the days. Michael loves sharks, so we cleared the library out of any book with cool pictures of sharks. (Did you know that I leopard shark is a dogfish??) Conor is actually starting to read, but he picks his books based on whether there is red on the cover. Natalie can memorize anything, but gets books with pretty girly stuff and pictures, and if it was up to her she would take out all the issues of Vogue. (When she was 3 she told me she wanted a princess bra. Boy am I in trouble!!)

So while we were at the library perusing our selections I noticed the book, "The Peanut-Free Cafe" on the bookshelf. I have to say this was a wonderful surprise, and I am so glad our local library actually has books for kids on peanut allergies. Of course I checked it out, and took it home to read with everyone.

The book tells the story of a boy named Simon who likes only four foods: grapes, bagels, purple lollipops, and peanut butter, and there's nothing else in his lunch box. One day, Grant comes to Simon's school, the Nutley school and his peanut allergy necessitates his sitting alone during lunch. When offered a bite of peanut butter, Grant explains to his new friends that even a little bit of a peanut can make Grant so sick he has to get a shot or he might not be able to breath. The principal tries to come up with a plan so that kids will join Grant, but it's Simon's idea to turn Grant's table into something fun. Thus the Peanut-Free Cafe is born, complete with movies and crafts. Simon, however, is not among the participants; he doesn't want to give up his peanut butter, the price of admission to the cafe. In the end, of course, Simon extends his menu (to include chili) so he can join the group, and sit with everyone else at the Peanut Free Cafe.

We all really enjoyed this book, and I especially liked that the story is told from the perspective of a non allergic child. My non allergy children really liked this about the book, and I thought it was a clever method of explaining food allergies to a wider audience. I also really liked the way the school situation was reversed, in that everyone wanted to be at the peanut-free cafe, and Simon was excluded, not because he could have peanuts, but because he had to have them.

The best part of this book however was that it really opened the door to a great discussion among my control group of two 5 year olds and one 4 year old. Since Michael and Natalie will be starting kindergarten next week (snif snif my babies are growing up), they were very curious about the way schools handle peanut allergies, and how the people at the school reacted to it.

Although the discussion started from the book was one of the best parts of it, this discussion also brought up some interesting issues about the story that bothered me a bit. I wish Simon had given up peanut butter for lunch not because he wanted to be included with all the other kids at the fun table, but instead because he had really leaned something about how dangerous food allergies could be to others, and how his actions in just eating peanut butter could cause someone else serious harm. I would have liked if he could have some how learned compassion for a friend, and that had motivated him to do without one of his favorite foods. Sometimes I feel annoyed at peoples concept of what it is that involves helping others. People donate money or goods, to help people they have never met, but won't do something as simple as not eat peanut butter for one meal a day to help keep a child at their school safe.

The other thing that bothered me and my control group of 3 was that all Simon needed to do to sit with the other kids was to give up peanut products. It was a choice he could make to be included. In the usual situation the peanut allergic child sits separated at a different peanut free table. He does not have the option of being able to be around peanuts in order to be included at the other tables.

I do have to say however, that if the Nutley School opens a campus in the San Francisco Bay Area, we will be the first students waiting outside to attend.

1 comment:

Book said...

Great review - thanks. I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks (which has a special focus on teeth!) They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days:,, Enjoy!