The ABCeliac of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, and Are Secretly All About Celiac Disease

Since the moment I heard it existed, I’ve meant to visit the New York Public Library’s exhibit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” Finally, on Sunday, Sprue Jr. and I found ourselves nearby while seeing our friend Jimena off on the bus back to DC, so in we went.

photo (31)On our way, we stopped in to the Winter Village at Bryant Park to look at knickknacks and watch the first of the season’s skaters wobble ’round the rink. We couldn’t resist stopping at a stand prominently displaying the phrases “gluten free” and “we bake it fresh daily”—music to our freezing-over celiac ears—and selling pão de queijo, a Brazilian cheese and yucca bread. (Another one of those “even better than the rolls you went in search of” naturally gluten-free foods.)

We tasted eight different delicious buns (they’re small!), among which my favorites were the pesto & goat cheese, chocolate chip, and pizza. If you’re nearby, I recommend you check it out, although I goofed on asking my normal questions about cross-contamination (taking it on faith, since the pão was the only thing being sold), so I suggest you do better due diligence than I did. For what it’s worth, I felt fine.

Now, to the exhibit. The library is beautiful; if you’ll be in New York around the holidays, you could get a wonderful afternoon out of the Winter Village plus the library, which is free to the public and as good as any museum (less crowded, too). We passed through another exhibit on games and plan to return soon for one on AIDS activism. There are murals and old books everywhere, and I didn’t spot a single typo in the descriptive placards (unlike at some otherwise awesome museums…cough MSI Chicago cough).

Because it was Sunday, the library closed at 5, when we were only halfway through the exhibit because we’d both been distracted by sitting down with some of our favorite books. I was struck, as usual, by all the hidden gluten-free plot lines waiting to be unearthed.

Take Madeline, for example.

Cheerful little Madeline is the smallest, bravest, and all-around coolest kid among all the girls who reside in that old house in Paris that was covered with vines. But one night, after a long day of adventures trotting about the city in two straight lines…

madelineLook at that cause and effect! First Madeline eats bread, then she wakes up, crying, in terrible pain. Of course, the devoted Miss Clavel rushes her to the hospital, where a well-meaning doctor promptly removes little Madeline’s little appendix. Afterwards, Madeline seems good as new, but I can’t help but wonder if they got it right. (You know doctors.)

photo (33)

Celiac disease is, after all, often mistaken for appendicitis (with this study showing that appendix-removal surgeries are superhigh in undiagnosed celiac patients compared to healthy controls—the very low “P” value, my scientist sister explained, indicates the result is significant). Madeline’s small stature is also suspect. And I looked closely at her hospital food and didn’t notice a bit of bread on her tray. Maybe that’s why she perked up.

Of course, whether Madeline felt better because she lost her appendix or because she went gluten-free, the story would end the same: all the other girls want to be her. That little trendsetter.

Then there’s In the Night Kitchen.

This book, by Maurice Sendak, explores the adventure of one little boy through a wild dreamscape in which gigantic chefs try to use him as milk in their “morning cake.” The illustrations are surreal and somewhat disturbing, verging on nightmarish—made even more so by my new perspective on the idea of being plopped into a huge bowl of batter. That’s one glutening I’m not sure I’d want to wake up from.

Click for a closer look at poor little Mickey sinking into the cake, but kindly ignore my “I’m still freezing even though I’m indoors” attire. New York got cold.

Click for a closer look at poor little Mickey sinking into the cake, but kindly ignore my “I’m still freezing even though I’m indoors” attire. New York got cold.

Bakers, please note: I’m not the milk, and the milk’s not me—I’m Molly. So take your enormous bags of flour and stay out of my dreams.

I also sat in a Phantom Tollbooth–style car, watched Alice grow till her head hit the ceiling, and paged through CorduroyThe Stinky Cheese Man, and other tales that still matter to me as much as they ever have. I won’t turn all of them into celiac stories, but I’ll leave you with one more:

That’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, of course.

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With his crayon, Harold shows us what we should be doing every single day: creating around ourselves the world we’d like to see.

Do you, for example, want to see a more gluten-free world? What about a peaceful world, a happy world, a just world? Regardless, take a page out of Harold’s book, and get out there and make it. If just one children’s book inspires just one child or adult to change just one part of their world, I’d say that children’s books matter indeed.

What’s your favorite children’s book? Did you have any fun gluten-free adventures this past weekend? And when’s the last time you pulled out a crayon and started drawing?

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10 thoughts on “The ABCeliac of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, and Are Secretly All About Celiac Disease

  1. The “Sprue Jr.” thing might be starting to grow on me a little bit…agh! Also, this thought occurred to me while reading: PDQ pumpkin rolls?!

  2. This is one of the most entertaining and educational blogs I’ve read! So well written and free of typos, it made my heart sing! You might want to know that this comment comes from a former teacher of English and long-time editor and writer in the field of public health. What a pleasure! Well done, Molly!

    • Molly says:

      Thanks, Jennie! (I sometimes reread my old posts and can’t believe the typos I’ve missed, so I’m glad you didn’t spot any!) I’m glad you enjoyed, and thanks for sharing, too. 🙂

  3. Laurie C says:

    Love this! It made me smile on a Monday morning, and that’s saying a lot.

  4. Mary Kate says:

    I have dry-erase crayons for my grocery list white board, so I use them almost daily. But no, it’s not drawing, really. I should work on that. I think it would be hard to draw anything gluten-free that needs to be labeled as such, though. GF bread, in a drawing, looks much like regular bread. Maybe I should just draw broccoli?

    My favorite books as a kid were the ones about Frances the badger (who liked toast and jam) and Paddington Bear. Not sure either are all that gluten-free?

    • Molly says:

      Bread and jam for Frances is SO gluten-free convertible. OMG! Those are great choices.

      Have you seen the NYT Magazine article about an imaginary broccoli vs. kale advertising campaign? You might like it. Maybe GF bread could be drawn with a big air hole in the middle? 🙂

      Also…we do a white board grocery list too! Do you take a picture of yours with your phone before going to the store? That’s what we do.

  5. Oh, of course Bread and Jam for Francis, that is one of our favorites! I think my daughter just assumes the bread is Udi’s – in which case the mom would never give her so much bc it’s too feeaking expensive! Ideas for your next book parody post? Anyway…

    The exhibit sounds awesome! I really need to get my lazy Brooklyn butt into what we call The Big City. But it just seems like so much effort…

    As for kids books, The Story About Ping – not one of my favorites (kind of creepy actually) – the duck is lured into a trap by pieces of rice cakes, at least it was GF!

    I always get a little sad when I read my girl Eloise in Paris because she goes on and on about baguette and croissants…

    Have a great GF thanksgiving to you Molly, and of course to Sprue, Jr too!

    • Molly says:

      Just Jam for Frances: The Celiac Sequel. DONE. Love that your daughter reads her own GF experience into the stories.

      Speaking of baguettes, have you tried the one from Everybody Eats, in Red Hook? That’s in Brooklyn (though just as much of a pain to get to as Manhattan, I bet, if not more)! Haven’t yet tried a gluten-free croissant, though I’ve heard they exist somewhere in the metropolis. By the way, I often don’t manage to get myself downtown to “real” Manhattan from way up here in Washington Heights, so I feel ya!

      Happy GF Thanksgiving to you and yours. 🙂

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