Tag Archives: children’s books

If You Give a (Celiac) Mouse a Cookie . . . She’ll Ask If It’s Gluten-Free

I’m starting to get a bit loopy because I still can’t sleep, and it’s been a while since my last sprue redo. So, here’s a children’s book for our generation of rapidly proliferating food allergies and gluten-related disorders—in honor of the one month of the year when we celiac types feel just a bit more comfortable making demands (uh, requests). Enjoy!

If you give a celiac mouse a cookie, she’ll ask if it’s gluten-free.

if-you-give-a-mouse-cookieIf you give her a gluten-free cookie, she’ll gobble it down and ask for a cup of milk.

If you give her a cup of milk, she’ll ask if it’s lactose-free, because her villi are still healing so she can’t produce lactase.

If you give her a new cup of soy milk, she’ll ask if you’re SURE the cookie was gluten-free, because she’s starting to feel a bit glutened.

If you show her the package label, she’ll ask for a mirror so she can check whether her dermatitis herpetiformis is flaring.

When she remembers she never had DH in the first place, she’ll scratch herself all over and say, “But I do feel itchy. Maybe it’s the soy.”

Then she’ll ask for a place to lie down because she feels fatigued. Then pester you for a bedtime story because now that she’s in bed the insomnia’s come on. Then finally drift off and sleep for about, oh, three days.

When she wakes up, if she’s not the smartest celiac mouse, she’ll ask for another cookie.

And since you don’t particularly want any gluten-free cookies yourself, you’ll give her one.*

And here are some cute kids reading the real thing and wondering why the mouse is so demanding. Photo © Matthew Hauck | Flickr

Here are some real kids reading the real book and apparently wondering why the mouse is so darn demanding. (Photo © Matthew Hauck | Flickr)

*No offense intended to the many bakers and manufacturers of delicious gluten-free cookies. In fact, I could go for a delicious gluten-free cookie right now. Couldn’t you?

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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.

photo (34)

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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I’m a gluten-free American Girl, in a nut-allergic Barbie world

When I was a kid, I had an American Girl doll. Samantha, to be precise. (No Molly doll for this Molly.) I loved Samantha dearly.

My parents made clear that I was also to love her carefully: this doll would be the most expensive thing in my personal possession for a very long time, and there would be no trips to the “doll hospital.”

Because of the dolls’ exorbitant price point, my sister (who did, by a twist of fate, have the Molly doll) and I weren’t really supposed to play with them, per se, more like take them out occasionally to gaze upon. And we certainly didn’t have a closet full of accessories.

However, there is in fact a whole world of American Girl extras to discover—a customizable wardrobe to rival that of Barbie. For example, did you know that there’s an allergy-free lunch accessory? It’s true!

The set includes a customizable food allergy bracelet, an EpiPen, and a healthful lunch. It’s adorable and inclusive—a great idea, though pardon me while I make fun of a few things:

Photo © American Girl

Photo © American Girl

1. What is a “sandwich skewer,” and why was that their best idea for a food-allergy-free lunch? Those brown bits look like bread to me, and though it could be wheat-free, it’s unclear. If the lunch was going to include bread anyway, why not a sandwich? If I were a kid already self-conscious about food allergies, the last thing I’d want is a conspicuously different lunch.

2. Why the cloth lunch bag? I suppose it’s safe for those with latex allergies, but a bento box would be, too—not to mention way more stylish.

3. Where’s the dessert? Don’t even pretend to count the “berry smoothie.”

Photo © American Girl

Photo © American Girl

4. In general, it pales in comparison with the “normal” lunch, which boasts a brownie, more fruit than vegetables, a cute “stackable” design, a purple spork, a sandwich cut into the shape of a daisy, and a FOLD-OUT PLACEMAT. Moms and dads, take note. That’s how you say “I love you” with a lunch.

5. The price is crazy (though at least it costs the same as the regular lunch—unrealistically, since safe foods tend to be more expensive, and let’s not get started on the EpiPen, which in real life go for over $200 a two-pack). At $28 per lunch, I would probably tell my future little American girl to just use her imagination.

Then again, that feeling of being a Normal American Girl? Priceless.

Like I said, this idea is adorable and inclusive. However, I would like to state for the record that it’s not really inclusive of the little gluten-free American girls running around out there, most of whom will never lay hands on an EpiPen (and should consider themselves fortunate for it).

I propose that the next $28 add-on be a gluten-free kit, including:

  • packets of wheat-free soy sauce
  • a shrink-wrapped gluten-free cookie with a big honking CERTIFIED symbol on the front
  • a pair of reading glasses, prematurely acquired from squinting at food labels
  • a toaster bag and tongs for tiny gluten-free bread slices
  • & some GlutenTox gluten test kits for those “safe” classroom snacks.

Now doesn’t that sound nice?

What else would you add? How you feel about the idea of food-allergy/gluten-free dolls? Would you buy this toy for a child? What are other ways to help kids understand food restrictions?

By the way, while there is no food-allergy Barbie—that I know of—I did come across an older post on the now-inactive blog No Peanuts Please about a “homemade” peanut- and egg-allergic Barbie. Worth a read, whether you hate Barbie or love her.

Peanut-allergic Barbie is not a vegetarian. Photo © Bugeater | Flickr

Food-allergy Barbie is not a vegetarian.
Photo © Bugeater | Flickr

Of course, what I really loved, more than any accessory and perhaps even more than my doll, were the books…so next week, I plan to post my spin on a celiac American Girl series. In the meantime, I’m taking name suggestions in the comments.

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The bathroom IS an important part of the story.

This was meant to be a lighthearted “second-favorite book character with celiac disease” post, in the vein of my Moaning Myrtle review. I was going to point to a particular scene in a Beverly Cleary book and say, “See, Ramona knows.” But when I located and reread the Ramona the Pest scene, I remembered some details that got me all righteously worked up about education and sent this post off in a totally different direction. I hope you’ll pardon my soapboxing. If you came for lighthearted, please check out my archives, where you will find plenty of absurd musing on fairy tales and brain fog. No doubt I will be back tomorrow babbling about citrus (no, but seriously).

If you’re still there, let me paint the scene for you: Kindergarten teacher Miss Binney corrals her rowdy class into something approaching order and reads aloud the story Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, an inspiring tale about sticking to your guns and living up to your promises. In the face of great doubt, Mike proves the worth of his ancient steam shovel by digging the entire cellar of the new town hall in a single day, dawn to dusk. It’s a good story, and the kids, pesky Ramona included, are rapt. But they’re especially interested in one detail that the picture book skips past:

As Ramona listened a question came into her mind, a question that had often puzzled her about the books that were read to her. Somehow books always left out one of the most important things anyone would want to know. Now that Ramona was in school, and school was a place for learning, perhaps Miss Binney could answer the question. . . .

‘Miss Binney, I want to know—how did Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom when he was digging the basement of the town hall?

As I said, I was going to chop off the excerpt there and leave you with, “Anyone who places that much importance on being able to get to the bathroom probably has…” (…you see where I’m going with this.)

But when I kept reading, I found a part I’d forgotten: Miss Binney’s response.

Miss Binney’s smile seemed to last longer than smiles usually last. . . .

‘Boys and girls,’ she began, and spoke in her clear, distinct way. ‘The reason the book does not tell us how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom is that it is not an important part of the story. The story is about digging the basement of the town hall, and that is what the book tells us.’

Miss Binney spoke as if this explanation ended the matter . . .

Miss Binney’s blunt summation, “not an important part of the story,” read from my present perspective, suddenly struck me as incomplete and misguided, as well as indicative of a larger problem in the way we’re socialized in school. Here Ramona and her classmates are thinking critically about a basic human function, and Miss B., the civilizing influence, the authoritative mouthpiece of society, is standing in front of them and explaining that it’s not important. As the story goes on to remind us, Miss B. showed her class the bathroom first thing, and she’ll surely lead them there in single file the requisite number of times a day, but other than that she doesn’t want to talk about it, doesn’t want to hear about it, and doesn’t want it popping up in her picture books.

Ramona—and good for her—learns from this that there are some lessons school won’t teach her. For now, at least, she “knew and the rest of the class knew that knowing how to go to the bathroom was important,” but for how long? How long until this understanding is beaten out of her by well-meaning teachers and other prudes? How long until she’s pretending her digestive system doesn’t exist and whispering the word bathroom like a shameful near-obscenity, if at all? And from there, how long until she’s bashfully tacking “Sorry, TMI” onto descriptions of stomach upset in a support group or a doctor’s office—or keeping quiet about it altogether?

Am I being melodramatic? Maybe a little. But whether or not I’m taking away what Bev wanted me to (and, judging from this article, I’m probably not), it’s what I’ve got. Sure, Miss Binney’s not precisely saying that using the bathroom in itself isn’t important; she means that it’s not related to the overall story, which is about the value of a good day’s work done right. But, even setting aside the implication that  access to a bathroom and the necessary breaks to use it are not important to a good day’s work (which is in itself a troubling idea about labor to be teaching to our little future workerbots in public schools, and one beyond my ability to properly dismantle in the parenthetical space I’ve granted it here), Miss B.’s message includes more than her spoken words. Her clear discomfort, her abrupt response, her effort to shut down the dialogue and move on—all of these things tell the tykes that the bathroom is not something one should talk about.

I understand that early education teachers must live in constant fear of the off topic, and I understand that this is not without reason. Still, I wish Miss B.’s response—and the response of the real teachers on whom she is no doubt based—had been different.

I wish she’d said, “Good question, Ramona.” I wish she’d said, “Sometimes writers leave stuff out, even really important details like this, because they’re focusing on other things.” I’d love it if she’d said, “You know what, Ramona? That’s a plot hole that has never occurred to me in all my years as an educator. You just might make a fine editor one day.”

In sum, I wish she’d taken the question seriously and faced without discomfort a subject no one ought to disown, least of all a teacher of kindergarteners (a poop-obsessed clan if ever there was one). Because if we were all taught from kindergarten age to speak up about things that struck us as strange or unfair, and to discuss those things that strike us as compelling or important, we might have a better educated, more self-assured, and perhaps more just population.

More specifically, if we were taught from a young age that the bathroom, and what happens there, is important (which it is—digestion affects virtually every system in our bodies, and what comes out at the end of the process is just as worthy of attention as what goes in at the start) and that it’s okay and important to talk about it, more of us might talk to our doctors about the strange things we’ve noticed in our own bathroom habits, and digestive disorders from Crohn’s to colitis to celiac to food intolerances to IBS, that chimerical beast—might be discovered and dealt with earlier.

Moreover, if it were taught that it’s important and okay to talk about the bathroom, more kids might grow up to be gastroenterologists or digestive science researchers, because those fields might be recognized as the incredibly intricate and fascinating areas of study they are, rather than being widely considered the least glamorous and least compelling arenas of medicine. If it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might have found a cure for ulcerative colitis by now; we might have a working celiac vaccine by now; we might have banished the diagnose of IBS and replaced it with true knowledge and solutions by now. If it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might even be a bit closer to making that talk truly less important by eradicating digestive dysfunctions.

Finally, if it were important and okay to talk about the bathroom, we might be able to stop losing people (including many who are, in the grand scheme of things, not much older than those kindergarteners) to suicides precipitated by the depression that attends many digestive disorders, because they might feel comfortable speaking up about it and getting help, instead of becoming more and more hopeless and more and more humiliated by their unimportant condition until life itself starts seeming unimportant, too. (And, again, because we might have more researchers turning up results that could tangibly ease their symptoms.)

In short, although I know teachers have lesson plans to stick to and criteria to meet, I can’t help but feel that an important part of any teacher’s hard day’s work done right should be to encourage students to speak up about the things that trouble or confuse them, especially those things that concern the very most basic stuff of human functioning. And yes, that includes the bathroom.

Asking these questions shouldn’t make you a pest. It’s the refusal to listen to them that’s really annoying.

Photo © daveparker | Flickr

Photo © daveparker | Flickr

All excerpts from Ramona the Pest, © Beverly Cleary 1968.

Please share your thoughts! If you have kids, do you encourage them to speak up about “uncomfortable” topics? Do you speak up about digestive issues, if you have them? Are you (or your kids) shushed for talking about the toilet? How might we go about increasing our comfort level with this topic on a societal level? And do you think we should?

P.S. I know celiac disease isn’t all digestive trouble—trust me, I know—but this isn’t really a post about celiac disease. It’s a post about the BATHROOM. Which is, to me, very important.

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