Sunday, November 21, 2010


Abigail and I have recently discovered the "Clementine" series of books by Sara Pennypacker (also author of the "Flat Stanley" series).  Being in 2nd grade, Abigail is encouraged to read independently at least 30 minutes a day.  That doesn't mean though that she no longer wants me to read a book to her at night before bed.  We've read a variety of chapter books, some I've enjoyed, and some not so much.  I don't mind reading any of the "American Girl" books or favorites from my childhood, Ramona, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Charlotte's Web, etc., but I find some quite obnoxious, i.e., Junie B. Jones, and won't read those aloud.

From the first chapter of "Clementine," I was hooked.  Clementine is a precocious 3rd grader that quite unwittingly gets into loads of trouble when all she really wants to do is help.  Abigail enjoys hearing the escapades of the 9 year old, and I love the subtle humor.  I love when a book or movie appeals to several generations.  I'm reading this book and laughing out loud at something that Abigail doesn't get.  It doesn't bother her that she doesn't get it because she's too busy enjoying the story.  And, I'm not worried, because even if she did "get it", it's not inappropriate that she did.  Makes the reading bedtime ritual a fun experience for both of us.

Now, you might be wondering why a peanut allergy/healthy living blogger would be reviewing books for children.  It so happens that Clementine's younger brother has a severe peanut allergy. 

In the 2nd book, "The Talented Clementine," Clementine must come up with an act for a talent show, but feels that she has no talents.  She spends the better part of the book looking for one.  She ends up demonstrating an unexpected talent and surprises everyone, including herself.  Her parents ask her to join them for a special dinner out to celebrate.  Here's the peanut allergy part that had Abigail feeling particularly special..."Usually, when my parents go out, it's my job to make sure the babysitter doesn't bring any peanuts and leave them around.  Broccoli (the brother**) is allergic, and if he has even one tiny peanut, he might have to go to the hospital with his neck all blown up or something.  "We'll talk to the sitter," my dad said.  "I don't know," I said.  My brother had never been left with a sitter without me to save his life." I'm skipping some here..."When the babysitter came, my parents told her and told her about the peanuts.  And then I told her and told her and told her, too."  Skipping more...."But when we got to the lobby, I couldn't leave.  "Wait here."  I hurried back to our apartment, got one of my mom's permanent markers, and wrote on my brother's forehead, NO PEANUTS FOR ME! in big, blue capital letters.  Then I felt all right."  Then there's a cute sketch of the little brother with the writing on his forehead.

Children with life-threatening food allergies can and most often go through periods where they feel alienated.  We like to relate to others, to circumstances, to songs, to stories.  Frankly, there aren't a lot of situations where food allergic children can relate to any of those things so when they chance upon a new friend with an allergy, a special activity or a book that they can relate too, they feel special, encouraged, part of something.  The "Clementine" books do that for Abigail.  The brother with the peanut allergy is just a supporting character, but an important one nonetheless.  We read about him having a severe allergy and the steps that Clementine takes to keep him safe, and we're encouraged.

So, here's a big thanks to Sara Pennypacker for including a tough topic in her stories, for making children with severe peanut allergies feel special and for bringing awareness of the issue to my daughter's peers...and their parents that read the books with them!

Can't wait to read the next two books, "Clementine's Letter," and released just this year, "Clementine: Friend of the Week!."  Both of which are already purchased and waiting to be wrapped for Christmas.  The gift tag will read:  "To Abigail and Mommy...Happy Reading!"

**If you're unfamiliar with the books, one of the big mysteries is the name of the little brother (it's a huge author's secret).  Clementine feels it's unfair that she was named after a fruit, and he wasn't, so she refers to him by various names of vegetables.  We've read 2 out of the 4 books so far, and I'm not sure he's been called the same veggie name twice.