Peanut allergy affects policies and practices at many schools and children’s activities. Many places frequented by children have pre-emptive bans on peanut products and sometimes all tree nuts in order to protect children that may be highly sensitive. Other times, policies are in place only when there is a known allergy, at a level that responds to the specific needs of the allergic child(ren).
There is a great deal of debate about whether these policies are necessary or appropriate, which I will discuss in other articles. But regardless of how one personally feels about these policies, parents and educators affected by them need to be able to explain to children why this is important for those who are allergic.
“The Princess and the Peanut” by author Sue Ganz-Schmitt and illustrator Micah Chambers-Goldberg offers a tale, rooted in the story of “The Princess and the Pea.” When the princess in the story arrives at the castle, the kitchen is out of peas, and so they place a peanut under her stack of mattresses. When she breaks out in hives and develops a swollen tongue, the palace doctor administers an epinephrine shot, does allergy testing and explains her needs to the princess, the prince and his family. In his love for the princess, they clear the castle of tree-nut containing products, and he gives up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for love.
I found the concept for this story to be absolutely delightful, which is why I requested a review copy from the publishers. My 9-year old daughter declared it “hilarious” and understood the message about the allergy. I think it did a very good job introducing concepts surrounding food allergy as well as specific terminology to help children experiencing these problems, and also provide a story to help other children relate to their experience. The princess’s reaction to the peanut illustrates the consequences of exposure.
The book itself is high quality, with a nice glossy cover and good quality paper – important for a children’s book. I would suggest that in future releases that the title be printed on the spine, to make it easier for teachers with classroom libraries to locate the book in their collections. The illustrations are beautiful and match the tone of the story and the overall design of the book in a very effective way.
It is also worth noting that when the prince learns about looking for a “real princess” as a child, her qualities include “kind, loyal, gracious, honest, brave and fair.” And while she is cute enough, she is not particularly beautiful also illustrated with a swollen tongue and hives. She definitely doesn’t have that traditional sexy Disney face or figure we have become used to in princess stories. My compliments to the author, illustrator and publisher for this clearly-purposeful choice.
My only disappointment with the book was in some points of story development. I sense, mainly from the illustrations, that from a young age the prince is especially fond of peanut butter. However, this should have been more explicit in the text for children to be able to catch this. I think the compassion of the prince in putting the princess’s needs above his own in cutting out the peanut butter is a major part of what makes this story valuable, and don’t think it is coming across clearly enough.
The foundation of the book relating to the “Princess and the Pea” story is also lacking. As written, I would highly recommend anyone buying this book also buy a copy of the original tale to read first. In the allergy tale, the stack of mattresses and the substitution of a peanut for a pea come completely out of the blue in a way that is surprising even for the adults that know the story well. I checked back more than once to see if I had missed a page, but I had not.
My suspicion is that both of these technical story issues were editing decisions, and were probably covered in an original or earlier draft of the story. If so, I would encourage the publisher to re-consider (or the publisher and author to consider adding this if my suspicion is incorrect). I would much rather see the story be several pages longer and more explicit in these regards, even if it meant increasing the price slightly.
Even with these plot concerns, I would still recommend this book to parents and educators dealing with issues of peanut allergy or peanut bans. The reality is that this book is most likely to be a jumping-off point for further discussion, so planning ahead to address these holes in the plot is quite easy. I personally feel that using a story like this to begin a discussion will be so much more effective for children than sitting down and trying to just have “a talk” can ever be.” Starting with the story allows for the introduction of medical terminology and issues in an age-appropriate way and stimulates children to think and problem-solve on the issue in a way that a lecture can never equally stimulate.
For teachers and parents looking to create discussion surrounding peanut allergy and peanut bans, I highly recommend, “The Princess and the Peanut.”