Douglassville author Megan Herr recently published her first children’s book, “Lucas takes his Food Allergies to Daycare,” which is geared toward the toddler age range and written from her son’s point of view.
Herr hopes to spread awareness for children living with food allergies and to open up dialogue between children, parents, caregivers and their peers.
“Raising awareness creates empathy and that will help save lives,” she said.
Published through Mascot Books in Virginia, the book released in November and is registered with the American Wholesale Book Company, Baker & Taylor, Follett Library Resources, and Ingram.
“My goal is to get my books into daycares and into the hands of toddlers nationwide (and worldwide) to bring awareness and a better understanding to food allergies,” said Herr.
The book is the result of fulfilling a personal need to read a book to her son about his food allergies.
“At 6 months old, my son was diagnosed with rare and common life-threatening food allergies that have sent him to the ER four times before he was 3 years old. I understand firsthand the challenges it creates for teachers, their peers, the food allergy kiddo and their parents/caregivers. Sending your child to daycare or school comes with much anxiety, just knowing one accidental bite can cause a medical emergency or death,” she said.
Herr looked everywhere for books that would be a good fit for a toddler to explain to them their unique situation in a way they would understand, while incorporating and teaching their peers at daycare.
“There wasn't much out there for 1- to 4-year-olds, so I decided to change that!” she said. “I’ve made it my mission to help spread awareness on food allergies, so that they’re not so foreign to children, that it’s ok to be different. Opening up that dialogue between teachers and the students is what helps educate them and that creates empathy.”
The book shows why it's important to wash your hands after eating, not to share food, why a child may have to sit away from the table or at another table.
“1 in 13 kids have food allergies and 1 in 3 kids get bullied for their food allergies. Educating kids on food allergies and cross-contamination is paramount,” she said.
Lucas is now age 4. As a baby, he was allergic to eggs, tree nuts, and all peas (pea protein). Further testing for peanut and soy ruled those out. He has since outgrown his dairy allergy.
“When we first got his diagnosis, it was scary. He was 6 months old when we officially got the diagnosis,” said Herr. “He had eczema within hours of being born, so I knew something was wrong but I couldn't figure it out. I exclusively breastfeed until he was a year old, so I had to change my diet to adhere to his food allergies once we got his diagnosis. What I was eating was affecting him and I had no idea.”
Herr took Lucas to his pediatrician every few weeks. They thought it was just sensitive skin.
“We were first-time parents and at 6 months we were handed a prescription for Epinephrine Emergency Injectors and told we needed to carry two injectors with us everywhere we went with him and daycare. Our lives changed within hours, so it was a shock,” she said. “You try to learn everything you can instantly, you try to find other food allergy moms for support, you try to explain something so complex to these little kids, so they can learn to be advocates for themselves but at the same time, trying to not make them overly fearful of eating food.”
Herr said that children with food allergies will have lives that will be forever different than the average child, affecting going to friend’s houses, daycare, school, birthday parties and social events.
“Everything revolves around food and it's a very isolating feeling for these kids,” she said.
Her advice for caregivers and teachers is to take food allergies seriously. If you don't understand something about food allergies or how to give Epinephrine, ask.
“One bite can literally kill our children or cause severe bodily harm. Children have tragically lost their lives due to caregivers, teachers and their peers not taking food allergies seriously or an oversight,” said Herr. “We're not parents who are trying to make their (teachers, caregivers, peers) jobs difficult. We're just parents trying to give our kids the right to be like every other kid in a safe and understanding environment until a cure is found.”
Her book is age-appropriate to begin to explain food allergies to toddlers and serves as a visual tool for parents or caregivers to show and read to them.
She said that the whole process of writing the book was pretty neat.
“It was great getting the response back, pretty quickly, from the first publisher I submitted my concept to. They instantly saw the need for a book like this for this age range,” said Herr. “Another favorite part was seeing my book come to life — how the illustrator took my vision and turned it into pictures then putting words on the pages. It was a long process but well worth it. It came out fabulously!”
And the response to the book has been positive.
“Amazing!” said Herr. “It has already sold worldwide, including Canada, Guam and Asia that I know of. Amazon and Ingram (the largest book wholesaler) had to already restock their initial orders. I have parents reaching out to me saying how much it has helped their child show they're not alone. At that age, children start to know they're different but don't exactly know how, so this helps with that.”
Herr plans to continue to expand the book series and include other real-world settings that pose a challenge for young children with food allergies.
“I want to be a support system for these new food allergy moms or food allergy moms in general. You get this diagnosis and your world instantly shatters, you feel isolated and alone,” she said. “I'm a helper by nature. I know I was given this life for a reason.”
Their journey can be followed along on Instagram @the_alherrgy_mom, on Facebook @The Alherrgy Mom Blog or at her website www.thealherrgymomblog.com.
Books can be purchased through the author, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Mascot Books or Amazon.