The initial spark for her book, “One of the Gang,” says Gina Clowes, was the sight of her son sitting alone at a nursery school birthday, with a bag of wheat-free pretzels and bottled water. At the other end of the room, his classmates were crowded together around a table, eating cake and ice cream.
“It was sad,” she says, recalling the sight of her forlorn child. With allergies to more than two dozen foods, including peanuts, milk and wheat, Daniel was used to separation from foods, but separation “from the gang,” she continues, was another thing.
Reminded that Daniel was fascinated that his Hopkins Children’s allergist, Robert Wood, has a peanut allergy, Gina set out to illustrate for her son and others like him, that food allergies, while a part of their lives, are not roadblocks to happy ones. “I wanted to validate their feeling that it just stinks to have allergies, and then introduce them to other allergic children and adults who are leading rich, purposeful lives.”
Her book, “One of the Gang,” published in September of 2008, pictures Wood, director of pediatric immunology at Johns Hopkins, among the many accomplished individuals—from hockey players to beauty queens—living with allergies.
“What I love about Dr. Wood,” says Clowes, “is that he understands these children suffer from fear, anxiety and even depression— that they just want to be part of the gang. It’s such a comfort to a parent to have someone to help you understand what your child is going through.”
Founder of Allergy Moms, an online support group and resource for families living with food allergies, Clowes selected for her book a photographer whose own child had allergies and, as models, children with allergies and their siblings and friends. “I wanted real people in real situations,” says Clowes. “The only books I could find for Daniel when he was very young featured cartoon animals with allergies. When he asked, after one, if elephants really do have peanut allergies, I realized that a better story for this literal age group would feature children just like them.”
Today, Daniel, now 8, is among the one in 26 American children who have food allergies, up from one in 29 in 1997, according to a recent CDC study. Clowes continues her efforts to help parents and these children navigate a world they co-inhabit with the millions for whom any number of common foods are not mortal enemies.