The wisdom of children’s books

A review of Marty’s Nut-Free Party, Katrina Roe.

When my friend Katrina Roe (pictured left, with illustrator Leigh Hedstrom right) invited me to the book launch of her new book I said “yes” without asking what sort of book, or the subject matter. Katrina was most recently the morning show presenter on Hope 103.2 and I knew her as a journalist with a hard edge.

So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that she had written a children’s book. They are not the usual subject of my reviews; but I did want to blog a little about how much fun it is going to a book launch: the champagne, free food, entertainment… But most importantly the insight into how and why an author writes a book.

Marty’s Nut-Free Party is what you would imagine it to be: a picture book about the burgeoning issue of allergies amongst children in our society. In a helpful note for parents and carers at the back of the book, Dr Elizabeth Pickford (RPA Allergy Clinic) explains that 10% of children have food allergies, and it is becoming even more common.

Peanut allergies affect 1 child in 50, which means that all children will know a child with a nut allergy at their preschool or school.

Katrina wrote the book for her daughter Caillie, who suffers from a series of food allergies, including nuts. For Caillie the consequences of coming into contact with peanuts could be an anaphylactic reaction, leading to trouble breathing, and possibly even death.

So, the introduction of this book is an opportunity to spread the message to children about the impact of food allergies on their friends; as well as reaffirming nut allergy sufferers such as Caillie.

I talked with Dr Pickford at the launch, and she commented that the problem tends not to be the children, who are often instinctively considerate and protective of friends who have allergies; but it is adults who see peanut butter bans, or a request for nut-free cakes for class parties, as an infringement on the freedom of their child to eat whatever they want.

Katrina gave a speech at the launch that touchingly referred to the way children’s books are some of the last ways we can pass on positive values to our children. While most other media forms, and adult books, may chip away at our sense of what is right and what is possible, children’s books remain as beacons, as Katrina very eloquently explained at the launch:

I’ve noticed that adults are reading more and more self-help books.  These books tell you how to get what you want: a better career, more pay, a slimmer body, a nicer house, a better relationship, a new kid by Friday. While we’re reading about how to help ourselves, our children are learning how to help others. How to be a better friend, how to give more generously, how to include those who are left out, how to see the good in others, how to better care for the earth…

In picture books, there is often a sense that we all have something positive to contribute to the world. In children’s books, the impossible becomes possible: Giraffes can Dance, Dogs do do ballet, a snail can travel the world on the back of a whale, a woman with dementia can get her memory back, a plain small grey bird that nobody has ever noticed, can find a friend who thinks she is amazing, just as she is. 

With the launch being held at the NSW Writer’s Centre, in the Patrick White Room, and surrounded by books, it was an inspiring moment. Not sure if I have a book in me, but I will keep writing blogs and reviews about the power of words and stories to change hearts and minds, and to open people’s imaginations to new possibilities of relating.

Kara Martin heads Sydneyanglicans.net's team of experienced book reviewers. She is a lecturer with School of Christian Studies, and the resident book reviewer for the national radio program The Open House.

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