When their son Jack developed a food allergy, Columbia residents Julie and Lang Wethington made some lifestyle changes. They read labels. They educated themselves. They planned ahead for safe food at play dates and birthday parties. And just for good measure, they published a really helpful children’s book.
Yes, I Can! Have My Cake and Food Allergies Too is a book that easily serves two purposes: It reassures young children that having a food allergy doesn’t mean being excluded at snack time, and it educates those who are unfamiliar with the realities of food allergies.
Written from Jack’s perspective, the picture book depicts typical situations encountered by families with food allergies and the solutions they employ.
For example, Jack’s family skips the snack shop to enjoy a pre-packed outdoor picnic lunch during a day trip to a Washington, D.C., museum. At home, Jack’s father helps him choose a safe treat from the ice cream van. And at social gatherings, Jack’s mother either checks the food to identify safe items or provides something homemade that Jack can eat.
To date, book sales have followed an organic growth pattern, spurred by word-of-mouth advertising and local social media postings by friends and local food allergy advocacy organizations, but nationwide sales are on the horizon.
“We just finished up negotiations to make it available on Amazon.com,” said Lang Wethington, the book’s illustrator.
The idea for the book emerged soon after Jack’s food allergy developed, when the Wethingtons were shopping for a book that could help teach him how to deal with the new challenge.
“There really wasn’t much on the market addressing this issue from a self-esteem angle,” said Lang Wethington, “so we basically decided to write and publish our own book.”
It turned out he and his wife were well-suited to the task. Julie is an elementary school teacher in the Howard County Public School System, and Lang is an elementary school art instructor in the Anne Arundel County Public School System.
The idea became more important to them, Julie Wethington said, when they realized that parents of food allergic children commonly tread a fine line between keeping their kids safe and keeping them involved socially and in school, camp and sporting activities.
“It’s important for these kids to learn to think about being safe and to have a positive attitude,” she said.
Julie Wethington wrote the book while Jack was in preschool.
“Our strategy now is to see how this book goes,” she said. “We may decide to write another book when Jack enters another realm of childhood learning.”
Yes I Can! is published by Dragon Wing Books of Columbia, a new, independent publishing company owned by Liz Wethington, Lang’s mother.
“She wanted to start her own publishing business after working in that field for a number of years, so this project represented a great opportunity for everybody,” Julie Wethington said.
Feedback on the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and includes a five-star review from the first Amazon poster.
Tom Berkheimer, of Laurel, a 9-year-old elementary school student who is allergic to peanuts, also said he enjoyed the book.
Like Jack, Tom is also accustomed to hearing “No” a lot because his immune system mistakes certain food proteins for harmful substances, triggering an allergic reaction that could lead to anaphylaxis and require hospital treatment. In severe cases, it can even be fatal.
“I think it will be most helpful for younger children who have just discovered that they have food allergies,” he explained. “It’s also helpful because it teaches people who know nothing about food allergies easy ways to keep someone with allergies safe.”
In fact, Lang Wethington said, his next door neighbor admitted she didn’t realize how serious food allergies were until she read Yes, I Can!
“She thanked us for helping her understand it,” Wethington said.
Allergy Study Update
The Wethingtons’ book addresses an issue that isn’t yet understood by the medical community. The incidence of food allergies has increased significantly in developed countries since the 1970s, but the causes have not yet been discovered.
Recent research from The Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, however, has found that exposure to common antibacterial chemicals and preservatives may make children more prone to a wide range of food and environmental allergies.
Researchers used existing data from a health survey of 860 children between the ages of 6 and 18 to examine how urinary levels of antibacterials known as triclosans and preservatives known as parabens correlate with the presence of food allergy-related IgE antibodies in the children’s blood.
“We saw a link between level of exposure .… and allergy risk,” said lead investigator Dr. Jessica Savage, an allergy and immunology fellow at Hopkins.
Triclosans are typically found in personal hygiene products such as soap, toothpaste and mouthwash, while parabens are typically found in cosmetics, food and medications.
The researchers caution that the findings do not demonstrate that antibacterials and preservatives cause allergies, but instead suggest that these agents play a role in immune system development.
“This finding highlights the antimicrobial properties of these agents as a probable driving force behind their effect on the immune system,” said Dr. Corinne Keet, assistant professor of pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and senior investigator in the study.
She acknowledged that this finding will be helpful in determining the most beneficial direction of future studies.
“Ideally we would look earlier on in children’s development when allergies are just beginning to emerge, trying to see if there was exposure before the time when an allergy develops,” she said. “Right now it’s still a chicken-or-the-egg hypothesis; there’s just not enough data to give us any solid leads.”