How do you communicate something as complicated as food allergies to young children without making them feel scared, or different from their friends? Reading stories can sometimes be one of the best ways for children to learn about important themes in a fun and engaging way.
This week, we’re highlighting a food allergy children’s book called “The Hidden Hero,” passionately written by two teens with food allergies (coincidentally, who are both named Riya!).
For more teen resources, check out our top tips to make a food allergy teen’s life easier.
What is the allergy book The Hidden Hero?
The Hidden Hero is an allergy book that follows young Hazel, who has a dairy allergy. From not being able to eat the cake at a party to being bullied because of her food allergies, Hazel’s experiences are similar to those of many kids with food allergies. The story ends with a powerful message about embracing others’ differences and being a “hidden hero.”
It’s truly an inspiring read not only for kids with food allergies but for any child — the idea of accepting others is one that everyone can benefit from learning about at a young age!
An interview about writing an allergy book
We talked to Riya Miglani, co-author of the book, to learn more about her inspiration and experience writing a book about children with food allergies.
What inspired you to write an allergy book for children?
The inspiration for this allergy book came from my 2018 trip to Italy, a trip to remember. If you have been to Italy, you know that the food is amazing (the amount of gelato we ate was too much to count!).
However, as life is, trips can go sideways. My younger sister had two allergic reactions in the span of seven days. For breakfast Tuesday morning, my sister was eating a “chocolate” croissant from the bakery down the street. Keep in mind, she has an allergy to all nuts. Apparently when Italian bakery workers say the word chocolate, they mean nutella — which has nuts!
She mentioned her throat was feeling itchy after having some of the croissant, which resulted in using her epinephrine auto-injector.
Two days later, after a long day of shopping in Rome, my sister and I begged my dad for gelato. After eating one spoon of her gelato, my sister felt her throat begin to close up. Panic arose once again. It was rainy, and there were no real hospitals nearby. My sister was feeling really distraught, and weak physically and mentally.
We called our allergist from the United States, and he subsided everyone’s panic as he took us through the steps of what to do. My dad had to stab my sister with an epinephrine auto-injector for the second time. Needless to say, she was fearful and careful of everything else she ate for the rest of the trip.
My inspiration comes from my sister’s experiences. She has been through all the troubles associated with allergic reactions, but still remains a hidden hero in my eyes.
How did you come up with the plot of the book and develop Hazel’s story? Were any aspects of the story based on your own experiences as a teen with food allergies?
My primary ambition when writing the book was to empower young children with food allergies. I have a podcast called Less Panic. More Peace where I speak with a myriad of people with unique stories to share. The plot of the book incorporates many aspects of what real people with allergies deal with socially and mentally.
From the bully waving the egg cupcake in Hazel’s face, to feeling like she is not worth it — the book consists of the struggles that allergy kids face on a daily basis.
What do you hope that children (whether they have food allergies or not) will take away from reading The Hidden Hero?
I hope that children feel empowered and invincible after reading the book. My wish is for children to understand that everyone has something, and food allergies are just their something! Instead of making you weaker, it can make you stronger.
If a child does not have food allergies, I hope that this book made them feel more confident in who they are. It’s important for kids to know that they have strength inside of them. They may just need a little push to unleash it!
Be different and invincible. Be a Hidden Hero.
What was your experience writing with a co-author and working with an illustrator?
I underestimated how challenging the art portion was going to be. On a Friday night after virtual school, studying, I was in my basement studio sketching out every single page in order for Darya (our illustrator from Russia) to interpret my vision. It would sometimes take seven revisions, sending pictures back and forth over the course of four months, to get the illustrations just right.
Working with a co-author was also a challenge since the time zones differed, and our schedules did not always align. However, I learned a lot and met new people along the way, which is always a plus!
What did you learn throughout the process of writing The Hidden Hero?
Throughout the writing of The Hidden Hero, I wanted everything to be perfect. The way the text matched with the illustrations, how a certain line foreshadows the future plot, the symbolism of being a hidden hero, the list goes on.
However, the need for perfection drove me crazy. My father helped me realize that perfection is an illusion. Not everything will be the way you want it to, but that’s simply okay. We have to remember that we are not machines, but humans who are trying their best.
How are you working to get the word out about the book, and where is it available to purchase?
I am continuously trying to promote the book on my social media platforms and various food allergy podcasts. My hope for the book is to reach food allergy parents/kids who need it.
More about food allergy teens
Kortney is your typical atopic triad! She manages asthma, eczema, environmental and food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!