“Free-From” Spotlight: Stephanie Sorkin, Author of Nutley the Nut-Free Squirrel, the Perfect Book for Children With Food Allergies!
Everyone has a favorite book they remember reading when they were growing up, mine was Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Now that I don’t eat gluten, the thought of pasta and meatballs raining down on me seems terrifying, but as a child I loved the visions of food falling from the sky, especially the desserts (I admit I have a sweet tooth). Loving someone with food allergies makes you think about everything differently. If I had a child who had celiac disease or couldn’t eat gluten, and I was reading them Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,Â they may also find pasta falling from the sky terrifying, given the fact that the food they have an allergy or intolerance to could cause them serious damage.
A few months ago I discovered Nutley the Nut-Free Squirrel and fell in love with the sweet tale of a squirrel allergic to nuts who doesn’t let his nut allergy get him down. The book was written by Stephanie Sorkin, who is also the mother of three daughters with food allergies, and 100% of profits from book sales will be donated to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). Amazing!
I spoke with Stephanie about what inspired her to write the book, her favorite allergy-free spots/products, and more.
AFW: As the mother of a child with multiple food allergies, what made you take the plunge to write this book?
Stephanie: My daughter who has multiple food allergies, was the inspiration for my book. It started as a bedtime story and eventually took the shape of a real story with a beginning, middle and end. The initial food allergy diagnosis can be overwhelming. When I originally told my daughter the story, I hoped that it could make her laugh and show here that there could be humor and fun in an otherwise grim situation.After telling her the story over and over again, I realized that I wanted to share it with a larger audience. I felt a sense of responsibility to the food allergy community and beyond, and I knew that children with and without allergies would really enjoy it.
I felt strongly that bringing my character to life would be a great tool to spread awareness and understanding. The choice was either to sit and home and feel sorry for us, or start to make a difference. I chose to make a difference, which is not only what led me to not only share the story of Nutley, but also to make something that contributed to fund raising for food allergy research!
AFW: When developing the story, how did you come up with the character Nutley?
Stephanie: I love telling funny, whimsical stories, which meant that creating one about a squirrel allergic to nuts came naturally to me. As a child I always loved stories that had an element of irony in them. The characters are all based on my children. Nutley is based on my youngest daughter’s nut allergy, the bumble bee is based on my middle daughter’s pollen allergy, and the fruit fly is based on my oldest daughter’s fruit allergy.
AFW: I’m so impressed that 100% of the profits from the book are donated to FARE. What made you decide to do this?
Stephanie: I’m so proud that 100% of profits from my book go directly to FARE. First and foremost, I felt strongly that I didn’t want to profit financially from my daughter’s situation. I already had a tremendous feeling of emotional gratification with my story coming to life, that was more than enough for me! Knowing that I could use Nutley as a tool to spread Food Allergy Awareness was incredibly rewarding. I also knew I wanted to reach as many people as I could with the book, and was certain that more people would purchase a book where all proceeds would be donated to charity. This created a win/win situation for everyone, as I’ve been able to spread awareness while fundraising for additional food allergy research and education.
AFW: You must hear amazing stories about how your book has impacted the lives of children with food allergies. What’s a story that has truly touched you?
Stephanie: The story that touched me the most happened recently at a school visit. I participated in a Writers Workshop where I had the amazing opportunity to teach children the art of rhyming after reading my books.Â One mom pulled me aside and told me that Nutley was instrumental in getting her daughter excited about starting kindergarten. As a child with food allergies, she was suffering from tremendous anxiety and my book relaxed her and made her comfortable with her allergies and the possibility of being different from the other children. The mom purchased copies for every class that her daughter attended and she’s now a very well adjusted 2nd grader. Although this wasn’t my first fan, it was a child who got the message! Nutley speaks of community, friendship and support. The message of being proud of your differences resonates with teachers, parents and children.
AFW: As a mother of a child with food allergies, what are your favorite nut-free products?
Stephanie: I love to bake so of course, my first choice would be to have something homemade! That’s really been the silver lining of our journey, eating fresh, homemade food with little preservatives. When that’s not an option, there are an arsenal of allergy friendly products that my family adores! Keep in mind that my daughter also has an egg allergy so the list that I provide is egg-free too! I must mention a great resource for nut-free, egg-free options is the website SnackSafely. It is my go-to list when I need to be certain if something is safe.
When we need something close to homemade, we reach for Izzi B Cupcakes which are also gluten-free and dairy-free.
Divvie’s offers a great selection of baked goods and they’re dairy-free, egg-free, and nut-free.
Eleni’s Cookies makes adorable nut-free cookie selections for special occasions (these contain eggs).
Vermont Nut Free and Amore di Mona both offer amazing chocolate products. We also love simple things that you can find in the local supermarket like Mrs. Thinsters Waffle Crisp Cookies, Tootsie Roll Products, Enjoy Life and Oreos.
Our all time FAVORITE nut-free dessert destination is A La Mode Ice Cream Shoppe in NYC. Part old fashioned ice cream parlor, part toy store/gift shop, I was sold the minute I walked through the door! Watching my daughter order bright pink ice cream with sprinkles was like a dream come true.Â It was honestly the first time that my eyes welled up with tears watching my daughter order ice cream! Sounds insane, but allergy parents or wives :o)Â know the incredible feeling you get when you order something that you actually WANT to eat. My daughter eats what’s safe and she’s usually willing to eat whatever we order for her. Walking into A La Mode was a unique experience for us, as we knew that she could eat whatever she wanted. I’d recommend this to anyone living or visiting New York, not just those who are nut-free!
AFW: How did you pick the illustrator for the book to bring your story to life?
Stephanie: The publisher supplied me with a number of artist portfolios. From there, I narrowed it down to three artists with amazing work. After that, I had them submit a test sketch of Nutley. I had told them via email that I was looking for a cute, whimsical character. I wanted something cartoonish as opposed to a realistic looking squirrel. My daughter, who Nutley is based on, has large eyes so I requested a squirrel with large eyes! Nutley is essentially the cartoon version of my daughter. I wanted a character that was appealing to my target audience of ages 3-8 and I think that my illustrator, Tim Warren, really nailed it!
AFW: Will there be a sequel to Nutley?
Stephanie: I plan on having a sequel to Nutley! Without giving it away exactly, I think that Nutley fans would be excited to watch his story continue. I left off where Nutley’s friends embrace his allergies. What will happen next? You’ll have to wait and see!
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Stephanie!
Pro-tip: Want to make this delicious allergy-free (nut-free, gluten-free, & dairy-free) banana bread? There’s a sweet recipe inside the book!
As a special treat for my readers, I’ll be giving away a signed copy of Nutley the Nut-Free Squirrel. Enter below and leaving a comment on this post!