Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 5/13/2021 – Children’s Book Author & Food Allergy Advocate, Stephanie Sorkin spends her time visiting schools in the tri-state area (virtually during COVID), discussing the inspiration behind her books and the importance of creativity. Her first children’s book, Nutley, the Nut-free Squirrel is a whimsical tale about a squirrel with a food allergy. Nutley’s message of community support and friendship resonates with all students. As the parent of a child with multiple food allergies, Stephanie donates 100% of the book’s proceeds to FARE, an organization dedicated to food allergy research and education.
Tell us about your background
I’m a proud New Yorker who left the city for the suburbs about 11 years ago! I live only about 30 minutes from NYC now…so I’m grateful that I can still go in often. My love of writing started very young and luckily, my mom saved everything! Looking back, it’s fun to see what I was thinking at 5 years old and what I chose to write about. What’s interesting is that my stories and poems, even back then, often dealt with inclusion and acceptance in the simplest of terms. To see those themes recurring in my current works is truly priceless.
What led you to your mission to build awareness for kids who have food allergies?
At my daughter Mallory’s first birthday party, she had an allergic reaction to her birthday cake. Imagine? One minute we were laughing with Elmo and taking pictures with relatives and within a split second, things took a terrifying turn. After consulting with the doctor, we found out that Mallory was allergic to eggs and quoting the doctor, “An egg allergy rarely travels alone”. We soon discovered that she had multiple food allergies, including nuts, mustard, sesame, and more. We started reading food labels and carrying 2 epinephrine auto-injectors. Food Allergy Awareness was nothing like it is today. Food labels were unreliable. Restaurants had no allergy protocols. I remember feeling powerless and alone. Looking back, of course, that wasn’t true, but that’s how I felt at the time. I started doing a lot of my own research and educating those around me, those who would be a part of Mallory’s life so that she’d be safe. What foods she could have and what to do in an emergency if an allergen was accidentally ingested. We were cooking all of her food at home so technically nothing should happen but this was still a necessary step to take. The more I learned, the more powerful I felt. I met incredible people along the way and built a strong support system around me. I gradually got back to myself and faced the situation with positivity by looking at what Mallory COULD eat, rather than all of the things that she COULDN’T. Soon, I started reciting a story that I wrote and Mallory loved it! I noticed that it had a beginning, middle and end, just like a children’s book. After being encouraged by some people (and discouraged by some people lol) I decided to publish it and “Nutley, the Nut-Free Squirrel” was born! I felt that it was a wonderful opportunity to use this as a tool to educate kids, caregivers, and teachers. I then decided to make the book a fundraiser, donating 100% of the books proceeds to F.A.R.E., an organization dedicated to food allergy research and education. This wound up being very therapeutic for me. My wheels were in motion, and book by book…I was closer to a treatment or cure.
Are there misconceptions out there?
Absolutely!! Too many to list but I’ll name a few. A big misconception is that allergic kids must be picky eaters or difficult children which couldn’t be further from the truth. Another misconception is that a little bit won’t hurt. Many people even have family members that say “take a bite and see what happens”. Most allergic kids don’t have that luxury to just taste test things to see if they are safe. Many children, my daughter, for example, can have an anaphylactic reaction to just one bite. Another common misconception is that if you do indeed have food allergies, it must be to one of the top 8 foods, like nuts, dairy or eggs, that cause 90% of allergic reactions. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are hundreds if not thousands of ingredients like spices and oils that can cause an allergic reaction. The last one I’ll mention is that it’s easy to manage a food allergy. Just avoid the food and everything will be fine. In reality, it is difficult any time you leave your house. Eating out becomes a huge challenge, as do parties, playdates, school and vacations. Don’t’ get me wrong, with proper planning and organization, it is completely manageable…but never easy.
The pandemic has been challenging for food allergy patients. Tell us about your new book, Nutley, the Nut-free Squirrel”,“Chocolate Shoes with Licorice Laces”and “Frenemy Jane, the Sometimes Friend.”
The pandemic has been challenging for food allergy patients…in ways that not everyone can even imagine. There were many families with no access to safe food for a variety of reasons. Some rely on food banks where donations and supplies were scarce. Some brands that we relied on just were not in stock for a long time, sort of like paper towels…they became a commodity. Some patients had no access to medical care, as some hospitals and Doctors offices were only seeing emergencies. What’s more…some of us didn’t really have a clear protocol as to what steps to take in the event of an emergency allergic reaction. Do we use the epinephrine and go to the hospital and risk being exposed or is it safer to just use it and stay home?
On a brighter note, disease prevention guidelines really helped our community. Washing hands, wearing face masks, no sharing of food, social distancing…are all ways to slow transmission of disease but also slow down transmission of allergens.
Tell us about your new book, “Am I a Unicorn?” And your other books, “Nutley, the NutFree Squirrel”, “Chocolate Shoes with Licorice Laces” and “Frenemy Jane, the Sometimes Friend”.
My new book, “ Am I a Unicorn?” is about a Unicorn who loses their horn. The Unicorn goes through an identity crisis of sorts, as it struggles with the dilemma of “am I still a Unicorn even if I don’t have my most definitive feature?” Ultimately, the Unicorn realizes that it’s what’s on the inside that is most important in defining who you are. I was inspired to write this book for a few reasons. I love unicorns for starters, but had to wait for an idea to come to me! I thought that by removing the horn, I was introducing many things in a generalized way….where children can see themselves in the Unicorn in one way or another, kids with limb differences, LGBTQ, emotional, physical or psychological differences. Let’s face it-even as adults, we have all been the Unicorn so I’m confident that the message will resonate with readers.
In “Nutley, the Nut-Free Squirrel”, I introduce a squirrel who discovers that he is allergic to nuts. Ironically, he meets other animals with allergies and doesn’t feel quite as alone. The message of support and community recurs throughout the story. The story is whimsical and funny and really put my daughter at ease when I first started reciting it to her.
In “Chocolate Shoes with Licorice Laces” I have a boy whose mom put him in chocolate shoes by accident. He solves the problem in a creative, tasty way! It’s simple and fun for very young children.
Lastly, is “Frenemy Jane, the Sometimes Friend”. You may guess based on the title that it’s about a girl who is your friend one day and not so nice the next. I was careful to not make it strictly about a character who bullies. Instead, I focused a lot on how we can teach our kids to navigate difficult situations.
My favorite moment in “Am I a Unicorn” is when the Unicorn sets out to prove that they are indeed a unicorn. They go through a series of funny examples to prove themselves to the other animals. I love the reactions of the students when I read this part of the book.
What is your mission for this book?
With “Am I a Unicorn?” I’ve been partnering up with various charities, such as Best Buddies, to do virtual readings. With each event, I have the chance to explain my philosophy that what makes you different is what makes you special and unique. I want to challenge the narrative that being different should have a negative connotation. Instead, we should celebrate our differences proudly. The book can be found online at Amazon, Target, Walmart and Barnes and Noble.
You are an inspirational speaker for food allergies and a huge supporter of children’s charities. Tell us about your initiatives.
I donate 100% of my proceeds from Nutley to F.A.R.E. With my book, “Chocolate Shoes with Licorice Laces”, I donate a portion of sales to Soles 4 Souls, an organization that provides new and gently used shoes to those in need both domestically and internationally. With “Frenemy Jane the Sometimes Friend”, I donate a portion of sales to The Pacer Center, an organization that focuses on Bully Prevention. I’m excited to add more charities as I continue to write more books.
Tell us about your projects for 2021?
I have a long list of goals for the upcoming year! I’m hoping to have a new book released at the end of the year, or early 2022! I plan to continue my outreach to schools with “Book Deserts”, or a shortage of books. I recently did a virtual presentation and partnered up with an NFL player to do the reading and presentations. I hope that other players and teams will want to get involved. There are thousands of schools where the kids would love to get a hold of a book to call their own. My hopes are that larger charities can help make my dream a reality. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it would be that virtual visits became the common place. It was incredible to expand my reach to students across the country, sometimes on the same day! I’m looking forward to continuing the virtual visits to schools that I cannot visit in person but of course my ultimate goal for the upcoming year is to get back into the classroom in person!!!
@stephsorkin on Twitter and Instagram
Virtual reading with Eagles Player – Am I A Unicorn Virtual Reading