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'The Peanut-Free Cafe'          Send a link to a friend

[SEPT. 13, 2006]  "The Peanut-Free Cafe," by Gloria Koster, illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, 2006, 28 pages, ages 4-10

Review by
Louella Moreland

When I first read the title of this book in a review, it sent my "mother alert" to clanging. Why? I have a son who has had a life-threatening peanut allergy all his life. I also have dealt with children and allergies in classrooms, cafeterias and story times for the past 30 -odd years. Allergies with children can be very frightening, but very little fiction for children deals with the subject. So when I came across this book, I certainly wanted to take a closer look.

What I found in Gloria Koster's picture book was an entertaining story that had a not-so-subtle message.

Simon loves peanut butter, which he takes to school for lunch every day of the week. Most of his friends love peanut butter, too. When a new boy arrives at Nutley School just before lunchtime, Simon makes a friendly gesture and offers to share his peanut butter and bagel with the new student.

The children are horrified to learn that Grant cannot eat peanut butter or anything made with peanut oil, as it causes his airway to swell so that he cannot breathe. In fact, at Grant's last school peanut butter was not allowed.

Needless to say, this sends shock waves through the student body and administration of the school. The principal comes up with the idea to make a peanut-free lunch table where any child with a peanut-free lunch will be allowed to sit.

Unfortunately, Grant is the only student who sits there at first. With extra incentives to get students to bring peanut-free lunches, Grant soon makes friends among the students, until Simon is the student left out of the fun because he still won't give up eating his peanut butter.

Of course, Simon finally agrees to try other foods so that once again all the children are enjoying lunch together.

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Cocca-Leffler's illustrations of children with oversized heads and noodle-thin arms and legs are full of fun. Gap-toothed smiles, freckles and primary colors abound in her pictures. A diversity of ethnic backgrounds and handicaps appear without stereotyping.

The story is quite contrived. It is doubtful that a school administration would provide movies, a special room and popcorn to bribe students to bring peanut-free lunches. It is also doubtful that so many students would agree to go along with the plan. As adults, we would probably like to see Simon's parents provide better mentoring on diet.

However, what the story does provide is an understanding that allergies can be life-threatening. Even a small amount of peanut or peanut oil can be deadly for some children, and anyone who comes in contact with such a child must be aware of the danger and take measures to ensure the child's safety.

Overall, "The Peanut-Free Cafe" is an effective story for a discussion-starter. The book can be used by parents or teachers, or even by children with allergies, as a way to share with friends.

There is a "Note to Parents and Teachers," written by Dr. Scott H. Sicherer of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, which gives more information concerning children's allergies.

To check out this book or others concerning children's issues, visit us at the Lincoln Public Library, 725 Pekin St.

[Louella Moreland, youth services librarian, Lincoln Public Library District]

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