Updated: Jan 21
When I was an elementary school teacher, I had a student in my class with Celiac Disease. It was an ironic moment for me because when I was growing up going to school, I was that one child in the classroom with Celiac Disease. The only thing is, I wasn’t even aware I had it at the time. I had all of the classic telltale signs of Celiac Disease- the constant fatigue, severe stomach pain, failure to grow, thrive, do well in school, the brain fog, dark circles underneath my eyes, the appearance of being very malnourished and very skinny. The list goes on. I was always very sick but didn’t know why. I can tell you this much, however: I was always the shortest kid in my class and I was always in the nurse’s office with stomach pain after eating lunch. Not even my own doctors knew why I wasn’t growing and why I was experiencing constant stomach pain. Like, really now?
According to my former pediatric gastroenterologist when I was in my teens, what I had was “acid reflux.” Again, really? It was actually my Mom who kept pushing my doctor to test me for Celiac Disease. Low and behold an endoscopy and blood test later…
In today’s world and in the last 10+ years, doctors have become more aware of Celiac Disease. This is why more and more children are now being diagnosed at earlier ages. This is phenomenal news to me. The sooner the child is diagnosed, the sooner they can start the gluten free diet and grow, thrive, do well in school, and not suffer the symptoms! One of the biggest issues I see students with Celiac Disease encountering is not being able to participate in school lunches prepared in the cafeteria (cross-contamination), enjoying the in-class birthday parties with cupcakes and other goodies brought in by other students’ parents, and participating in field trips where food is involved. This results in the experience of feeling estranged or “different” from their fellow classmates. Refer to my article titled "Colorful, Fun, and Magical Gluten Free Bento Box Lunches ALL Kids Will Love!" under "Articles" about preparing THE coolest gluten free kids school lunch ever to send with your child on a weekly basis and on any field trip.
Here’s the bottom line: Students with Celiac Disease and students needing to be on the gluten free diet do feel estranged and “different” from the other students.
"Mom… Dad… Why can’t I eat this anymore?"
"What am I going to do when ‘so and so’ brings in cupcakes to celebrate their birthday with everyone and I am the only one who can’t eat the cupcakes when everyone else can? What if I want a cupcake too?!"
You all, this breaks my heart! It should also break anyone else’s heart who even has the slightest bit of compassion.
I mention the term "compassion"because a little while back I had a conversation with a parent at a yoga class I attended who started talking to me about how she was going to prepare cupcakes for her child’s in-class birthday party. Not knowing anything about my background or the fact that I have Celiac Disease, she starts asking me the following questions:
“So, there’s one kid in my child’s class who needs to eat gluten free. What am I supposed to do?”
This was my response to her:
“I would suggest making all of the cupcakes gluten free, or making two batches of cupcakes (one gluten free and one not gluten free, or I would simply pick something up gluten free from the store or a local gluten free bakery so that this child doesn’t feel left out. That can be pretty sad if even one child is left out.”
Her response to my suggestion was:
“No, you know what, that’s ridiculous. Gluten free is stupid. If the child can’t have gluten, that’s just too bad for them. I’m not going to make anything gluten free just for one child. They just won’t get to have a cupcake.”
A feeling of disgust ran through my bones. I was having a conversation with a person with the type of mentality of “it doesn’t affect me, so why should I care that others are affected?” She had no compassion. With that said, I want for all of my articles to be a teaching opportunity. Not just for teachers and parents but for everyone reading and wanting to learn more about Celiac Disease.
I actually spent my time in graduate school earning a Masters of Education and my experience is working with grades K-2. A major part of my studies was creating lesson plans that focused on the importance of the terms “differentiation” and “accommodation”. It was emphasized that it is clearly important to differentiate your lesson plans to accommodate students with diverse backgrounds, cultures, experiences, including those who deal with different situations and circumstances. In this case, if you teach students about the food pyramid for instance, it would be best to direct your lesson not only to those who can eat gluten but also direct your lesson to those who cannot eat gluten. Otherwise if you tell an entire classroom of students to eat their "wheat flakes" in order to grow and be healthy, when there is even one child in that classroom who cannot eat wheat flakes, you are not differentiating your lesson to accommodate and include ALL students in your lesson because wheat flakes are not healthy for those with Celiac Disease and in fact will stunt that kid's growth.
Below is a comprehensive list of suitable books either for reading at home or for use in an elementary school classroom. I have carefully read each book below and have examined them thoroughly to determine their suitability for a lesson plan in classrooms. They are all very different, but each focuses on one major topic- The importance of the need for children with Celiac Disease to be gluten free which is something that needs to be brought up A LOT more in schools.
Regardless, this topic doesn’t have to be limited to Celiac Disease and gluten free students. You could create an entire unit of lesson plans based on the topic of food allergies alone. I mention this because as a teacher, you are guaranteed to have at least one student in your class who is either personally affected by the inability to eat certain foods or have someone in their families who are affected. It’s a BIG issue that needs to be addressed way more in schools than it has been and the earlier you teach this form of acceptance and understanding to students (and yes, adults too), the better.
With that said, enjoy today's lesson!
WELCOME TO MY CLASSROOM!
We are going to COLOR... A LOT! And by the way, it is totally acceptable to color outside the lines... Because after all, the key to success is to think outside the box and see life in a colorful, positive perspective. Always!
Candy apples are always accepted too- preferably pink ones with sprinkles :)
Now let's get started with our lesson today on Celiac Disease and learn about the millions of children and adults out there who are suffering from this condition and need to be gluten free to stay alive. What I also want you to take from today's lesson, is that it's important to know what others in the world are going through in order to develop something called compassion.
So, I'm not actually going to read you these stories and give everything away... you'll have to get the book yourself to find out what's inside them! I'm just explaining them and letting you know that they're great resources both for in-classroom and out of classroom to read to your kids at home.
The first book we will read is called:
Why Can't I Have a Cupcake?
Why Can’t I Have a Cupcake? By Betsy Childs is a phenomenal read and I’ll tell you why. Not only does this book represent children with Celiac Disease, it represents children of diverse ethnic backgrounds who all have different food allergies and related conditions. Celiac Disease is a condition that affects people ALL OVER THE WORLD.
As you can see below, this is a diagram of a kernel of wheat that describes where gluten is found within the wheat kernel. With that said, you could definitely use this book in classrooms not just for language arts lessons but for science and health lessons as well.
I love the illustrations in this book as well, including the pictures of the cupcakes and gluten free bakery. So sweet!
After reading this to your children or students, they will more than likely want cupcakes. But, let's face it- you'll probably want one too! If this is the case, see if you can find a local 100% gluten free bakery that sells cupcakes. My suggestion would be for either the parent of the child needing to be gluten free to make arrangements to bring the cupcakes in to the class or all parents can pitch in to make this happen. It's definitely worth it as a means for introducing the acceptance of gluten free to the class which will promote inclusion and acceptance of the student or students needing to be gluten free. I mention this as well because there is often confusion with those that are gluten free that we can no longer enjoy cupcakes... this is not true. Cupcakes just have to be made with gluten free flour and baked in a dedicated facility where there is zero use of wheat flour present.
The next book we will read is called:
The Adventures of Celia Kaye
The Adventures of Celia Kaye written by Kaitlin Puccio tells a story about a girl named Celia who is reluctant to go back to school after her summer break because she does not want anyone to know about her secret. When she gets to school, all of her classmates enjoy back-to-school cupcakes, except for her. Celia is so afraid of judgment from her classmates for not being able to eat a cupcake, and imagines that they wont like her and that they would exclude her if they knew she couldn’t eat wheat. The rest is for you and your children or students to discover! And again, it's truly worth it to find that gluten free bakery with cupcakes :)
Here's a closer look at that illustration below: What do you see?
How would you feel if you were the only person in the room who couldn't enjoy what everyone else could?
The Celiac Kid
The Celiac Kid written by Stephanie Skolmoski is a very colorful, well-illustrated book that is also very educational. There’s a line from the book about becoming a good detective when carefully reading food labels that I think children will enjoy. It helps make the navigation of the gluten free diet seem like fun when you turn it into a game for your children. “Let’s play detective reading food labels.” Oh, I love that! It also describes what happens inside the body of someone with Celiac Disease in the small intestine and provides an illustration that is brilliant for teaching children what it looks like on the inside, so they get it. The "G" in the picture below stands for "Gluten" and it is attacking the small intestine which is what can lead to very devastating health consequences.
This is a great illustration and I think adults who are visual learners could even benefit from this illustration as well. No one wants to feel pain after eating. Food is supposed to be the sustenance of human life! Instead, when food is literally attacking your body, it becomes very scary. Instead of feeling pain, you should feel full and satisfied and happy after eating... When those with Celiac Disease eat something they are not supposed to, they feel pain. It's not as simple as it sounds to entirely avoid gluten either... Especially when you're first diagnosed. If you have never tried it and don't need to be gluten free, I guarantee 99% will fail at being completely gluten free.
I also love the part of the book where it mentions how the teacher has an emergency treat available for the child with Celiac Disease in their class just in case someone has a birthday party and brings in non-gluten free cupcakes to share with everyone. This is a lovely way to accommodate students, however, teachers and schools can do so much better than this. Excuse me, but everyone deserves to enjoy a cupcake. To start, it would help by dedicating an entire classroom to being gluten free as this would ultimately create a total space of inclusion.
Celiac Sally by Amy Smart is the perfect read for younger children. It would make an excellent book for preschool and kindergarten classrooms. It is a quick read about a little girl named Sally who learns she has Celiac Disease. My favorite line from the book is “Having Celiac Disease isn’t bad, it’s just a new way to eat. It makes my tummy feel better AND I still get lots of yummy treats!” (Celiac Sally). This teaches positive association with having the disease and that’s extremely important.
Also, the acknowledgements from this book are what really stood out to me as the author states how her and her husband fought with many doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with their baby girl. The author encourages parents to keep pushing for their child until they get the right kind of help. I admire this because it reminded me how my Mom stood up for me when I had a pediatric doctor who was oblivious and just did not CARE. I was so malnourished and became so chronically ill before I was diagnosed and the reality is that I might not have been around today if my Mom hadn’t pushed my doctor to discover my Celiac Disease. Going gluten free is not going to make you lose weight. If you have Celiac Disease, you need the gluten free food in order to gain weight to prevent becoming malnourished. I know because I went through it myself. #clarification Take a look below at this illustration:
(Again, for visual learners)
Gilda the Gluten Free Mouse
Gilda the Gluten Free Mouse: A Story About Living Gloriously with Celiac Sprue Disease written by Patricia Teague is a story about a mouse that becomes very ill whenever she eats bread and cookies. Day after day, she would complain about how “her tummy felt sore” and how her symptoms were getting worse. As you can see below, Gilda rates her stomach pain as a "10" on a scale of 1 to 10. I can absolutely relate to this before my diagnosis.
When Gilda goes to visit with family, she tries gluten free cake and feels better. There is even a surprise cookie recipe at the end of the book! Love it!!
Eating Gluten Free with Emily
Eating Gluten-Free with Emily: A Story for Children with Celiac Disease is an excellent read because it provides accurate information for teaching children and adults about what to expect when getting tested for Celiac Disease, including the process of going through blood testing. It also describes how food gets absorbed into the bloodstream for testing, includes a list of foods that you can eat after diagnosis, what to look for when grocery shopping, and so much more. What I also like about this book is that it makes it clear that you can use flour when baking- it just has to be gluten free flour. That is absolutely accurate! Thank you! Gluten free does not mean flour free!
I also like that the book talks about the healthy alternative options for those with Celiac Disease. It’s important to teach young children that yes, you can eat sweets that are gluten free, but in order to grow tall and strong, you need to get the vitamins and nutrients from healthy foods that do not contain gluten. These are all reasons why I recommend this book.
Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?
Mommy, what is Celiac Disease? By Katie Chalmers is a very educational children’s book. It goes into detail about what Celiac Disease is, what gluten is, how there are millions of other people in with world living with this disease, as well as answers some questions that all children are likely to ask when diagnosed. My favorite line from the book encourages children with the disease to think positive thoughts and to look at the sunny side of being a child that is gluten free. This makes an excellent book for parents to read to their children. I am not a mommy yet, but if I were, I would love to read this book to my kids.
A Gluten-Free Birthday For Me!
A Gluten-Free Birthday For Me! is a great read for children’s birthday parties as well as a great read for classrooms. I love the note at the beginning that talks about the importance of making sure children with food allergies don’t feel left out, including at birthday parties. This book is beautifully illustrated and is very colorful and detailed. What I appreciate from this book is that it evokes compassion for the character inside the story that can’t eat the birthday cake at the party he attends.
Take a close look below:
I say this because this is a highly realistic situation- If you put yourself in that character's shoes, you would not like feeling what he felt not even for a minute and you wouldn't want to see your child feeling that way either. It’s really heartbreaking.
Ultimately, there’s an exciting discovery at the end of the book along with some recipes! ☺ So cute!
Adam's Gluten Free Surprise: Helping Others Understand Gluten Free
Adam’s Gluten-Free Surprise Helping Others Understand Gluten Free by Debbie Simpson made me cry because it is so beautifully written. This book is clearly intended of being read to children at home, children in classrooms, as well as teachers and parents of children who do not necessarily even have the disease themselves. The story takes place inside a classroom with Adam, a child who knows just how serious his condition is. He has to choose to eat from his lunchbox instead of being able to participate in the any of the in-class festivities involving food, including, sadly, their Thanksgiving feast. His teacher knows very little about the disease and does not understand how to successfully accommodate Adam until she learns from Adam’s mother just how very possible it is to accommodate him inside a classroom. The other parents in this classroom do not want to see Adam feel left out either. The rest is for you to read, enjoy, and discover just how possible it is to accommodate students with Celiac Disease in the classroom!
Gluten Free is Part of Me
Gluten Free is Part of Me by Laurie K. Oestreich is a wonderful book with a pattern of rhymes that is perfect for teaching younger children about those who need to be gluten free.
“I don’t like having Celiac. I wish that I could give it back”(Gluten Free is Part of Me). [Oh how I can relate!] These kinds of words should evoke a compassionate response from the other children and students.
Seriously though, if I could give my Celiac Disease away for good... I would! [That's my rhyme for the day :)] The wording within this book is beautifully written and the illustrations are also very creative and colorful. What I think many parents and teachers will appreciate about this book is that it talks about how there are other children in the world who have to avoid certain things as well, like nuts and bees, for instance, which helps children and students not to feel alone in their circumstances. That is so important because you want to start teaching compassion, caring, and acceptance of other students and the sooner they are taught these concepts, the better.
Yes... Dear Celiac:
That's a separate post for another time. And believe me- it will come straight from my heart saying it like it is.
Dear Celiac written by Kristen Adam is a book that speaks my language. After reading the first few lines of this book when it mentions how the child thought it was normal to have stomach pain after every meal they ate, I knew I could immediately relate to this book because that's exactly what I thought when I was a child also... that is was normal to feel pain after eating. According to my doctors back in the day... they called my stomach aches "migraines" and "growing pains." I'm still appalled by this.
One of my favorite lines from the book talks about how it would be great if restaurants that offered gluten free options could be deemed as safe for those with Celiac Disease and how disappointing it is that they can even call themselves gluten free at all. It's a HUGE issue.
There are so many positive things I could say about this book... It's very relatable if you have Celiac Disease or have a child that has the disease and I mean, just look at how beautiful and colorful these illustrations are! I just love this!!
Celiac Disease is a condition that millions of people are struggling with. When I was a child, the other students at my school were always wondering why I was so petite and why I always complained of stomach aches. Students and parents started to think that I was just complaining for attention and that I was being a difficult child- that I was faking my stomach pain. Meanwhile, I was getting sicker everyday and no one knew why. Not even my own doctors knew why which is quite embarrassing on their end that not even a gastroenterologist could put two and two together on why I was so sick all the time. There is just no excuse! I remember going to the school nurse every week complaining of severe stomach pain. They thought I was just trying to get out of class.
When I did my elementary teaching internship during my graduate program, one day I was asked to walk another teacher's student to the nurses’ office after the student ate her lunch because her stomach was hurting. Her teacher whispered to me, “Oh she’s just faking it. She does this all the time after eating her lunch every week.”
You know I found the irony of life fascinating there at that moment...
Again, that teacher's conclusion stems from a complete lack of awareness and compassion which is why it is critical to teach and educate everyone how to recognize Celiac Disease in children. Teachers also need to be educated about Celiac Disease, and not assume that someone with chronic stomach complaints are “faking it”. Just because you can't feel something does not mean someone else isn't. I wish to see more compassion in the world. And I wish that when I was a young student in the primary grades there would have been children’s books like the ones above so they could have been read to my classmates to help bring awareness and acceptance.
One thing these books all have in common is that people with Celiac Disease including children feel like they have to isolate themselves to avoid the judgment of others that comes with not being able to eat normal everyday foods. Whether it involves going out to eat, going to a friends’ house, or going anywhere in general, Celiac Disease makes life and everything in it very difficult for the person who has it. For instance, being the only person in the entire room not able to eat the treats brought in for everyone's enjoyment feels very isolating, even as an adult. Because then it's not for everyone's enjoyment. For a child, it’s even worse. Books like these should be read in schools to introduce awareness of students with food allergies and similar conditions. With that being said, integrating these books into your curriculum by dedicating a whole unit to teaching about food allergies and related conditions would be helpful as it is highly likely that there will be at least one student who has a severe food allergy or a medical condition related to food like Celiac Disease, in any given classroom or home environment. I absolutely guarantee it.
With love and care,
*Disclaimer: My opinions are my own, of course! The above information is solely based on my own experiences living with Celiac Disease as the intent of this article is to inform about the best children's books out there for those parents and teachers who have children or students with Celiac Disease. It is best to consult with a doctor who specializes in Celiac Disease and gluten-related disorders for any related medical issues.