Food allergies play a prominent role in the life of Erin Mandras. Her middle son, Austin, 5, has multiple life-threatening food allergies.
Now, Mandras, a veteran blogger and Pikesville mother of three boys, is on a mission to educate kids and adults with her new children’s book, “Austin’s Allergies” (Mascot Books).
“I’ve always loved children’s books because I feel like they are able to convey very important messages to kids in the best way possible,” says Mandras, 34, a Detroit native who has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. “Whether it be about allergies or kindness, the values children’s books illustrate in a simplistic way are just incredible to me.”
Illustrated by Nina Kolbe, “Austin’s Allergies” tells the story of Austin Mandras, from the early stages of his diagnosis to how to help keep him safe. The book conveys that even though Austin has severe allergies, he is still able to be a kid and participate in his favorite activities.
The story gives examples of what Austin needs to do in the event that he ingests an allergen, as well as what friends and family can do to prevent ingestion, and key concepts relating to cross-contamination.
“Before Austin’s diagnosis, I was the parent who had no idea what food allergies really meant,” Mandras says. “Austin has taught me so much, and I want to be able to help other parents like myself understand the severity of food allergies. The purpose of this book is to help not only kids have a better understanding but to help my peers as well.”
According to the nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education, one in 13 children today have a food allergy.
“It’s a different time and world we live in when it comes to allergies,” says Mandras. “These children are growing up in a time when so many of their peers have food allergies, and they learn from an early age what that means.”
Among the fans of “Austin’s Allergies” is Dr. Robert A. Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He says the medical community remains conflict on why there food allergies are so pervasive today.
“There are a lot of theories, but really no answers,” says Dr. Wood. “But seeing allergies through the eyes of a child is a unique and effective means of delivering important messages. The book is truly lighthearted, informative and inspirational.”
The book’s cover depicts Austin, who attends Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Day School, as a superhero wearing a teal-green shirt, which is the color of food allergy awareness.
“It shows that despite his allergies, Austin is really just a little boy who loves to dress up, play pretend and be imaginative,” says Mandras. “At the same time, what he has to deal with on a daily basis makes him a real-life superhero. He protects himself and watches out for his safety. It’s unbelievable what he can communicate, as a 5-year-old, about such an important medical issue.”
Austin was 1 when diagnosed with an allergy to wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts and milk.
“I went to order books about food allergies and could only find a few that were age-appropriate, and all of them had to do with just one allergy,” says Mandras. “I wanted to write a book for Austin about a child who had multiple allergies, so he could relate to the character.”
Mandras also wanted to help educate Austin’s brothers, Levi, 7, and Nolan, 2.
“This is not only a huge part of Austin’s life but also a large part of my other children’s lives,” she says. “Levi is very protective of Austin, and this book can provide others with tools to help protect his brother. It’s also a great way to teach my younger son, who doesn’t understand just yet. The boys are really excited about the book and ask to read the story almost every night. At this point, they have it memorized.”
Mandras says she hopes Austin will someday be proud of the book his mother wrote specifically for him.
“He’s just 5 right now,” she says, “but I hope when he gets older he will look back and think, ‘It’s awesome my mom wrote a book about a condition I have to help educate the world.’”
Proceeds from sales of “Austin’s Allergies” will benefit the Vienna, Va.-based Allergy and Asthma Network. The book will be available at Barnes & Noble, on Amazon and other major online retailers on Feb. 5. Erin Mandras will visit area schools for book readings and signings. For information, visit austinsallergies.com.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.