Today’s author interview is with Jamie Perillo, author of the children’s workbook: Food Allergy Friends: Take Control of Your Food Allergy Anxieties, Shrink Your Worries, and Feel More Confident.
Claire: On a personal note, I wanted to tell you that as someone who developed numerous food allergies at a young age, the whole concept of a children’s workbook for food allergies is so helpful, and is a resource I wish I had growing up. What was your inspiration behind writing Food Allergy Friends?
Jamie: It’s nice to hear that this children’s workbook would’ve been helpful for you and that’s exactly why I wrote it. As a therapist who works with children with food allergies and having food allergies myself, there are not many resources for kids with food allergies, especially regarding anxiety which is very common for kids (and families) along their food allergy journey.
The initial inspiration came when I had to abruptly stop facilitating my food allergy support group that I ran with the Food Allergy Education Network. I had a complication in my pregnancy which led me to go out on maternity leave six months earlier than planned. As a result I had to refer my clients to other therapists, and I struggled finding an allergy informed therapist for my clients. I had an idea to put some exercises for these kids in a binder so they would have some more tools, which ultimately led to writing this book.
Writing a Workbook for Children
Claire: I appreciate the way the book works directly with kids to help them process their emotions and anxieties. What led you to writing a children’s workbook as an interactive guide, instead of writing a traditional parenting book?
Jamie: Since I struggled to find someone specific to refer my food allergy kids to, I wrote this as if I was working with them. My goal in using this structure is so a parent, school social worker, or counselor can work along with the child giving them additional support while using my tools.
Claire: That’s a great idea! Since this is a children’s book, you use a lot of fun images, illustrations, and graphic design elements to add visual interest. Did you do the illustrations yourself or work with someone? What was it like conveying your vision for the book and collaborating with your illustrator to create the final product?
Jamie: If only I had that artistic talent! I worked with an illustrator with the help and guidance from my publisher. The process was very educational for me; It was both fun and challenging at times. I wanted a lot of visuals to make the book inviting and further help explain the concepts, so I had some specific images in mind. Communicating these ideas, especially through several people and having them understood was sometimes challenging. The good that came, however, was I opened to the process and learned to be flexible with other’s ideas which led to the nice mix of concepts that you see in the book.
Working with Publishers
Claire: Who is your publisher, and how did you select them? Can you describe for our readers what the experience of working with your publisher was like?
Jamie: I worked with Howard Van Es and his company. I’ve known Lisa Tener for some time, and trust her intuition and guidance. When she recommended Howard and once I spoke with him, I felt his company was the right choice to make my children’s workbook happen. He was very helpful and supportive. I have two kids under the age of four and sometimes our calls were a little chaotic, but he worked with me. He had a saying that is now my mantra, “Progress not perfection” as I would get stuck in my perfectionistic tendencies which slowed me down. He has a great eye for detail and I learned quite a lot working with him.
Strategies when Writing
Claire: Writing a workbook for young children about serious topics can be challenging. How did you adjust your tone, and/or diction when writing to make Food Allergy Friends engaging and understandable for kids?
Jamie: I tried to write as if I was sitting in my office talking with one of my clients. It also took a lot of editing! I had to explain an exercise on one page that might take up a forty-five minute session in person.
Claire: You’ve done a great job making them straightforward for kids to do on their own or with an adult. Many people view allergies as an inconvenience or a weakness; what are some strategies you use when writing to change this narrative?
Jamie: It’s unfortunate how often food allergies are misunderstood. It is a challenge as I think it can be with a lot of invisible medical conditions. People can have strong feelings around food; the lack of education or misunderstandings is a frustration in the food allergy community. My hope is to give kids the tools and confidence to self-advocate and show others how food allergies affect them socially, emotionally, and physically. I also hope that through tools like the “I AM” exercise, they will show other’s how food allergies have become a strength. I have worked with some really wonderful, strong, resilient, talented, and kind kids.
Choosing a Narrator
Claire: The narrator of Food Allergy Friends is Layla the Superdoodle who guides readers through various exercises and offers helpful advice. Can you tell us more about your process of choosing a narrator for your children’s workbook, and how you settled on having your pet Goldendoodle Layla narrate?
Jamie: My vision was to have someone guiding the readers through the exercises as if offering support while they were reading. Food allergies can feel lonely, so my intention was to have a character by their side… Who better to do it than my Goldendoodle, Layla! She was well known to my clients as she often came to work with me. She became a source of joy and comfort for the families. Actually, several families ended up adopting their own Goldendoodles after meeting Layla!
Focusing on Mental Health
Claire: As a licensed professional counselor and behavioral specialist you focus more on the mental health and anxiety side of dealing with allergies in Food Allergy Friends. In what ways has your professional background influenced the ways you approach writing about this topic?
Jamie: My professional background absolutely influenced my writing and is the lens I wrote through. Food allergy families are often given a diagnosis and their medication and left without much support, yet the emotional and mental aspect of having food allergies is significant. I see this in my practice regularly. There’s a strong need for more mental health support for food allergy families. I am currently teaching weekly workshops with Backstop – Food Allergies Simplified online health community and this is one of the main topics we cover. Food allergy patients and families want and deserve to be supported—to have the whole of them seen and understood.
The Writing Journey
Claire: It must be difficult to fit writing a workbook into your schedule along with your other jobs and commitments. Every author’s journey with their book is different, but if you had to estimate, how long of a process was creating Food Allergy Friends, from your initial idea to getting it published? What was the most challenging aspect of your writing journey?
Jamie: It’s almost three years ago I started thinking seriously about putting my exercises and tools onto paper. The most challenging part for me was time and patience. My kids’ excitement to see “Mommy’s workbook” finally complete in combination with families feedback was well worth it. I’m proud, as a full-time Mom, a professional, and amid a pandemic that I accomplished this.
About Jamie Perillo
Jamie Perillo is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and author of Food Allergy Friends: Take Control of Your Food Allergy Anxieties, Shrink Your Worries, and Feel More Confident. Jamie leads weekly group workshops for the Backstop Food Allergy community. She served on the board of the Food Allergy Education Network, acted as behavior specialist for a preschool for ten years, co-led empowerment and mindfulness workshops for tweens and teens, and is certified in yoga therapy.