Rachel has Eczema by Jenny Leigh (Dr Spot’s Casebooks series)
This one is rather dear to my heart oddly enough.
When the Rhino family move in next door Franklin Frog is bit puzzled by the youngest Rhino, Rachel. Her skin is very sore looking and she itches all the time. She’s not allowed to do a lot of things with him and her brother because her skin is so poorly. Luckily, Mrs Frog tells Mrs Rhino all about Doctor Spot, who diagnoses Rachel with a bad case of eczema.
If you ever spot me I’d say there are two things that would stick out about my appearance right away. One is that my hair is usually a variety of silly colours (it’s currently pink and purple). The second is that there is something very wrong with my hands and face. I have eczema (‘severe atopic eczema‘ to be precise), pretty much always have done and I’m now old enough that for the most part it doesn’t bother me, no matter how bad it gets. I’m so used to it I just plain don’t always notice it unless it gets seriously bad (as in, I-can’t-quite-uncurl-my-fingers-I-look-like-a-red-spotty-dalmation bad). It’s got to the point that other people are far more alarmed by it than I am. In fact (and this may sound odd), I’ve found that when working with children eczema can in fact be a positive boon. Yes my skin is far more in danger from dirt and mess but on the otehr hand, I’m now the cool and interesting teacher/librarian because I’ve got the funny hands. Because I’m different I’m therefore far more interesting for children to pay attention to. See what I mean? Boon!
The point is, I resemble the Soup Dragon but it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me though is how much it bothers other people. I regularly get offered semi-helpful but more often than not intrusive advice from complete strangers who, having seen my skin, can’t quite stop themselves from either commiserating (‘Oh, that’s eczema isn’t it? Isn’t it awful? My cousin’s sister’s dog’s boyfriend has that, it’s just dreadful‘) or from recommending various things that should ‘cure’ me. I have to remind myself that these people mean well, but I also can’t help thinking that if eczema like mine wasn’t quite so unusual for most people I wouldn’t so often have to deflect these well-meaning but actually quite rude comments.
Enter the Doctor Spot Casebooks. Designed to explain various medical conditions to young children of lower primary school age, these books not only take away the mystery of various conditions (Dysleixa, ADD and Asthma for some) but also answer all the questions young children have about them. Oddly enough, I’ve found that while children will quite often asked the bluntest questions about my funny hands and face (‘what’s wrong with the lady’s hands? Does she have chicken pox?’), once I explain to them why I look so odd they generally accept it with an ‘ok’ and carry on with whatever it is they were doing. Information received, recommencing activities, as it were! The Doctor Spot Casebook series are brilliant for tapping into this matter-of-fact attitude, answering all the questions a kid has about a medical condition so that they can do just that – understand it and get on with the more important things in their life. I’ve never minded kids asking me questions about myself for just this reason – I’d rather they’d satisfy their curiosity and accept it as one of those things than act like their parents and need to pass commentary – and I’ve got to applaud books that let them do this. It also saves parents having to make sputtered apologies for their offpsring’s innocent-but-blunt query!
A feature I particularly like of the Casebooks is that each one is associated with a charity or society related to the medical condition they’re about – in this case the National Eczema Society. This extends to information at the back of the book answering commonly asked questions and giving some truly excellent advice. My favourite is the immortal line ‘Try not to tell your child to stop scratching’ – on behalf of I’m sure a great number of eczematous people, I’d like to say THANK YOU! to the Casebooks for that alone! The whole point is that if you have eczema you can’t really help scratching anymore than you can itching in the first place – to be told to stop scratching is remarkably irritating and when you’re little I can tell you it feels rather unfair too! I’ve got to give a big thumbs up to any book that gives out such intuitive advice, especially if it holds true for the other books in the series.
A great deal of care and understanding has clearly gone into these books, and not just in the advice section at the back. From Mrs Rhino’s overprotetctiveness and hesitancy to let Rachel join in anything that might upset her skin (which means she misses out on everything), to Rachel’s worries about being teased at school, to Mrs Hippo’s reluctance to let her daughter play with Rachel ‘in case she catches something’, they’re all something I faced growing up as the Kid With Eczema. The intuition is what sets thisbook and hopefully the rest of the series from other ‘How to Explain’ style books. The story also shows how eczema is treated too, with Rachel being given the oh-so-lovely wet wraps by Doctor Spot and his explaining just what lotions and potions to use when and why. That’s the part I especially love though – why. He explains what eczema is – the skin not having enough grease so that it loses water and dries out – and he does so in a way that’s easy for younger children to immediately grasp. I wish I’d come up with it – would have made it a lot easier to explain sometimes!
All in all I’ve only got good to say of this book and it gives a very good impression for the other books in the series. When I first saw this book come in I had to have a look – it’s so rare to find a book for kids about eczema, even though it’s not exactly an uncommon condition in children – and I’m so glad I did. If the rest of the Doctor Spots series is as good as this I’ll happily be recommending them for years to come. In fact, the only thing I would say is that they could really do with expanding this series – perhaps one looking at Aspergers or Autism?