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Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley - Reading Group Guide

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley - Reading Group Guide

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The reading group guide for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.

A beautifully written and darkly funny journey through the world of the allergic.

Like twelve million other Americans, Sandra Beasley suffers from food allergies. Her allergies—severe and lifelong—include dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Add to that mold, dust, grass and tree pollen, cigarette smoke, dogs, rabbits, horses, and wool, and it’s no wonder Sandra felt she had to live her life as “Allergy Girl.” When butter is deadly and eggs can make your throat swell shut, cupcakes and other treats of childhood are out of the question—and so Sandra’s mother used to warn guests against a toxic, frosting-tinged kiss with “Don’t kill the birthday girl!”

It may seem that such a person is “not really designed to survive,” as one blunt nutritionist declared while visiting Sandra’s fourth-grade class. But Sandra has not only survived, she’s thrived—now an essayist, editor, and award-winning poet, she has learned to navigate a world in which danger can lurk in an unassuming corn chip. Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is her story.

With candor, wit, and a journalist’s curiosity, Sandra draws on her own experiences while covering the scientific, cultural, and sociological terrain of allergies. She explains exactly what an allergy is, describes surviving a family reunion in heart-of-Texas beef country with her vegetarian sister, delves into how being allergic has affected her romantic relationships, exposes the dark side of Benadryl, explains how parents can work with schools to protect their allergic children, and details how people with allergies should advocate for themselves in a restaurant.

A compelling mix of memoir, cultural history, and science, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is mandatory reading for the millions of families navigating the world of allergies—and a not-to-be-missed literary treat for the rest of us.
The reading group guide for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.

A beautifully written and darkly funny journey through the world of the allergic.

Like twelve million other Americans, Sandra Beasley suffers from food allergies. Her allergies—severe and lifelong—include dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Add to that mold, dust, grass and tree pollen, cigarette smoke, dogs, rabbits, horses, and wool, and it’s no wonder Sandra felt she had to live her life as “Allergy Girl.” When butter is deadly and eggs can make your throat swell shut, cupcakes and other treats of childhood are out of the question—and so Sandra’s mother used to warn guests against a toxic, frosting-tinged kiss with “Don’t kill the birthday girl!”

It may seem that such a person is “not really designed to survive,” as one blunt nutritionist declared while visiting Sandra’s fourth-grade class. But Sandra has not only survived, she’s thrived—now an essayist, editor, and award-winning poet, she has learned to navigate a world in which danger can lurk in an unassuming corn chip. Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is her story.

With candor, wit, and a journalist’s curiosity, Sandra draws on her own experiences while covering the scientific, cultural, and sociological terrain of allergies. She explains exactly what an allergy is, describes surviving a family reunion in heart-of-Texas beef country with her vegetarian sister, delves into how being allergic has affected her romantic relationships, exposes the dark side of Benadryl, explains how parents can work with schools to protect their allergic children, and details how people with allergies should advocate for themselves in a restaurant.

A compelling mix of memoir, cultural history, and science, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is mandatory reading for the millions of families navigating the world of allergies—and a not-to-be-missed literary treat for the rest of us.

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Publish date: Jul 12, 2011
Added to Scribd: Jun 06, 2011
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11/04/2014

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ABOUT THIS GUIDE
 At every gathering, someone will have rsthand knowl-edge of food allergies—whether one’s own or those of aloved one. In
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl 
, author SandraBeasley writes about her experience of growing up havingmore than a dozen major food allergies to staples suchas dairy, egg, and beef. She examines the many ways in which food shapes not only our bodies, but also our senseof self and our relationships. Looking beyond her ownlife, she blends in material about allergies from the eldsof medicine, science, sociology, and popular culture. Thisguide will help you jump-start the discussion o
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl 
, leading into a broader dialogue abouthow allergies are handled in today’s world and how they might affect you, your family, or your friends on a daily basis.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. The “big eight” allergens responsible for more than90 percent of food allergies in Americans are dairy,egg, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, sh, and shellsh. Which of these would be the most difcult for youto live without, and why?2. What are some of the ways in which the book showshow food allergies can be understood—or misun-derstood—by young children? What are your ownexperiences translating medical issues into simplied,i.e., kid-appropriate, terms?3. In the rst chapter, Beasley internalizes the lessons of a
Reader’s Digest 
column, “I am Joe’s...” What werethe regular magazine features you read in childhoodthat might have been written for an audience beyondyour years and have stayed with you?4. This book asserts that food serves not only as a sourceof nourishment, but also as a means to ritualizedbonding. What are some of the culinary traditionsthat united your family, classroom, or community  when you were growing up?5. What are the benets and disadvantages to bans onthe presence of certain food allergens, for example,the “No Nut Zone”? What would your reaction be if you encountered such a zone in your daily life?6. Is it realistic for a mainstream media culture that rel-ishes gourmet cuisine to regularly acknowledge those with food allergies or other dietary restrictions? Whatare some of the ways that awareness is—or shouldbe—signied in the media?7. Should a chef be able to turn a patron away from hisor her restaurant rather than guarantee accommoda-tion for food allergies or other medical conditions? What if the issue is a voluntary dietary restriction,such as vegetarianism? What if the restaurant offersonly a prix-xe menu, versus a la carte options?8. For a brief stint, Beasley freelanced as a restaurant re-viewer despite her food allergies. Have you ever helda job you seemed patently unqualied to do? Was itan act of bravery or stubbornness?
 
READING GROUP GUIDESANDRABEASLEY.COM 
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl
Tales from an Allergic LifeSandra Beasley 
 
9. The book explains how soy became a focal pointof American industry and agriculture. Does thischange your attitude toward soy products? How so?10. Food allergies can complicate the intimate situa-tions associated with dating and romance. How does the book show that medical concerns canhighlight issues of trust? How might these issuesevolve as a relationship matures?11. The narrative repeatedly invokes the idea of whatis “hidden”—from unknown food ingredients tomasked allergic reactions. How does this xa-tion on secrecy change your understanding of themindset of someone with severe food allergies?12. The author was born in 1980, in a suburbanneighborhood of northern Virginia. How mighther experience have been different if she’d beenborn into a different generation, or in anotherpart of the country?13. Based on examples given in the book, what aresome differences in how food allergies are under-stood and studied outside the United States?14. Beasley talks about choosing travel destinationsbased on one’s comfort level in terms of indig-enous cuisine or shared language. What is yourpersonal comfort zone for travel, and why? How  would this change if you developed a severe foodallergy or other physical disability?15. Attending the AAAAI conference claried the au-thor’s understanding of desensitization treatmentsregularly reported by the media as breakthroughsor “cures” for allergy. If you suffered from foodallergies, would you opt to participate in an ex-perimental trial? Would you encourage your childto participate in a study?16. Some phenomena reported to and subsequently dismissed by doctors—a hay-fever sufferer’s itchy mouth in response to fruit or an egg-allergicchild’s tolerance of a mufn containing bakedegg—later proved credible according to morerecent science. Have you had similar experiences?How does this change our stance when seekingadvice?17. Before writing a memoir, the author publishedtwo collections of poetry. What do you see assome of the more poetic or lyrical moments in thebook?18. Beasley emphasizes the anxieties and sacricesvisited upon any parent of an allergic child. If your family dealt with such issues, how would youbalance asking your child to be careful while alsoencouraging him or her to embrace life’sadventures?
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl
READING GROUP GUIDE
Reading group guide for
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl
by Sandra Beasley. Copyright © 2011 by the Crown Publishing Group. Distributed by permission of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this reading group guide may be reproduced or reprintedwithout permission in writing from the publisher.

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