For The Ridgewood News Toilet Paper Flowers” is the story of Julia, a young girl who suffers from Crohn’s Disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease that necessitates frequent trips to the bathroom. Because of this, those afflicted, especially children, can feel a great deal of social pressure and embarrassment. The book was written to help children cope with the frustration and isolation that often accompany the disease. When her new friend Nikki comes for a sleepover, Julia finds herself explaining her disease and how it led her to creating flowers out of toilet paper. While some may find the title of the book strange or even silly, Crohn’s Disease is a serious illness, which according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America affects approximately 100,000 children under the age of 18. Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The diseases are chronic and painful and affect the gastrointestinal tract.
The story offers a sensitive view of daily life for children who “look fine on the outside, but feel lousy on the inside,” according to author Frank J. Sileo, Ph.D., a New Jersey licensed psychologist and the executive director of The Center for Psychological Enhancement, LLC located in Ridgewood. In his practice, Sileo helps children, adolescents, adults and their families cope with chronic illness as well as psychological issues. “Illness is like a pebble in a still pond,” he explains, “causing ripples that affect lots of other people.” Among the tools he employs is bibliotherapy, where he reads stories aloud and then discusses the character’s issues and resolutions in dealing with chronic illness. The lack of published material for children on Crohn’s Disease was part of his motivation for writing the book.
“There haven’t been any books to use that were specifically targeted to kids with Crohn’s,” he explains. “I’m hoping that ‘Toilet Paper Flowers’ will help raise awareness of the disease and bring validation and hope to children, their parents and siblings. The message of the story is hope despite adversity; if we maintain hope and never waiver in that, we can get through whatever it is we need to deal with.”
Another factor that contributed to Sileo’s decision to pursue the book was Sileo’s own experience with the illness. “I have personally struggled with Crohn’s Disease since my early 20s,” a fact that many of his patients find comforting, knowing that he can relate first hand to their situation.
‘Illness is like a pebble in a still pond, causing ripples that affect lots of other people.’
The story explains Crohn’s Disease in language appropriate for older elementary children and adolescents, describing the disease’s affect on the child’s diet, weight loss and frequent bathroom use. Parents will find the book helpful in providing clarification of the disease to siblings and other family members as well. The book concludes with easy to follow directions on how to make Julia’s toilet paper flowers.
According to Sileo, the idea for the book preceded creation of the flower. “I was thinking of some way to use toilet paper in the book…it was a natural since people with Crohn’s spend so much time in the bathroom! I considered origami and other things when the flower idea came to me.”
Sileo received his doctorate in psychology from Fordham University in New York City. In addition to providing therapy, he is an active public speaker and his research has been published in professional psychological journals, newspapers and magazines. His work has been presented at professional conferences in the United States and Canada and he has been featured on several radio programs. “Toilet Paper Flowers” is his first book, though he has two more ideas he is considering for the future.
The book is being published by Health Press for Kids of Albuquerque, N.M., which Sileo found after researching publishing companies with a focus on medical books for children. “The publisher’s own sister happens to have Crohn’s Disease,” adds Sileo. The Health Press presents an awardwinning line of books for children and adults on a wide variety of medical conditions in the hopes of promoting tolerance and understanding for those afflicted. Other titles in their series include “My Sister Rose has Diabetes,” “The Peanut Butter Jam” about food allergies, and “Blueberry Eyes” for children with vision issues.