Books for Change

Freshman Riya Jain Wrote and Published Two Books


Riya Jain

Riya Jain reading one of her books to an audience. Photo courtesy of Riya Jain.

By Samantha Graines, Francis W. Parker Junior/High School

 A hard-cover picture book has a bright orange background and five smiling faces. On the front cover in big block letters are the words “The Class That Can: Food Allergies.” This title belongs to one of the two picture book’s Freshman Riya Jain has written.

The first book that Jain wrote is “The Class That Can: Food Allergies,” and the second is “The Class That Can: Coronavirus,” both of which have a designated audience of first to fifth graders. She published her first book, about food allergies, last year, and she published her second book, about COVID-19, in April. 

Both books are sold as hard copies as well as ebooks that anyone can download for free. “That way it is accessible to everyone,” Jain said. “We don’t make much money on it. It’s just a nice resource.”

Jain’s first book is all about teaching kids what food allergies are and what to do if one were to have a friend with a food allergy. Jain wanted to write a book about food allergies because she is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, so she knows what it is like to experience growing up with a food allergy. “I thought that it would be really helpful to teach kids at a young age about food allergies, so they know what to do,” Jain said, “Also, food allergy bullying is pretty normalized, like ‘oh you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that.’”

…she wanted to be an advocate and she started participating with me to support her friends and peers.”

— Dr. Ruchi Gupta

Jain’s mother also happens to be Pediatrician and Director of the Center for Food Allergies and Asthma Research at Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, Dr. Ruchi Gupta. Gupta does a lot of work with food allergies, so Jain gets exposure to problems surrounding food allergies from her. “I started conducting conferences for families with food allergies to help give them information that I felt lucky enough to have and that I wanted to share… Riya, of course, came with me a lot, and observed all this,” Gupta said. “Then, she wanted to be an advocate and she started participating with me to support her friends and peers.”

Gupta was working in the food allergy field before her daughter, Riya Jain was born. However, her work became more personal when Jain was diagnosed with food allergies at age one. “I started living with it and experiencing everything I had been researching. It was very interesting and I felt like I could help other families,” Gupta said. 

Amidst quarantine, everyone had a lot of extra time on their hands, and Jain was no exception. She wanted to use her spare time for something that would benefit her community, so she decided to write another book. Her second book, “The Class That Can: Coronavirus” is all about teaching kids what the coronavirus is and why they have to be at home. She attempts to answer the questions that first-through-fifth graders may have about the coronavirus. “Younger kids have no clue what is going on, so it is a fun way of showing them what it is,” Jain said. 

She chose to write children’s books because she wanted to write books for people younger than her to read as she would not want to read a book from someone younger than her, and she liked the idea of her messages getting across to kids at a younger age. “You get those lessons instilled in them when they are younger,” Jain said. 

Another reason that she wanted to write a book is that she has always had a desire to make change through literature. “I really wanted to help people in the way I could with the resources I am so fortunate to have,” Jain said.

To write and publish her two books, she received assistance from multiple people such as JJ Vulopas, a 2019 graduate from the University of Pennsylvania who studied finance, statistics, and computer science. Jain and Vulopas met at a food allergy conference and decided to work hand in hand to co-write both of the books.

Gupta was the one who introduced her daughter to Vulopas.  “One meeting, she met JJ, who was also a young man with food allergies who was very committed to being an advocate. They really connected and wanted to work together on a book about food allergies,” Gupta said. 

Vulopas, like Jain, also grew up with food allergies. “I’ve been allergic to milk and nuts my whole life,” Vulopas said. In addition, he has also had prior experience with writing books about food allergies. In 2017, Vulopas wrote the book “The Land of Not.” He wrote the book “to inspire children with food allergies, and their peers, to ‘live in the Land of Can’, that is, to define themselves by what they can do instead of what they can’t,” Vulopas said. 

The creation of Vulopas’s first book led to the creation of their organization called The Land of Can. The organization provides an environment to learn and raise awareness of food allergies. The organization also serves as a place for general youth empowerment. “One of the core tenets of the ‘Land of Can’ is resilience, something so crucial especially during challenging times such as these. It’s essential that students everywhere are aware of their strengths,” Vulopas said. 

Jain and Vulopas first collaborated in 2019 on their first book, and Vulopas was amazed by Jain. “I was immediately so impressed with her writing prowess and her passion for raising awareness. We’ve since collaborated on more materials, and she’s such a joy to work with,” Vulopas said. 

Vulopas helps Jain with the creative process of putting together picture books. “I write the first script with all the facts, and then he makes it creative and fun,” Jain said. 

Riya’s contributions extended even beyond the page. Throughout the whole creative process, she always puts the reader first; she’s constantly thinking of what younger readers will be looking for in order to connect with the material in an authentic way.”

— JJ Vulopas

Vulopas has enjoyed working with Jain during the creative process of writing their picture books. “At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we created “Class that Can: Coronavirus,” and during the creation of that resource, Riya’s contributions extended even beyond the page,” Vulopas said, “Throughout the whole creative process, she always puts the reader first; she’s constantly thinking of what younger readers will be looking for in order to connect with the material in an authentic way.” Vulopas is excited to continue to share the material that he and Jain produce.

Jain describes the writing and publishing process for her books as fast. She credits the speed of the process to the resources she has available to her. The illustrator for both of their books is Bill Dussinger from Lititz, PA. Dussinger helped to bring their characters to life. Jain was introduced to Dussinger through Vulopas, as he was the illustrator for “The Land of Not.” 

“The process that took a little while was just re-reading it over and over, and fact-checking it because we don’t want any false information,” Jain said. To make sure that all of their information was correct, they had multiple experts check it. The first expert that they had check “The Class That Can: Coronavirus” was Gupta. Gupta and Jain also had the chief medical officer at CPS, Dr. Kenneth Fox review the short book amongst others.

One of the caps that Gupta has worn throughout the book creating process is the expert one. “As an expert, I think that it has been very well-vetted. Sometimes things have information that isn’t perfectly accurate or doesn’t tell the whole story,” Gupta said, “One thing we really tried to do was tell the story, and answer the most frequently asked questions that they ask, and tell it in a complete way.”

Another lens that Gupta carried throughout the writing process was the perspective of a mother. “From a mom’s perspective… It is important to educate our children on what they have, and what is going on to empower them to be self-advocates for themselves and their friends. That was my goal: how do we make a book that will make kids feel good and very empowered,” Gupta said. 

The hardest part about writing the books for Jain was condensing the information in a way that will hold the attention span of younger kids. “I know when I was younger, I would get bored halfway through books, especially when they were on health topics,” Jain said. “So, just getting the information across in a creative way that will appeal to kids was the hardest part.”

Gupta believes that the hardest part about writing the book was learning all of the different steps in creating it. Another aspect that she found challenging was, “coming up with the story and revising it at least 50 times because you know it’s gonna be out in the public,” Gupta said. 

One of the most fun parts of the experience, as a whole for Jain, was being able to see the final result and reading it in classrooms. She also had the opportunity to go on news sources such as WGN, “New York Times,” and CBS. “I am super grateful for it because I know most people do not have the ability to do something like this, so I am glad I was able to do it,” Jain said. 

The part of the process of creating the book that Gupta most enjoyed was coming up with the story. She enjoyed being able to hear what questions kids have. 

Jain believes that anyone who has any intention of writing a book should try to do so. “You never know where it is going to take you, or what the process is if you do not try,” Jain said. 

Gupta shares this belief with Jain. “I want to encourage any kids to do it because even though being an author seems so complicated, if you have a good idea for a story, fictional or factual, it is doable, and it is not as hard as you think it might be,” Gupta said. She is also offering herself as an outlet for any young authors who want to write a book.

Jain and Vulopas have three new books coming out. “We are doing a staying healthy series. We are doing a book on nutrition that is coming out, a book on sleep and screen time, and a book on gems and sneezing,” Jain said. These books are scheduled to come  out in the next month.

This story was originally published on The Weekly on October 30, 2020.