Photo © Courtesy of Shania Bhopa
By Shania Bhopa
While completing my PhD in Global Health at McMaster University, I discovered my passion for child health and health research. During my research, I noticed a gap in the system for health-based books for children and youth, and an idea clicked: I could utilize my research to share the importance of the brain and gut connection through children’s books—and the idea for Gurk and Bianca was born.
Gurk and Bianca is a book I wished I had throughout my childhood—it would’ve taught me the importance of mindfulness and how everything in my orbit is interconnected. Inspired by my own health struggles throughout my childhood and the support I received from my naturopath mother, Sheriffa, and my physician sister, Anaar, the book is unique in the way it explores the gut and brain connection and mindfulness for children.
The analogy of Gurk and Bianca began as two body buddies who talk to each other through the vagus nerve. Bianca the Brain shares her struggles and stressors with Gurk the Gut, and when she needs extra help, he lends a hand. In the story, Gurk and Bianca are on a mission to support the human figure out of his stomach pain. After quickly realizing the pain could be due to several reasons, the mother figure shares the benefits of mindfulness to support our physical health.
Throughout the writing process, the book was reviewed by my mother and my sister, utilizing their expertise in the health sector to promote a holistic perspective on wellness and health for all readers.
The “brain-gut axis” is based on a complex system. Our gut microbiome is sensitive to the foods we consume to fuel our bodies, and factors such as our environment, genetics, age, and lifestyle contribute to our overall gut health. We need to fuel our bodies with nutrients, positive self-talk, hydration, and care.
While the research on the gut-brain connection is up-and-coming, I believe that to improve health, we must improve health literacy, and it starts with our children.
When my nephew was born, I realized there were very few children’s health books on the market. After learning the importance of health literacy and grounding my life purpose in supporting youth in my community, I knew I had to do something. After a year of working on this project with A. A. Smith Publishing house, I’m proud to support children around the world to learn about the key principles of the human body.
Within the book, there are detailed learning pages for the parents sharing information on the gut-brain connection and mindfulness. At the end of the book, parents can work with their children to complete the mindfulness journal prompts.
Growing up, I felt there was a lack of representation of South Asian character names. In this book, I wanted to implement the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Gurk was the perfect name to describe the bold and intuitive gut.
Through my work as co-founder of The Canadian Courage Project, a non-profit organization focusing on supporting youth facing homelessness, I have discovered a passion for health research and supporting youth in need. To further this mission, I brought my two passions together to offer the Buy One, Give One program. The program allows community members to purchase a copy of Gurk and Bianca for their loved ones and donate one to be included in a wellness departure kit offered to youth shelters and transition homes by The Canadian Courage Project team.
Going forward, I hope to continue my journey as an author publishing a series of health-based children’s books. Improving health starts with health literacy, and it begins with our children.