Books

How books help children understand COVID-19

An illustration from My Hero is You

An illustration from My Hero is You   | Photo Credit: IASC/Helen Patuck

Writers and illustrators across the world have swung into action, creating books full of colour and life to reassure and help children understand the pandemic

Farmer Falgu is finding it challenging to make his daughter Eila understand that it is important to stay indoors now. And Princess Easy Pleasy is bored out of her mind. The characters from the world of Karadi Tales have been reimagined as e-books in accordance with the times to help children understand the pandemic and deal with everything that comes with it.

Says Chitra Soundar, who has written the e-book Farmer Falgu Stays At Home, “Everyone, including children, is less afraid of things if they understand it. Children need to understand why they can’t go to school or play with their friends or wash their hands often. But they can’t process the hard science and statistics.” Which is where books come in. “Books offer both support and escapism. They can help children learn in different ways, but also let them forget the worries and be lost in the world of the book itself,” she adds.

Word power

And so literature is coming to our rescue once again, as it has been doing in all our difficult times.

Child experts, writers, and publishers across the world are creating reading material on the pandemic for children. Available for free download on the Internet, some of them are gems. A lot of thought has gone into creating these books, for it is most important that we not only educate children on the situation, but are also there for them in these times that they might find rather confusing.

An illustration from Farmer Falgu Stays at Home

An illustration from Farmer Falgu Stays at Home   | Photo Credit: Karadipath

In Farmer Falgu Stays At Home, the protagonist tells his daughter: “We can fly a kite in front of our house.” And after a lot of talking, they agree that staying at home can be fun “even if it turned a bit noisy or messy”. “I wanted to remind readers that there is a time to be out and about and there is a time to stay at home and this was one of them,” says Chitra adding, “We can stay at home and spend time together with our families — studying, playing, cooking. I wanted to reassure parents too.”

Staying indoors for weeks is not exactly how school-going children would have envisioned their summer holidays. What would the ever-fussy Princess Easy Pleasy do under lockdown? In Karadi Tales’ Princess Easy Pleasy is Bored (available at karaditales.com/kathawithkaradi/) by writer Natasha Sharma, existing illustrations by Priya Kuriyan have been employed to tell a story that resonates with children who are struggling to stay locked up at home.

“I’m so bored,” says the Princess in her trademark style. Gradually, through the day, the Queen, the chef, the groomer, and the King come up with ways to engage her. The Princess writes lists for the King, makes her bed, helps roll dough…“I’m so bored is a common refrain in children, particularly now,” says Natasha, adding that she decided to address this through Princess Easy Pleasy. “The book presents children with ideas for activities they can do at home, that can be fun and will also keep them busy,” she adds.

Help at hand

Far far away, a little girl called Sara hopped on to Ario, a dragon, and they took off into the sky. Their mission: to spread word about COVID-19 to the world. In the e-book My Hero Is You, nuggets of information on the pandemic are enfolded in illustrations by Helen Patuck, author/illustrator, on psychosocial interventions with World Health Organisation. The book, targeted at children aged six to 11, has been developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. It was influenced by surveys from over 1,700 children, parents, caregivers and teachers from around the world. The book is even available in Tamil and can be downloaded on the WHO website.

An illustration from Go Away Coronavirus

An illustration from Go Away Coronavirus   | Photo Credit: Divya Thomas

“Children must have so many questions these days — why there is no school, why they must stay at home, and many, many more whys,” says Tina Narang, HarperCollins Publishers India. The publishing house, along with UK-based children’s publishing company Nosy Crow, has brought out the e-book Coronavirus: A Book For Children, that has inputs by Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine as well as advice from two head teachers and a child psychologist. The book has illustrations by acclaimed illustrator Axel Scheffler and Tina says it will “help children comprehend the nature of the pandemic in a simple and engaging manner.”

Adults too are having it tough. Mumbai-based children’s author and illustrator Divya Thomas, who has written Go Away Coronavirus (available at anillustratedworld.com) says that she wrote it when she felt particularly low. “Writing makes me feel better,” she says. The eight-page book, with rhyming lines and illustrations, is Divya’s attempt to “distil” all the information available on the pandemic and present it in a “simple, story-telling format”. In it, she talks about how we can now hear birds singing and trees whispering. “Listen…” she writes.

Her closing line on a page reads, ‘And remember, we are all going to be fine.’

That special friend
  • My Hero is You has had requests for translation into 100 languages. A Hindi version will soon be available. Its author/illustrator Helen Patuk says that she created Ario the dragon for “children to feel like they have a very special friend to guide them through the sometimes overwhelming messages about COVID-19 and the fears it creates.” She says she had to work fast due to the nature of the pandemic and that this was an “emergency children’s book.” The world she has created is full of colour. “I hope it will inspire them to try painting, or colouring, maybe even writing. They could make their own story, talking about how they are being heroes for their families — My Hero Is You 2: My Adventures with Ario?”

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 1:31:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/how-books-help-children-understand-covid-19/article31405874.ece

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