Michelle Vasiliu has been a teacher and youth-worker, among many roles working with children. She is now an award-winning children’s and YA author who writes sensitive, serious and sometimes sad stuff. She likes to help her young readers understand and make sense of their world.
How children’s books can help little people cope with COVID-19
Children across the world have had their lives turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are closed. They’re not allowed to go to playgrounds, have parties or participate in activities like team sports. Even seeing friends and loved ones is extremely limited. And then there is the added uncertainty and anxiety about the pandemic itself.
To help children cope during this challenging period, parents and caregivers are encouraged to have ‘age-appropriate conversations’ with them about the pandemic.
But what do the words ‘age-appropriate conversations’ even mean? Parents aren’t necessarily trained professionals that have the knowledge, skills and expertise to find the right words when talking to children about difficult topics. Many parents actually shy away from talking to children about the tough stuff for all sorts of reasons, including misguided beliefs that their child won’t understand what’s happening or that talking about the tough stuff will frighten them.
In contrast, experts in the field encourage parents to tell children the truth, even in challenging circumstances. Conversations with your child about difficult topics are important. They can help your child cope, be prepared and make sense of what they have been seeing, hearing and feeling. When your child does not understand a situation, they may worry, feel alone or misunderstand what is happening.
Many parents, myself included, learn through experience, often based on ‘trial and error’. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t, which is another reason some of us might have reservations about talking to our children about the coronavirus pandemic.
As a children’s author I’m passionate about advocating the incredible value children’s books can have in a child’s life. And when parents are struggling to find the right words and/or grappling with the definition of having an ‘age appropriate’ conversation about the difficult topic in question, good quality children’s books may offer a much needed ‘helping hand’.
With this in mind, I made a conscious decision to conduct a worldwide search to find out what books, if any, were available to help children learn about the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, I wanted books that also provided a means to both identify and process difficult emotions children may be feeling.
The end result is this list below.
All the links are included and the relevant authors, illustrators, publishing houses and the like have given permission for these books to be read on-line or down-loaded.
The books are available as downloads at no cost, or from free e-reading platforms like Worldreader, a non-profit organisation that provides e-books to disadvantaged readers in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central and South America.
Please feel free to pass on the list below to anyone you think may find it useful.
With the help of a fantasy creature Ario, My Hero is You: How kids can fight COVID-19! explains how children can protect themselves, their families and friends from the coronavirus as well as how to manage difficult emotions when confronted with a new and rapidly changing reality.
The book, which is geared towards 6 to 11 year-olds, was a project developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in collaboration with multiple humanitarian organizations, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and Save the Children.
In order to reach as many children as possible, the book is currently available in over 16 language versions with many more in the pipeline.
Available as an online product, it will soon be available as an audio book.
Axel Scheffler (Illustrator of the The Gruffalo) has illustrated a digital information book for primary school age children, free for anyone to read on screen or print out, about the coronavirus and the measures taken to control it.
Published by Nosy Crow, and written by staff within the company, Coronavirus A book for children had expert input: Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine acted as a consultant, and the company also had advice from two head teachers and a child psychologist.
The book answers key questions in simple language appropriate for 5 to 9 year olds:
• What is the coronavirus?
• How do you catch the coronavirus?
• What happens if you catch the coronavirus?
• Why are people worried about catching the coronavirus?
• Is there a cure for the coronavirus?
• Why are some places we normally go to closed?
• What can I do to help?
• What’s going to happen next?
Kate Wilson, Managing Director of Nosy Crow said:
“We want to make sure that this book is accessible to every child and family and so the book is offered totally free of charge to anyone who wants to read it.
We were very aware that many parents and carers are struggling to explain the current extraordinary situation to children, many of whom are frightened and confused. We thought that the best thing we could do would be to use our skills to produce a free book to explain and, where possible, reassure children. We asked Axel, whose work is so familiar and so loved, to illustrate it. He was happy to do it and did it extraordinarily quickly.
Meanwhile, having heard Professor Medley interviewed by the BBC, we looked him up and wrote to him, and despite his huge workload, he reviewed the book over a weekend, and we were able to incorporate his suggestions, together with those of two head teachers and a child psychologist, into the final version of the book. We hope it helps answer difficult questions in difficult times.”
Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo, said:
“I asked myself what I could do as an children’s illustrator to inform, as well as entertain, my readers here and abroad. So I was glad when my publisher, Nosy Crow, asked me to illustrate this question-and-answer book about the coronavirus. I think it is extremely important for children and families to have access to good and reliable information in this unprecedented crisis, and I hope that the popularity of the books I’ve done with Julia Donaldson will ensure that this digital book will reach many children who are now slightly older, but might still remember our picture books.”
Professor Graham Medley, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:
“This pandemic is changing children’s lives across the globe and will have a lasting impact on us all. Helping children understand what is going on is an important step in helping them cope and making them part of the story – this is something that we are all going through, not something being done to them. This book puts children IN the picture rather just watching it happen, and in a way that makes the scary parts easier to cope with.”
CLICK HERE TO OPEN CORONAVIRUS A BOOK FOR CHILDREN
An official new children’s COVID-19 book has been launched to help explain to baffled South Australian youngsters about the changes they are having to endure.
SA Health has produced the 13-page picture book for families titled, Hi. This is coronavirus.
Illustrated with cartoons, special child-friendly hygiene messages include reminding youngsters to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to ensure they wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
Experts say it is important parents are honest with their confused children about the various changes and restrictions imposed on their life.
The book, the idea of which came from a group of department-based mothers, can be downloaded for free while more than 100 copies will be sent to various hospital wards.
If successful, it could be more widely distributed.
CLICK HERE TO OPEN HI. THIS IS CORONAVIRUS
What is the Coronovirus? re-frames the international crisis from the perspective of a child, breaking down what they need to know and what they can do to feel safe.
My New Home School addresses the abrupt transition to home-based education. It helps children understand and adapt to changes in their routine while providing parents with strategies to balance parenting, work and home-schooling.
About the authors
Mary Gianatasio is a developmental psychologist and founder of Therapeutic Play LA. In her 15 years of experience in the field, she has utilized storytelling as a powerful emotional processing tool. She is hoping to reach as many children as possible to help them better understand and cope with this challenging time in our world.
Chloe Drulis is a developmental specialist with five years of experience in play therapy with Therapeutic Play LA. She is currently completing her Masters in Clinical Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy. Her writing is inspired by her passion to help kids make sense of complex concepts and navigate challenging experiences.
Both books are available in English, Spanish and German. There is also an English version video format. The books and videos can be found on the author’s website, Big Ideas for Little Minds.
Molly Watts, an intensive care nurse at Southampton Children’s Hospital in the UK has written a book to help children feeling worried about the coronavirus outbreak.
She wrote the online picture book: Dave the Dog Is Worried About Coronavirus after a nightshift.
Ms Watts said she wanted to give children “information without fear”.
The book tells the story of an owl called Nurse Dotty who explains coronavirus to Dave the Dog, which includes giving young readers tips on how to avoid the virus and prevent its spread.
“Big changes to children’s routines and lots of stories on the news can make it a really scary time,” she said. “I’ve had lots of people tell me that their children were really anxious and didn’t understand what exactly was going on but that reading the story had helped them feel better,” she said.
The author has given permission for others to read, print out and share her book.
CLICK HERE TO OPEN DAVE THE DOG IS WORRIED ABOUT CORONAVIRUS: A NURSE DOTTY BOOK
Dear families and educators all over the world,
I have created this short book Hello! My name is Coronavirus to support and reassure our children, under the age of 7, regarding the COVID-19.
This book is an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation.
It is important to point out that this resource does not seek to be a source of scientific information, but rather a tool based on fantasy. My recommendation is to print this material so children can draw on it.
Remember that emotions are processed through repetitive play and stories read multiple times.
Share this book and help ease kiddo’s anxiety all over the world.
Manuela Molina – the author, from Mind Heart Kids
CLICK HERE TO OPEN HELLO! MY NAME IS CORONAVIRUS
A new children’s book follows the story of the late Dr Li Wenliang, who sounded the alarm on the virus in China before dying from it himself.
The book, titled Dr. Li and the crown-wearing virus is written by Francesca Cavallo, a New York Times best-selling author known for co-creating the Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls series.
Cavallo said she wrote the book in the hope that it could help educate children on the novel coronavirus. It’s causing a lot of uncertainty and concern. I feel this myself and I don’t even have children” Cavallo told CNN. “I hope (the book) can provide families with an opportunity to have open communication about what is happening.”
The illustrated book, which Cavallo has made downloadable for free, follows Li, described in the story as “a very good doctor in China.” The author said she was inspired by Li, who is widely regarded as a hero for blowing the whistle on the virus before it evolved into a global pandemic.
In late December of 2019, Li – who worked at Wuhan Central Hospital – was among a number of supposed “rumormongers” detained for spreading news about the virus. His warnings of a “SARS-like” illness spreading in Wuhan came as officials in the city were downplaying the severity of the outbreak and its risk to the public.
CLICK HERE TO OPEN DR LI AND THE CROWN-WEARING VIRUS
Australian author Chelsea Lee Smith and Illustrator Kertu Kelem have produced an Activity book called the Coronavirus COVID10 Activity Book for Children
Some information about the book
The first part of the book shares some “do” and “don’t” type information regarding hygiene and distancing; the second part addresses feelings and getting sick; and the third part talks about what we can do to contribute to make the situation a bit easier.
Here are just a few sample pages:
The author notes, ‘There are two versions of the book – one is A4 size and one is Letter size. There is also an alternative page 9 for those who would like to address death more directly with their children. Some families felt it was important to discuss the reality of people dying in the community, while others preferred to keep this part out of it due to their child’s age or sensitivity levels around the topic. So it was decided to have two options available for parents and teachers to choose which was more suitable for their individual needs.’
You can see the two versions below to make your decision:
If you prefer the page on the left, just download the main file. If you prefer the page on the right, download the main file and replace page 9 with the optional file.
The author states, ‘It is impossible for one resource to suit every family or community’s situation, but hopefully this resource will address some of the main concerns children and families are having at the moment. Of course, feel free to remove any pages that you feel are inappropriate or irrelevant for your child.’
As well as the English version, the book is also available in another 14 languages.
There is also an English version of the book in video format.
The book is available from the author’s website, Moments a day: personal growth for families. CLICK HERE TO OPEN CORONAVIRUS COVID19 ACTIVITY BOOK FOR CHILDREN
A new coloring book has been designed to help children understand and cope with the coronavirus outbreak. The book, Learn about the Coronavirus Coloring Book, made by staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, was originally made for children at the hospital, many who are undergoing pediatric cancer treatment, but is now freely available online for download at the St. Jude “Together” website.
CLICK HERE TO OPEN LEARN ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS COLORING BOOK
“There’s a lot of uncertainly, high anxiety, and rapid changes right now, so we wanted to create resources to help children understand what was going on and to help them adjust,” said Kristin Canavera, PhD, assistant faculty member in the St. Jude Psychology Department who was involved in producing the book.
Canavera and colleagues initially started producing resources for parents to talk to their children about COVID-19 and then decided to make them directly for children, too.
“We know that COVID-19 has been anxiety-provoking for everyone, and it’s potentially scary and hard for children to understand, so we wanted to create a resource to help them,” said Canavera.
The new coloring book features information for children about coronavirus and how to help stop the spread.
ST. JUDE CHILDREN’S RESEARCH HOSPITAL
“While writing the book, we were thinking about our patients, but we also wrote it so anyone could use it. While we were inspired to write it for our St. Jude patients, we also wrote it in a way so that children outside hospitals can also benefit from it. Children often learn best through play, so interactive activities and coloring books are great ways to help them understand the changes we’re facing today,” said Canavera.
Although much of the focus of the impact of the pandemic has currently been on adults, many children worldwide are currently out of school and experiencing considerable disruption to their normal routines. Experts are urging people to be mindful of the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health too and the World Health Organization has published a guide to help children cope with stress during the outbreak
“We’re hoping it will help them better understand COVID-19 and help them talk about their fears with an adult they trust. We’re also hoping that it will help clarify any misconceptions they or their parents may have about COVID-19. Having a better understanding of the things we are afraid of can often help alleviate anxiety,” said Canavera.
The book contains 10 pages featuring children, a parent and medical staff, as well as a cartoon version of the coronavirus, and is currently available in English, Spanish and Arabic.
“This book is helpful for all children, not just those in hospital,” said Morgan Livingstone, a certified child life specialist in Toronto, Canada who was not involved in the coloring book project. “Despite all the usual distractions within the family home, children are listening to their adults talk about this virus, hearing the news reports, and often viewing virus-related videos online, some serious and some silly,” she added.
“This coloring book and accompanying activity book give kids “the real facts” about COVID-19, which helps correct any misunderstandings they may have, or misinformation they may have overheard,” said Livingstone. The team also produced an activity book for older children, targeted at those in elementary school, which contains puzzles and more detailed facts about the symptoms of COVID-19 and how it spreads.
Another book for adolescents and young adults is on the way, which includes more detailed information on COVID-19 and pandemics. The book for young adults has a “myth-busting section” and tips for problems specific to the age group, such as how to deal with not being able to hang out with friends or missing formative events like graduation and prom.
“Our entire global community is having to deal with uncertainty right now and adjust to sudden, rapid changes and new stressors. These books offer ways for parents to have open and honest discussions about these stressors and worries, and they are giving children opportunities to express themselves with adults they trust in a safe setting,” said Canavera.
The coloring book may be particularly useful for parents who want to help their children understand coronavirus and COVID-19.
“These books and activities can encourage discussion and conversation about COVID-19 within a family, and help normalize a very abnormal situation, which can help kids cope better,” said Livingstone.
CLICK HERE TO OPEN LEARN ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS ACTIVITY BOOK
A few points and tips to consider when talking to children about the coronavirus pandemic:
- Most children worry less about something if they understand it. Providing children with opportunities to talk with their parent or other trusted adults about the pandemic may help reduce their worries. If they don’t understand or have things explained to them, they may make up for gaps in knowledge that could be wrong.
- Children need accurate, age appropriate information. If children are asking questions about the pandemic this usually means they want answers.
- Chose a space and a time which is comfortable for you and your child, ideally somewhere you won’t be disturbed.
- Check with children about what they already know about the coronavirus. Sometimes parents think their children don’t worry because they don’t ask questions. It is important to not assume that being quiet means they understand.
- Listen carefully. Don’t try to interpret what children are asking or have experienced. Instead ask questions to check you have understood what they have told you.
- Ask open-ended questions. Greater discussion will occur when your questions require more than a simple yes or no response. Encourage children to put things in their own words.
- Let your child know that it is okay to ask questions now or later and be prepared to answer questions down the track.
- Reassure children who may feel uncomfortable talking about the pandemic. They may be reluctant to express sadness or anger for fear of causing worry or concern. Children are very loyal. It is important to let children know that it is okay to feel uncomfortable or worried.
- For young children have paper, coloured pencils and play dough at the ready. These mediums often help children to express their feelings when words don’t come easily.
Finding reliable sources of information about the pandemic
Select two to three trusted and reliable sources and familiarise yourself with information that can give you the up-to-date facts. Sticking to these sources means you don’t have to curate the misinformation, myths and rumours that are widespread and can cause you and your children additional worry.
Reliable information sources to consider include:
Resources to help you answer questions from your children:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children in Australia. Raising Children Network: www.raisingchildren.net.au/guides/a-z-health-reference/coronavirus-and-children-in-australia
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) – frequently asked questions. Department of Health: www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-frequently-asked-questions
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What parents should know. UNICEF: www.unicef.org/stories/novelcoronavirus-outbreak-what-parents-should-know
- Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
For further support
It’s natural to feel worried about COVID-19, if you or anyone in your family would like more support you can contact:
How are your children coping?
Your children might not be worried about what is happening – and that is okay. It is also natural for children to feel worried about what is happening around them or what could happen.
For further information go to www.emergingminds.com.au
Learn more about Michelle and her books by visiting her website at: www.michellevasiliu.com
Michelle has published thirteen books for children including:
- her award winning picture book My happy sad mummy published by JoJo Publishing, 2015
- her recently released picture book Together Things published by EK Books – Books with Heart on Issues that Matter, February 2020
Both picture books deal with mental illness.
Michelle also works as a mental health Peer Support Worker for Families Where a Parent has a Mental Illness (FaPMI), Eastern Health.https://www.easternhealth.org.au/services/item/204-families-where-a-parent-has-a-mental-illness-fapmi