I live in South Africa, and our country went into COVID-19 lockdown the day after my birthday. The creative industry was already taking a knock in the tough economic climate, and by that time, my work had already slowed to a crawl. We had fortunately made the decision to close our office and work from home a few months prior, so I was well set-up to continue any creativity or work from home.
Turning on the news was a constant barrage of “Coronavirus Latest”. I felt the desire to do something meaningful but soon realised adding to this noise would not be helpful. I worked on some content for COVID-19 community action networks that had sprung up as social solidarity movements in our communities, and then my mind turned to children. I had created a free children’s book with an NPO called Book Dash a few years ago, and wanted to do more ever since. My interest in wanting to help children learn and engage on important topics; evolution, health and philosophy, for example, provided motivation to consider how children were coping when us grown-ups could barely understand what was going on? In South Africa, children had gone from school and playing outdoors with friends, to being stuck at home in a matter of days, what were they making of all of this?
Thus, The Inside Book was born! With the help of my partner, a public health professional, I drew up a script to work from. I tried to explain the situation in relatable terms and simple language. It was important to carefully consider what children would need to understand and what would be important to them right now. Children need honest communication, especially at confusing times like those surrounding a pandemic. The science of it all also needs to be distilled down to simple sentences that they can process. I felt it important that the book touch on how they might feel too. Some grown-ups may have been struggling to explain COVID-19, and so this could be a resource to support them opening these conversations with their children. I stand by a quote my father got from his father, who never dismissed him with “I don’t know” but always responded “I don’t know – but let’s find out!“
I scoured the internet for a visual reference that fitted the feel I was going for, created the two main characters, and was well on my way creating artboards in Illustrator. Time was of the essence, it still amazes me that I managed to complete the whole book in a little over a week. But now what? I had never distributed a book before and was an unpublished author.
The book incorporates information about the virus and what we can do to prevent it with ideas for imaginative play and how to deal with the feelings we might have during this time. I believe this sort of cohesive, or holistic approach is important as systems are not isolated from each other, the virus impacts our relationships and lifestyles.
Access to literature, books and data is a particular challenge in our context, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this. I had put in all this work creating a book but it was pointless if it didn’t reach loads of children! Leaning into the network I had created at Book Dash and my friends and family was a start. Browsing the web for possibilities, while setting up a website to host the book for free downloads, as well as deciding to offer the book to download for free, was all a part of the process. I was amazed by the generosity of the response. It seemed everyone was keen to help out where they could. All of a sudden I was hearing from parents all over that they’d received the book from their school principals, sharing it over phone or downloading it online. I sent it to every free kids book resource I could find. The book even hit the local news and has been translated into 7 languages and counting!
I learnt a lot about distribution, doing press releases and finding out that the right people to talk to is both important and challenging. It seems to be more work than actually creating the book! But mostly, I have been touched by the generosity and feedback received.
Whenever I interact with someone, whether it’s a translator or just a person who came across the book and got in touch, I always ask if they can spare a few moments to consider who else they might know who could make use of the book. The biggest reward is seeing one’s work reach more people and have an impact on their lives, even if it’s just a bedtime story about a nasty virus.
The Inside Book’s journey is drawing to a close as the days of Coronavirus wind on and countries slowly ease restrictions. ‘What is next?’ I wonder. Something on evolution for kids? Another science topic? Or perhaps one of my other, more fun and philosophical stories that’s been sitting in the vault?
The Inside Book is available for free download in:
English, Spanish, German, French, Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans.
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