“Lucy’s Mask” by Lisa Sirkis Thompson is one of a slew of new children’s books that have hit the market since March. Just as children’s television has shifted gears to meet the challenge of this moment — “Sesame Street,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and a special Nickelodeon town hall have all devoted airtime to helping very young viewers comprehend covid-19 — many children’s authors and illustrators have also found time, under quarantine, to produce stories about not just wearing masks, but also social distancing, learning to manage germs and even simply understanding the scope of a pandemic.
As a mom, I’ve used children’s books to help my kids understand everything from moving houses to starting school to learning how to transition from their cribs to their big-girl beds. And whether the topic is potty training or pandemics, the power of literature for kids is the same: Stories, when told well, become filters through which children can better understand the big, wide world.
I ordered “Lucy’s Mask” online this summer after a particularly tough afternoon, when one of my daughters flat-out refused to leave the house if it meant she had to put anything on her face. It was one of those parenting wins I like to savor: Lucy got the idea about mask-wearing across in a way my own pleading and negotiating simply can’t. Like all good children’s books, the story is told in layers: There are the characters and the plot, but there’s also the message, broken down into pint-size bits that hit at just the right level for little ears and brains.
Books are particularly effective at this time, said Pavan Madan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with California-based Community Psychiatry, because they serve as a still point of focus in a world of information overload.
“There is an overwhelming amount of information out there surrounding covid, even for adults, and it’s important that children are provided information in an accessible way they can easily understand … delivered in a way that feels normal, like ‘story time,’ ” he said in an email. “Children should be allowed to have the space to ask questions, clarify things and process their feelings.”
Some of the new coronavirus-themed children’s books feature familiar characters and slick, professional illustrations. Others are self-published affairs. Here’s a sampling.
“The Day the Lines Changed” by Kelley Donner
A sweet, colorful book that never once uses the word “pandemic,” “The Day the Lines Changed” follows a little green line who wakes up one day to find that, inexplicably, everything about the world has changed. But as long as the lines look out for each other, there will be plenty of hope.
“Ron and Rona Fight the Corona” by Ron Starinsky, Elana Rosenberg and Amit Mizrahi
A trio of Tel Aviv-based authors worked alongside pediatrician Moran Shefler Gal to create this charming, rhyming picture book that follows two siblings, aptly named Ron and Rona, whose lives are flipped when their father contracts covid-19. Ron is scared and has questions, but Rona, his wise older sister, offers him straight answers on what the disease is and simple tools he can use to protect himself.
“A Little SPOT Stays Home” by Diane Alber
Many a child has bonded with Spot, the bright yellow, stick-legged sphere dreamed up by author and illustrator Diane Alber. The Little Spot series of books have grappled with kindness, anxiety, confidence and inner peace, and in a handful of new editions, he now faces down social distancing and the coronavirus, as well. (“A Little SPOT Learns Online” and “A Little SPOT Wears a Mask” are also available.)
“What is Social Distancing?” by Lindsey Coker Luckey
A children’s book with the added bonus of activity pages in the back, “What is Social Distancing” is a straight-talking guide to helping elementary-age students unravel the complicated idea of staying apart. With colorful illustrations that help explain how germs pass between people and why staying at home is important, the book reminds kids that we may be apart, but we’re not alone.
“Paula and the Pandemic” by Dorothea Laurence
It’s hard to wait for playgrounds to reopen, for schools to feel normal and for us to no longer worry about having to social distance when we visit friends or relatives. But how do we teach children to practice patience? In “Paula and the Pandemic,” the secret is a sunflower seed — plant it in the ground and let it grow, knowing something big and beautiful is just around the corner if we can just hold on.
“Masked Ninja” by Mary Nhin
With the subtitle of “A Children’s Book About Kindness and Preventing the Spread of Racism and Viruses,” “Masked Ninja” is a book that taps right into the zeitgeist of 2020. The masked ninja teaches his fellow ninja friends tactics such as covering your mouth when you cough, washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and, crucially, never blaming specific ninjas — or specific ethnic groups — for causing covid-19 in the first place.
“Rona Stole My Fun!” by Chandra Clements
Author Chandra Clements collaborated on this book with her 4-year-old daughter, Tara Rose, who created the adorable illustrations. Tara also stars as a central character, playing hide-and-seek (a.k.a. staying home) to keep her loved ones, especially Grandma and Grandpa, safe.
“The Social Distance King” by Eric DeSio
Children love to put on crowns and pretend to be royalty. So when it comes to taking precautionary measures to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, “The Social Distance King” offers a royally good solution: Stay in your own castle, and be king or queen of social distancing. With cute rhymes and colorful pictures, this book is catchy and fun.
“If You Can’t Bear Hug, Air Hug” by Katie Sedmak
Filled with catchy rhymes, “If You Can’t Bear Hug, Air Hug” is a positive, comforting take on how kids can share love and affection, even in a time of social distancing. Ideal for preschool-age children, this book uses cuddly bears to bring its message down to toddler level, and it does so in the sweetest way.
Debra Kamin is an award-winning journalist based in San Diego.