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Teaching Children about the Coronavirus

Coronavirus: A Book for Children

Written by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson, and Nia Roberts, with consultation by Professor Graham Medley

Illustrated by Alex Scheffler

Published by Nosy Crow, 2020

Available for free at https://stayhome.candlewick.com/

Grades K and up

Book Review

How do you catch the coronavirus? Is there a cure? Why are our usual places closed? What’s it like to be at home all the time? How can I help? – These are a few of the questions answered in the free eBook, Coronavirus: A Book for Children, released last month by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson, and Nia Roberts, and in consultation with Graham Medley, Professor of Infectious Disease Modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Written with a gentle, conversational, but nonetheless straightforward approach, this book indeed engages young readers in a dialogue about the pandemic that has interrupted life as many of them know it. Each two-page spread begins with a question articulated from a child’s perspective. The response to that question is offered with factual prose and colorful, cartoon spot illustrations of diverse people and experiences. To answer the question, “So Why are People Worried About Catching the Coronavirus?,” for example, the authors explain: “Most people have a body that is healthy enough to fight the coronavirus. But there are some people who find it harder because their bodies aren’t as strong. They might be people who are more than 65 years old or already have other illnesses like cancer that might make their bodies weaker” (p. 7). Anticipating a child’s follow-up questions, the authors expound why just going to the doctor or hospital might not be enough for those who catch the virus and circle back to the underlying importance of maintaining physical distance to keep one another safe. Scheffler’s animated illustrations balance the tone with characters and speech bubbles that offer encouragement and emphasize the power of working together. Back matter includes official, reputable digital resources for further information about the coronavirus and ways to help. Whether shared as a whole-class read-aloud, in small groups, or as independent reading, this book provides a helpful and honest voice for children about the world we are living in together.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

The following Teaching Ideas and Invitations were created and recommended by the teachers and teacher candidates in Grace’s Spring 2020 course, Exploring Nonfiction for the Elementary and Middle School Classroom, at Lesley University.

Grades K-5

What’s Going On?: Explaining the Coronavirus. Before reading Coronavirus: A Book for Children, have your students discuss the current situation and let them share thoughts about it. Ask questions, such as: What do they think is happening? Do they know the reason for staying home? How can they explain what a virus is? Next, have your students read the book, either as a whole class read-aloud or in small groups. Discuss what they knew and what they learned after reading. Make a list of coronavirus characteristics based on the book (e.g., There are different kinds of coronaviruses, we cannot see or feel it, it might infect people). Ask students open-ended questions and scaffold them to infer answers based on the reading: Why do we need to stay home? Why are many places are closed? Why can’t we visit our relatives or travel? and so on. Discuss conditions of how the virus may spread, symptoms of the disease, and what we have to do if we get sick. Explain that the virus needs a host body to survive, and humans might be its potential carriers. Check illustrations with children again and ask them to define what coronavirus is in their own words. To support student learning, extend reading to Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes, by Nicola Davies, or other books about germs (see Further Explorations below). – Olha Pysko-Klimovitsky

The Science Behind the Effectiveness of Handwashing. As parents and educators grapple with understanding the coronavirus, some may wonder how they can teach children about the importance of handwashing and taking extra care to stop the spread of germs. After reading the book, revisit pages 5, 6, 11,  and 12, which deal with catching the virus and doing things to help during the pandemic. To stress the importance and effectiveness of handwashing, encourage students to get their hands dirty while playing and then put a piece of bread in a Ziploc bag with the label “Dirty Hands.” Then have them get their hands dirty again while playing, but this time have them wash their hands thoroughly according to the CDC guidelines before putting a piece of bread in a Ziploc bag labeled “Clean Hands.” Have students record their observations in a science journal, making sure to observe the bags over a few days. See a specific lesson plan for this experiment from the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital to engage students in inquiry and demonstrate the importance of keeping your hands clean in order to prevent the spread of germs. – Kelly Morse

Being Kind. Being kind to those we live with is what will carry us through this difficult time, as indicated in the section of the book entitled, “What Else Can I Do?” Expanding on this idea of being kind to others, have students come up with one way they can be kind to someone they know. Create sentence frames to help students come up with an idea of a kind gesture. Examples could include, “I can be kind to my (sister, brother, friend, mom, dad, grandma etc. ) by_________.” You can brainstorm with students’ examples of being kind to people they know: sending them a letter, helping unload the dishwasher, reading a favorite story to them, playing their favorite game, etc. Have each student create a visual of this act of kindness to accompany the written statement of how they will be kind. It can be either a drawing or a picture of a scene they create with Legos, stuffed animals, or a picture of themselves doing this act of kindness. Students can even nominate one another to try an act of kindness. Compile a digital book of ways we can be kind and provide each child access to the book. – Angelica Piz

Describing Personal Feelings with Personification. On the page titled “What’s It Like to Be at Home All the Time?”, the authors explore the different feelings that children and adults are feeling during this pandemic. After reading this book, children can build on their understanding of the feelings that COVID-19 is bringing up, by also reading The Color Monster, by Anna Llenas, which uses color and personification to concretely explain a variety of emotions that humans feel. Reading these books as a text set can help children to identify the emotions that they are feeling during this pandemic, either through whole-class or small group discussion, or a written response. The Color Monster also mentions strategies for making sense of our emotions by putting them in their own jars. This concrete representation can help young children make sense of their emotions. After reading both books, children can follow this recipe to create their own emotion jars with just glitter, water and glue. Children can use these jars to represent their emotions as the pandemic unfolds, and as they watch the glitter settle in the jar, they can think about their own big emotions settling within themselves. See the previous Classroom Bookshelf entry on Feeling It All through Reading, Writing, and Creating for more ideas for supporting students’ social and emotional learning. – Katie Trudell

Mindfulness Amidst COVID-19 Anxiety. Creating a mindfulness routine or mantra can be helpful especially for young students whose everyday routines have been interrupted by COVID-19. After reading Coronavirus: A Book for Children, revisit the page titled “What’s It Like to Be at Home All the Time?” Ask students to create a list either in words or in pictures of activities that they are still able to do at home while quarantined. Next, ask students to make a separate list also in words or pictures of things or people that they are grateful for. Then guide your students in making a mantra or saying by combining their lists together. Remind your students that whenever they find themselves feeling any of the emotions listed in the book, they can use this newly created mantra or saying with their eyes closed and while taking deep calming breaths. Provide students the opportunity to share their mantras with each other either through Zoom or Google Meet, if possible. – Stephanie Jarvis

Making Art as a Way of Making Sense and Helping. Coronavirus: A Book for Children also explores how kids can help during the pandemic. Children, especially younger ones, may not fully understand what is happening right now in the world, but they often love to help. Giving them the opportunity to learn about the virus, talk about the topic, and discover ways they can help to stop the virus from getting worse will give them a sense of power and control over this mysterious time for them. Have students illustrate a picture and write what they would want to do in order to help with the pandemic right now. It can range from making face masks to baking goods and making gifts for hospitals to something as simple as remembering to wash their hands. This will help them get their ideas on paper and also give them a chance to illustrate what they would love to do to help. After all the ideas are collected, make a class collage with them and have the class create a  title for their collage. Encourage students to act upon their ideas as an extension and document their ideas coming to life by video or photographs. Invite students to share their experiences about what they have done to help during this pandemic in a Zoom call. For those students who have limited access to technology, have them keep a journal about their investigations or ideas on this project that may include pictures. – Sophia Kim

Grades 2 and up

Writing about Personal Experience with Personification. While everyone is socially distancing, not everyone’s experiences, realities, and emotional reactions are the same. Using the page with the heading “What’s It Like to Be at Home All the Time?” as a mentor text, encourage students to write their own description and explanation of what it’s like for them to be home all the time. Point out how illustrator Axel Scheffler draws a dog with a “bored” speech bubble. Explain that dogs don’t really speak words, but this is an example of figurative language called personification. Personification is when writers give human characteristics to something nonhuman. Before sending students off to write, engage in a whole class brainstorm to verbally practice personifying objects in the (virtual) classroom. If students give examples of objects speaking or thinking, teacher can model drawing speech and/or thought bubbles. As students independently write their own “What’s It Like To Be Home All The Time?” pieces, encourage them to refer to Coronavirus and prompt them to personify other pets or inanimate objects in and around their living spaces. Teachers can prompt: what could the computers, door knobs, beds, playground, etc., be thinking and saying? – Caroline Kelly

Helping Out: Ideas for Addressing Food Resources. The book’s “What Else Can I Do?” section provides many learning opportunities for students to develop and strengthen not only their literacy skills but their skills in becoming mindful contributors to making a difference in their world. Many people are feeling they want to take action to stop the pandemic. That includes children, too. One of the effects of this pandemic is the loss of jobs and reduced financial and food resources for families. To address this concern, direct students to the back matter in the book, which lists two websites under the section WAYS TO HELP that are resources about food banks. Have students research these food banks, as well as local food banks in their communities: how they operate, how people can donate their time or money, how people access the food bank, and what difficulties the food bank might be experiencing with COVID-19. Once students are familiar with the local food bank’s operation and needs, engage students in a few different writing activities:

  • Write letters to the local paper urging the townspeople to support the local food bank.
  • Write thank you letters to the managers of the local food banks for their hard work in supporting the people of the town.
  • Write plans for holding a food drive that can support the local food bank, and then of course organize that food drive.
  • Create an informational (“all-about”) book about food banks, complete with illustrations. Sections of the book might include What are Food Banks? What Do they Do? Why are They Important? How Do People Use Them? And What Do they Need?

You might also use journal writing to assist students with expressing their personal feelings because their family has had to access a food bank during this crisis. The journal could provide a means to express empathy for others experiencing food loss, as well. See the previous Classroom Bookshelf entry on Pursuing Meaningful, Authentic, Student-Centered Writing During Precarious Times for more ideas for supporting students’ writing during this time. – Susan Bryan

Grades 6 and up

A Global Pandemic, A Global Community. Invite students to consider the meaning of a “global” pandemic, as is mentioned in the book. Use the World Health Organization’s interactive map (https://covid19.who.int/) to explore the countries in all parts of the world that have been touched by COVID-19. Have students pay attention to information that indicates trends over time, and time periods and lockdown measures that correspond with peaks and valleys in the graphs. What is similar across countries and regions? What is different? Ask students, “How big or small does the world feel to you right now? Do you feel closer to or farther away from people on the other side of the world? Why?” After discussion, invite students to write and draw their impressions of our global pandemic and global community in this moment. – Kate Kane

Critical Literacy

Processing Fact, Fiction, and Fearmongering. Although much of the book’s content is dedicated to helping kids cope with our current circumstances, it is also very important is to distinguish facts and reality from a lot of the conjecture and fearmongering that dominates our news and culture at the moment. Have students  write down, visually represent, or describe a fear or worry they have about the virus or the way life currently is. Responding sensitively and carefully to any personal and traumatic situations, guide them to conduct research and investigate to what extent their fears and worries reflect reality. They could then, in perhaps a T-chart format, write the “reality” next to what their initial fear or worry was. It is likely that they may be relieved about certain things, but certain fears they have may also be very well founded, or made worse by doing research about it. To process their research, invite students to voluntarily share the facts they learned, as well as one thing they feel better about after doing this research, and one thing they are still worried about or potentially feel worse about. The point of sharing this out as a class is not for me to give some magical solution, but instead to have a safe and supportive space in which to voice these things and even admit when you have no answers to difficult questions. Hopefully through doing so, you can develop a space as a class to listen, support, and help each other through this. – Shane Dicristina

Comparing and Contrasting Children’s Books about the Coronavirus. A number of free eBooks for children have been created and made available to help children understand the coronavirus and COVID-19. Help students practice their critical literacy skills by having them read a few of these books (see the Further Explorations section below), asking the following questions: From whose perspective is this book written? What is the author’s credentials and qualifications for writing the book? Who/what age is the intended audience of the book? What information is included and emphasized? What information is left out? What words, images, and graphic styles do the author and illustrator use to convey the meaning they want? What effect do they have on readers? What is the quality of the book’s back matter, if it has any? Which book(s) would you use for further reference, and why? 

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Kids’ Health- Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Talk to Your Child

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-how-talk-child.html

World Health Organization’s COVID-19 interactive map

https://covid19.who.int/

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Handwashing Guidelines

https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html

How Dirty Are Your Hands? science experiment

https://www.mottchildren.org/posts/camp-little-victors/dirty-hands

US Department of Health and Human Services

https: www.hhs.gov

America’s Food Fund

www.americasfoodfund.org

World Central Kitchen

https://wck.org

Books

Additional free eBooks available at New York City School Library System: COVID-19 free ebooks: COVID-19 Free eBooks

Cavallo, F. (2020). Dr. Li and the crown-wearing virus. Ill. by C. Flandoli. Undercats, Inc. Available at https://freebooks.undercats.media/corona/

Daniels, D. (2020). First-aid for feelings: A workbook to help kids cope during the coronavirus pandemic. Ill. by Aardvart. Scholastic. Available at: http://teacher.scholastic.com/education/pdfs/FirstAidForFeelings_Eng.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3fZZrYIN1BmoZ1OiW0u5VDbfAKF8ok1UkvKspQhWBA7mxbE8WmaqLIrGc

Hale, S., & Hale, D. (2020). The princess in black and the case of the coronavirus. Ill. by L. Pham. Candlewick Press. Available at: https://www.princessinblack.com/download/pib-coronavirus.pdf

Harris, S., & Scott, D. (2020). Why we stay home: Suzie learns about coronavirus. Ill. by H. Rodis. Available at: http://www.milwaukeeindependent.com/articles/stay-home-free-book-coronavirus-children-color/

Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (2020). My hero is you: How kids can fight COVID-19!. Available at https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-reference-group-mental-health-and-psychosocial-support-emergency-settings/my-hero-you

Jian, R., & Vulopas, J. J. (2020). The class that can at home: Coronavirus. Ill. by B. Dussinger. Citizens of Can. Available at: https://www.citizensofcan.com/educators

Jones, M. (2020). A kids’ book about COVID-19. A Kids’ Book About, Inc. Available at: https://akidsbookabout.com/pages/covid-19

Rundell, K. (Ed.) (2020). The book of hopes: Words and pictures to comfort, inspire, and entertain children in lockdown. Bloomsbury. Available at: https://literacytrust.org.uk/family-zone/9-12/book-hopes/

Schiodalger, A. (2020). Rainbows in windows: A book About big imaginations, big feelings, and sheltering in place during a pandemic. Ill. by E. Rusli. Yumi. Available at: https://helloyumi.com/coronavirus-children-book/

Williams, A. (2020). Oaky and the virus. Ill. by T. Lock. Theart Press. Available at: https://www.theartpressbooks.com/product-page/oaky-and-the-virus

For more free eBooks about the coronavirus in various languages, see  https://nycdoe.libguides.com/COVID-19ebooks/free

For versions of Coronavirus: A Book for Children in different languages, see the following list for more information:

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.

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