Making children aware of coronavirus was not a child’s play!

Tina Narang, Publisher, Children’s Imprint, HarperCollins India shares the various initiatives taken by them to reach out to children during the pandemic and to satisfy their curiosity about the pandemic without creating fear and anxiety.

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When the pandemic first arrived last year and the world almost came to a standstill, as adults we accessed enough information and more to get a grip on what was going on. But how were children going to understand why we had hit a pause button on the life they were used to. From this grew the need to explain the pandemic scenario to them, and to do it through books and stories that would try to satisfy their curiosity without creating fear and anxiety. We wanted to give children information packaged in a way that was easy to understand and not meant to frighten or scare them.

Books on coronavirus for children

One of the first publishers to do so was Nosy Crow. Their book simply titled Coronavirus was first published as a free-to-download edition. With delightful illustrations by the inimitable Alex Scheffler, the book included basic information about the virus, how it spread, and what children needed to do to keep safe. We distributed not only the English edition of the e-book in the Indian subcontinent but also published it in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, Assamese and Nepali so that it could be made accessible to more children. Since bookstores and online deliveries had both been affected in the early days of the pandemic, a free-to-download, e-version was the best way to get information to children.

This was followed by The Germ Academy which we published earlier this year. This delightful picture book presents the story of the coronavirus through a central character called Covie. Covie sets out to create havoc, but is stopped in his tracks by the Soap Squad. It’s a simple, endearing story that lets children engage with the idea of how a virus can spread and what they can do about it. The brilliant illustrations make it a truly charming book about a not-so-charming virus. Children need to see Covid as ‘a virus’ not ‘the virus’, since sadly this might not be the last of the viruses they are likely to encounter as they grow. But engraining in them some very basic habits to take on these viruses could stand them in good stead in life. So certainly, books like The Germ Academy that stress on the importance of soap and washing hands, keeping one’s environment clean – these and other such simple rules are going to become lifelong rules for children. When these are introduced through stories, the suggestions will be more easily accepted and absorbed than if we were to simply instruct children about basic safety and hygiene.

With so much talk of vaccines over the last year, children are likely to be curious to know why Vaccine seems to be everyone’s favourite word. Keeping this in mind, we put together V for Vaccine, a book of simple information about vaccines and vaccinations. In a clever play on the famous phrase, ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’, we introduced three adorable characters by the same name who present the information about vaccines and vaccination. The quirky illustrations completely transform the topic from being information-loaded to something kids would absorb and relate to as the three little monsters face their very real fears of being vaccinated and come out victorious after having done so.

Digital all the way…

In addition to books, we have also organised sessions online with authors, storytellers, educators and illustrators to keep children engaged during their time away from school. We have had very popular sessions with bestselling authors such as Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murty, Ravi Subramanian and several others. We have also had storytelling sessions with well-known educators such as Abha Adams.

Reading program…

Another initiative has been the launch of a subscription program for one of our most established global brands– the I Can Read! series. Parents and educators across the world have for decades relied on this as a stellar reading program. A subscription model is particularly relevant for the unique times we are in owing to the pandemic, when both parents and educators are seeking out reading material for their homebound children. This program will maintain a regularity and momentum in reaching books to children in an exciting and convenient way. The I Can Read! graded reading program goes across levels and age groups from ‘Shared Reading’ with read-aloud books for the very young to the ‘Reading Alone’ level for independent reading. Once parents subscribe to this time-tested program, they can see their child traverse the different levels to become a confident, independent reader who will not only love books but form a bond that will endure.

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