While threemonth-old Sufi may be too young to understand these stories, Parekh hopes that she will help him and kids his age “understand the pandemic world they were born into a little better…. and appreciate the world they are living in at that time more”.
With the pandemic having lasted more than a year, most older kids have reconciled to their lives indoors but it’s the younger ones that are still struggling with understanding why they can’t meet their friends or why they wash their hands so many times. This has made many parents, storytellers and teachers get creative using everything from music to comic books.
Tina Narang, publisher at HarperCollins children’s books, says the aim is to arm children with information without frightening them. For instance, the publisher’s new book V for Vaccine draws upon inputs from virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang and tells the story of three characters Veni, Vidi, Vici, who overcome their fears of being vaccinated. “With so much talk of vaccines for the last several months, children are bound to be curious,” she says.
Author Rea Malhotra Mukhtyar’s The Germ Academy helps kids understand how a virus can spread, through a character called Covie, who is part of a school for germs and whose mission is to infect everyone in the world. On the other side is the heroic Soap Squad, a motley crew of cleanliness products which finally defeats the coronavirus.
Some books tackle the emotional impact of the pandemic on children’s lives. Shweta Ganesh Kumar’s At Home looks at how a child’s life has changed, from not sharing tiffins to avoiding playgrounds. Kumar, who has two young kids, drew upon her own experiences of being a lockdown mom. “I wanted to focus on these issues so that the children reading the book could see themselves in it.”
Everyday Superheroes by author and public health professional Dr Minakshi Dewan introduces children to frontline workers like Asha workers, lab technicians and nurses. “I have seen my daughter and her friends in awe of superhero characters like Wonder Woman and Superman,” she says. “This gave me the idea of portraying frontline workers as superheroes to help children see them in a new light.”
Gurugram-based blogger Vaishali Sudan Sharma says a Covid song taught to her son by his guitar teacher last year helped him register it in his own way. “He still plays it and the words about sanitising and washing your hands are stuck in his head.”
Delhi-based storyteller Kamal Pruthi has also incorporated Covid-19 into his performances for children. For instance, Corona ka Khatma narrates the story of a child who wants a cake at his birthday party, and ends up getting two funny coronavirus characters with him when he goes to the market to purchase it.
Some kids are helping other kids understand the virus. Last year, cooped up at home, nine-year-old Veer Kashyap decided to make a virus-shaped board game called Corona Yuga. Players have to leave home and come back without getting affected by the virus. So they need to buy a mask before starting the game, sanitise if they land on a cough or a sneeze, follow social distancing rules when buying groceries and quarantine after a train or air journey.
The popularity of Veer’s game among his friends and family members prompted his parents to sell it online. Veer’s mom Sangeetha says playing the game helped his five-year-old sister understand why they needed to quarantine after taking a flight or why she couldn’t go to the park to meet friends. “Other kids cry and throw tantrums but we didn’t even have to convince her to stay indoors,” she says.