As 2020 unfolded into a very different year, we wanted to do our best as a children’s book publisher, to help young children understand the coronavirus and the confusing situation it had landed us all in practically overnight. Aparna Kapur, Editor at Pratham Books, writes about the making of ‘The Novel Coronavirus: We Can Stay Safe’ – made possible through an amazing collaborative effort with several writers and illustrators.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, everyone was affected by it, some more than others. However, children were at a particular disadvantage because they didn’t understand a lot of what was happening, and grown-ups were struggling to explain it to them. This led to a spate of fantastic books across the world, like Nosy Crow’s Coronavirus: A book for children, attempting to communicate with children about the pandemic and dealing with social distancing and school closures. We realised that there wasn’t any book talking to children in the Indian context and in Indian languages, and StoryWeaver, being open access and multilingual, would make sure this necessary information was available to everyone who needed it.
‘The Novel Coronavirus: We Can Stay Safe’ is a storybook from Pratham Books that aims to help children better understand what they can do to stay safe during this pandemic. The book isn’t just special because it was created in ten days, or because it’s available in many languages. What makes this book remarkable is that it involves thirteen of India’s best children’s book writers and illustrators, and characters from seven of Pratham Books’ most popular books. Using already established characters gave us a starting point and allowed us to talk to the readers with a tone of ease and familiarity. Having familiar characters address readers helped counter the mystery of the illness a little bit — like Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s reimagined picture book scenes in The Guardian.
Process illustrations from Ammachi’s Advice in The Novel Coronavirus: We Can Stay Safe
When the book was published in May 2020, the virus was not well understood and, more importantly, there was so much misinformation around it. So we decided to focus on the public safety guidelines suggested by the World Health Organisation. We were very mindful of the fact that social distancing wasn’t practical for a lot of people, including essential workers and people who depended on daily wages, and adapted safety measures accordingly. We also approached experts to vet the script once it was ready — four doctors read through our script and made suggestions to ensure that everything was factual and accurate.
A work in progress illustration of Who Returned Bhaiya’s Smile? from The Novel Coronavirus: We Can Stay Safe
We also spoke to many friends in our extended community, to gauge the need for such a book for young readers. The overwhelming response was yes, and so we embarked on yet another exhilarating creative journey to bring this storybook to life!
The Novel Coronavirus: We Can Stay Safe written by Deepa Balsavar, Rajiv Eipe, Bijal Vachharajani, Maegan Dobson Sippy, Meera Ganapathi, Nimmy Chacko, and Sanjana Kapur and illustrated by Deepa Balsavar, Jayesh Sivan, Lavanya Naidu, Priya Kuriyan, Rajiv Eipe, Renuka Rajiv, Sheena Deviah, and Sunaina Coelho is available on our eStore in English, Hindi and Kannada. You can also read the book in 21 languages on StoryWeaver!