It Starts with a Square

“Tomorrow”: How to Read to Kids About Covid

BY Regan Hewitt

Earlier this month, a recent graduate of the University of Memphis’s Master of Fine Arts program and writer, Marisa Manuel, was jokingly teased by her friend, Janet Wood, about putting together a children’s book focused on Covid-19. Overnight, Manuel had her first draft. 

The book works to explain the Covid-19 pandemic and its fallout, in order to help parents have a difficult conversation with their children. Entitled Tomorrow, it also focuses on keeping children hopeful in the face of these many changes. 

“Most of my family is in New York and New Jersey, and several friends and family members have contracted COVID-19. Plus, when this all started, my brother and mom got sick, and we weren’t sure what caused it. They’re both fine now, but that moment was scary for all of us. It got me thinking about how others must be feeling, especially children, and what we could do to help them stay hopeful,” said Manuel. 

Wood added, “We went back and forth on how to illustrate the book. Ultimately, we decided timeliness was the most important thing. With that in mind, the best way to get the project turned around quickly would be to make it a group project. From there this idea became about more than creating a resource, but also about a way to collaborate and create, even while distant.” 

With that in mind, Manuel and Wood asked former classmates or coworkers, friends, family members, and industry professionals to contribute art and content for the book. “It truly was a group effort, and the excitement and generosity of our contributors meant so much to us,” said Manuel, who wrote the majority of the text alongside contributions from her family. 

Their roommate, Anna Masuzawa, who is a graphic designer, worked on the cover art and some of the pages, while also coordinating and placing art submissions from the group. They also recruited Hillary Griffith-Brown, who Wood describes as a “brilliant voiceover artist,” to record an audiobook version. Alyssa Marie Radtke acted as final editor for the book. 

According to Wood, “Around 20 people contributed, from all professions. We had teachers, professional artists and designers, a nurse practitioner and chaplain at a hospital, parents, a chef, an accountant, event planner, and more.” Overall, the project took just a week to complete, with an official release date of Easter Sunday. 

Each page of Tomorrow features different artwork, coupled with a few lines about why everyone is staying home and what the pandemic looks like from a children’s perspective. It also addresses the fears of children whose parents work in essential industries, especially healthcare workers, and whose parents or families have been negatively impacted by the recent economic downturn. 

Wood said, “We are hoping parents and teachers can use this as a tool to explain this complicated situation we are living through. We hope the book provides comfort to children who are struggling to understand or going through tough times right now. It was important for us to try to create diverse characters and situations so children who needed representation could see themselves and their situation in the book.” 

It is a serious book that deals with a serious topic, but encourages children to stay positive, with a Mr. Rogers-esque approach for “tomorrow.” Manuel said, “We wanted to show children that there are still good things in the world and that this situation has an end date. Once we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, we can make our world better than it was before. And while we’re still going through it, we need to support each other, which means helping each other however we can and reminding each other that we’re not alone.” 

The book is free to access, with both a PDF and an audiobook version, but they are accepting donations to the CDC Foundation. They are also asking for the book to be spread far and wide, to any parents or children who might benefit from the story. The link to donate can be found here

So far, Tomorrow has raised over $500 for the CDC Foundation and at the time of this article’s publication, the YouTube video has over 460 views. The book has also been shared by a New Jersey nonprofit as a children’s Covid-19 resource and received offers to translate the book into a variety of languages. Manuel and Wood found this comment – one of many they’ve received – to be the most touching:

“I think this is amazing. I’m home in isolation. I’m positive for the virus. I work in healthcare. My daughter can’t be home, she is 12 and staying with her dad. She is so scared and feels so lonely and I can’t be with her. This is an amazing way to explain to them what is going on and at some point life will be back to normal. I do miss and love her but I know she is safer there. Thank you for this. It made my day. Be safe.”

A digital version of Tomorrow can be found here, and the audiobook, narrated by Hillary Griffith-Brown, can be found on YouTube

Story by | Regan Hewitt

July/August 2020 Tour Collierville Magazine