Port Alberni author Jacqueline Carmichael has written a new children’s book called “My Read-Aloud Tales About Social Distancing.” (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Veteran Vancouver Island journalist pens pandemic tale for children

An animal cast helps children make sense of coronavirus and why they must stay at home

A Port Alberni author has written a new children’s eBook about animals dealing with a pandemic, reviving the fable for families coping with life in a world with COVID-19.

My Read-Aloud Tales About Social Distancing: The Big Slowdown launched on April 20. In the book, meerkats, lions, dogs, foxes, cats, and their critter friends and families learn about social distancing, quarantine and the importance of things they never had to think about before.

Longtime journalist Jacqueline Carmichael said she was inspired by seeing her son and daughter-in-law helping her granddaughter deal with a new existence in the era of COVID-19.

“A pandemic was really not on my radar,” Carmichael said. “Initially, I started bingeing on Netflix. But then I thought, ‘There’s an emergency going on. Maybe I should actually write about that.’”

Carmichael said she wanted to find a non-scary way to take the threat seriously, while also reassuring children.

“We want our next generations to be hopeful and to have a good life on the other side of this pandemic, but in the middle of it all, it can be very frightening,” she explained. “The long view isn’t something that’s at the forefront for kids.”

The Big Slowdown frames up a critter world where animals experience a world-wide Big Slowdown. They deal with everything from face masks and handwashing to navigating through their own worries and those of their grown-up guardians. The book is set in the natural world, with just a few references to modern/man-made things—specifically video chat, vaccinations, a Lambulance used to carry a sick grandfather sheep, Arctic terns who work as “Newsbirds” and a sofa used to provide a domestic setting for a cat.

The Big Slowdown is Carmichael’s first children’s book. Her previous publications include a book about the First World War (Tweets from the Trenches: Little True Stories of Life & Death on the Western Front) and a career guide (The FabJob Guide to Become a Party Planner).

READ MORE: Port Alberni poet shares ‘little true stories’ of First World War

“I guess you could say I’m pretty diverse,” she laughed. “[Writing this] reminded me of the best part of being a mom—and a grandma—which is telling stories. I really enjoyed looking at the world through a child’s eyes.”

In the manner of A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, Carmichael says she has endeavoured to create different levels of humour and sophistication that older readers can appreciate.

“Milne did a lovely job of expressing things that kids experience,” she said. “Loneliness, embarrassment, social awkwardness.”

The Big Slowdown concludes by taking readers from The Now to The Later, when the animals resume their social activities, and once again shop at will and play freely on playground equipment without fear, taking the valuable lessons they learned into a better world. The book is written in the past tense, with the hope that it will continue to function as a remember-when book (and possible cautionary tale) that will last for generations.

“I’m hoping it gives kids a sense that it’s not always going to be like this,” Carmichael said.

The book is illustrated with photos, and a study guide at the back lists dozens of ways the book can be used as a learning tool for children of different age groups, with enrichment ideas and discussion questions.

“It’s really designed for a family to read together,” she said. “I think kids in their teens, as well as younger children, could enjoy it.”

The book is available for download for reading through smart phones, tablets or computers on amazon.ca. A print version is on the way, and plans are in the works for an audio version and for French and Spanish versions.


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