What began as a vision has turned into an award-winning literary piece to help children cope with COVID-19.
Dr. Ebony Hilton and her Virginia Health System colleague Dr. Leigh-Ann Webb were announced as one of five winners of an Emory Global Health Institute children’s book contest aimed at helping and inspiring young ones during the coronavirus pandemic.
The book, “We’re Going to Be OK,” was illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin, who won the 2020 Ezra Jack Keats Award given annually to an outstanding new writer and new illustrator.
Hilton, a critical-care anesthesiologist and co-founder of Good Stock Consulting, and Webb, an emergency medicine physician and founder of The Get Well Company, said the project was inspired by their own children and youth around the world coping with the pandemic.
The story’s purpose is to help demystify the virus for our readers and empower them to know how they, too, can help.
Both doctors said they wanted to provide an outlet for young ones to express their concerns and provide go-to resources that they can keep on hand. They said they understand that young children are impressionable, and the doctors wanted to serve as advocates for their mental health.
“I first heard of the competition on Twitter,” Hilton said. “One of my followers tagged me in a post because they were aware of my community outreach projects and the fact that I have previously written children’s books.
“This seemed like a natural merging of the effort to bring awareness of the impact of COVID-19 was having on the global front, and particularly as it pertained to vulnerable communities like African Americans and Latinos,” she said. “It is for this reason it was important that the main character was a small Black and brown child. To better speak directly to those hardest-hit in this pandemic.”
Webb said her 8-year-old daughter provided feedback for the book.
“She took the opportunity to give us feedback,” Webb said. “She made an ‘I Get to …’ list, which is included as a worksheet and has been referencing certain things on this list since reading the book. It’s really cool to witness.”
Corrin, whose “Layla’s Happiness” won the Ezra Jack Keats Award, said she was inspired by her experience coping with the pandemic as a new mother, and also observing how her nieces and nephews were experiencing the crisis in different ways.
“I realized that no experience is alike for our children, and resources like this are and will be so important as our society finds its new norm,” Corrin said.
Jeff Koplan, vice president for global health at Emory, said in a press release that he was inspired to launch a children’s book contest by the questions his three grandchildren, ages 5 to 11, have been asking him about the pandemic.
While “social distancing,” “antibody tests,” “herd immunity” and “contact tracing” are familiar terms to public health and global health professionals, the general public has had a crash course in this new language thanks to the pandemic, Koplan said.
The learning curve is steep for many adults, and is undoubtedly even more confusing for children, he added.
“Recognizing this, the Emory Global Health Institute (EGHI) launched the COVID-19 children’s ebook competition to help address some of the questions that children may have about the pandemic and the behavior changes that have come with it,” Koplan said.
“In keeping with EGHI’s track record of marrying global health with other disciplines, including the arts, we thought sponsoring a contest for a COVID-19-related children’s book would be a great way to engage writers of all ages and levels to produce a high-quality book about the disease and provide a resource to children, parents and teachers as they navigate this challenging time,” Koplan noted.
The competition launched April 14 and was open to established writers and illustrators and aspiring writers and illustrators of every age. The winning writer and illustrator earned a $10,000 prize.
“We worked together building this story in an open Google document,” Corrin said. “[Hilton] introduced the idea to the team and had a general concept in mind. [Webb] built on that concept and crafted this story. We hoped that readers could relate to the main character’s experience of learning about the pandemic, experiencing fear, and navigating his fears through his parents’ knowledge, support and compassion.”