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Life in lockdown: children's books edition. Photo of a children's bookshop

Life in lockdown: the children’s books edition

Since the first lockdown, children’s books that explain the pandemic have been cropping up everywhere. They are often the easiest way to show young children key concepts – like washing hands, wearing masks and staying home. Their success reveals the importance of picture books in helping children understand enormous upheaval and change. 

Some have seen favourite characters from big name authors experience lockdown, some have seen new authors join the scene, while others have been written by health professionals offering simplified explanations of Covid-19.

Several well known authors have released free downloadable books or ebooks, with some popular adventurers staying at home. Winnie and Wilbur Stay at Home in Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul’s free online ebook and Alex Milway’s Hotel Flamingo series sees the hotel owners deal with a hotel with no guests in Hotel Flamingo – Life in Lockdown. It is also free to download

In January 2021 Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler released their second series of Covid drawings and rhymes. Their much-loved book characters wear masks, receive vaccines and follow social distancing rules.

The comical drawings appeal to adults just as much as children, as the characters are so familiar. The two series of drawings can be found on the official Gruffalo Facebook page

Image based upon children's book The Gruffalo
The Gruffalo © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020 https://www.facebook.com/OfficialGruffalo/photos/10156813970985964

Axel Scheffler has also illustrated Coronavirus: A book for children, which aims to answer childrens’ most common questions about COVID-19. His illustrations make the book’s format and style reassuringly familiar. The digital eBook is free for anyone to read on screen or print out.

It was written by a team of teachers and a child psychologist, with input from Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Other lockdown children’s books are debut works. Earlier this month Anna Friend’s book When Can I Go Back to School? was published. Friend wrote this book at the start of the pandemic to help calm her son and later asked her friend Jake Biggin to illustrate the story.

They self-published it on Amazon on 15th January thinking it might help some other families. By early February, they had a five-figure deal with Scholastic for the title and two others in the ‘Big Little Hearts’ series.

The simple language and even simpler drawings brings to mind the work of Charlie Mackesy, author and illustrator of bestseller The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the The Horse. It’s simplicity beautifully captures the confusion and upset of being asked to stay home. When Can I Go Back to School? also includes mindfulness activities for families to work through feelings of anxiety.

The ‘Big Little Hearts’ series aims to support families dealing with big or traumatic events in life. Who Will Love Me When You’re Gone? is aimed at families dealing with the loss of a parent, and will be published in January 2022. 

Image based upon children's book Zog and the Flying Doctors
Zog and the Flying Doctors © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2021 https://www.facebook.com/OfficialGruffalo/photos/10157528883645964

A particular favourite of mine is Good morning Zoom by Lindsay Rechler. It is a parody of children’s classic Goodnight Moon, which covers Zoom schooling, family video chats and other struggles of life in lockdown. The short picture book is funny but surprisingly poignant.

It is easy to question how many of these children’s books will stay important or relevant in years to come, but that doesn’t take away from their important role in helping children and families understand the pandemic.

Tags: Axel Scheffler, Children's literature, Goodnight Moon, Hotel Flamingo, julia donaldson, the gruffalo, Winnie and Wilbur

Aileen Loftus

Deputy Books Editor
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