We are in the middle of an unprecedented situation and kids and parents need information about COVID-19. Books are a fabulous way to help kids learn about stuff. We sat down with Songju and Helen and asked about how they collaborated on the meaningful and timely project BE A CORONAVIRUS FIGHTER.
HELEN: My name is Helen Wu. I am the co-author and illustrator of the picture ebook “Be a Coronavirus Fighter”. I’ve been following news about the coronavirus outbreak since January and in early March when the virus spread to more and more countries and more and more people were quarantined and schools were closed, I felt the strong urge to write a picture book about it, to let kids understand the situation so they might feel less confused and anxious.
The biggest challenge for me was to produce a book in such a short time. I’m a children’s book author and illustrator. Many projects I worked on took me months and years to get polished. Every time I revised the text, I needed to revise the illustrations accordingly and usually during this stage, I got some new inspirations on the storyline and I needed to revise the text again. On and on it was like an endless loop. For this project, it was very timely and I wanted to make the book available as soon as possible. It was almost impossible for me to do it alone. So I decided to collaborate with another author.
Songju submitted a very well-written manuscript to Yeehoo Press a while ago. I knew Songju a few years ago when I first read her picture book Cao Chong Weights an Elephant. It was a STEM story based on a real historical event in ancient China. I knew she was a truly amazing author and that she could read Chinese. Chinese is my native language and sometimes I write a manuscript in both English and Chinese languages. The translation process always gives me some inspiration on how to tell the story in different ways. For the coronavirus picture book, I wrote a very general outline in Chinese and contacted Songju if she would be interested in collaborating with me on writing the book in English. Songju was truly amazing and she immediately agreed and started working on the project, and told me she could send me a draft in about ten days.
During the ten days, I drew some rough sketches of the book. As I knew Songju might or might not use the outline I gave her, so I didn’t plan to refine the sketches until I have the draft finalized. After ten days, Songju sent me a draft. The manuscript was very well done. It was informative with accurate facts and explained the situation in simple terms. The only issue was that during the ten days, the situation in the US had changed a lot. In the draft, it talked about social distancing in schools, but in real life, many teachers and principles had already started to announce that schools would be closed temporarily. To make the book more timely and to fit in the most up-to-date circumstances, Songju and I revised the content and deleted the part of social distancing in schools, added the part of homeschooling, and focused more on why staying at home was super important. With more and more people under quarantine, I strongly felt this was a global crisis everyone was facing. Even though people were separated in each other’s homes, we were connected with each other more than ever; We’re fighting this virus all together. So I added a punch line to the book, “we will soon share this beautiful world together with all people, near and far.”
After we revised and finalized the draft, I spent about one week on the illustrations. I drew characters with different skin tones, hair styles, and hair colors to reflect people of various ethnic groups all around the world. To balance good quality with a quick turnaround time, I chose to illustrate the main characters with fairly good details and leave pages with white background. On the cover, I chose a bold font with a bit of a childish style. I then hand traced the title to give it more of a handwritten feel and added a white outline for the title. I drew a coronavirus symbol to the letter O in “Coronavirus”. The font doesn’t have all of the letters in other languages and these design elements helped keep the covers consistent for all the editions of different languages. During the graphic design stage, I thought that nowadays most people would visit the webpage via their mobile phone. I also wanted to make a print-ready edition so it would be easier for kids to read it time and time again. Wherefore, I ended up designing two versions. One is of vertical pages for web visit, with a round and thick font so it’s more comfortable to read on cell phone screens. One is of horizontal pages for print, with a thin and elegant font, so it’s suitable to print on standard letter sized paper and it can be easily stapled together and feels more like a book. The final result is that the text is part of the whole image allowing a better reading experience.
After I released the English version of the book and I shared it in several Facebook groups, I received messages from many readers. They said “the book is a great resource”, “it spreads knowledge, lessens fears, and empowers people.” I was very flattered to hear this. Gradually, teachers and translators from other countries contacted me to ask for permission to translate the book into their native languages and share it with readers there. Of course I would be more than happy to do more languages. As Songju and I started this book, all we wanted to do was to make a book to help more kids understand this difficult time and that we’re all in this together. We wanted to emphasize that people in different jobs and areas are all working hard to fight the virus, and that kids can also be part of it and make their contribution to win the battle.
SONGJU: My name is Songju and I am one of the authors of the picture ebook “Be a Coronavirus Fighter”. It is a great honor and pleasure to collaborate with the multi-talented author, illustrator and publisher Helen Wu on such a timely and meaningful project.
From the beginning, this project gave me the feeling that the subject is good, the time is right, and the responsibility is huge. We all know that children listen carefully to the words of teachers or authors because kids think they are intelligent. Any information we give must be completely scientifically based, and should not be misleading.
We must be cautious. Before and during the writing, I searched and read a lot of relevant materials on the Internet, but I used the (CDC’s) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended practices as the baseline. I also asked the family members of medical students to help me review the manuscript. So when I read a comment posted by a biomedical professor working in the clinical laboratory of a hospital, “ … I can attest the facts are accurate and well presented”, I was very pleased and proud.
The creative process was challenging as the epidemic situation was constantly changing. The content of this manuscript is constantly changing too. At the beginning, the schools were still in session. I wrote that when we say hello, we could wave or do an elbow bump instead of hugging or shaking hands. When eating in the school cafeteria, we should not share water glasses or eating utensils. Then, very soon, the schools closed. The content immediately changed into what the children could do at home.
This is my first cooperation with Helen. I think it was a very pleasant and successful collaboration. I especially like the new ending Helen added: … “and share this beautiful world together with all people, near and far.” It indicates a global message, one shared by the entire world. At the beginning, I named this picture book: What is the coronavirus and how to defeat it? Helen said that name was a bit too long. I thought it made sense. Helen thought of a shorter name, “We are together.” I felt this was a little too general. Thinking hard, I finally came up with the name “Be a Coronavirus Fighter!” It reflects the spirit of not giving up, forging ahead, and helping to conquer the virus. This is what the world needs now.
The book has received very positive responses upon its release. Many people from different countries in the world have contacted us requesting our permission to translate this book. There are now: French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Danish, Norwegian, Russian and Indonesian versions. There will certainly be many more translations.
This is a world crisis. Every country is now facing the epidemic. We must all fight together to win this battle. With all the young virus fighters joining us, we are united. By fighting together, we will prevail!
Here is the link to the ebook: https://www.yeehoopress.com/coronavirus-picturebook/
To learn more about these two talented women:
Visit Helen at https://www.helenhwu.com/
Visit Songju at https://www.songjumadaemicke.com/
To download the other editions of BE A CORONAVIRUS FIGHTER: https://www.yeehoopress.com/
Stay safe, dear friends!