There's nothing a good book can't solve, or, at least explain.
Especially for our littlest of readers who, according to Liz Anglin, early education specialist at the Berkshire Museum, learn best visually and through sound — making storytelling the perfect way to learn something new, or better understand or handle a problem.
"Putting a book in front of a child is a great way for them to see it and learn it and adapt to it, in any form," said Anglin, who has a background in children's literature. "It's important to be able to use a written resource now more than ever. It gives [small children] something to look at, and see."
In the span of six months, the publishing industry has risen to the challenge of helping children cope and better understand the global pandemic with a slew of new titles, covering topics from mask-wearing and hand-washing to even normalizing Zoom classroom sessions. Locally, Anglin had to readjust the museum's community outreach program "Ready for Kindergarten," by making some necessary changes to its activity book "In Kindergarten." The book, which is given out to children who are registered to enter kindergarten in Berkshire County to help them prepare for school, now shows children wearing masks, getting on the bus with some seats blocked off to promote social distancing, and masked teachers greeting children outside the school and ushering them in.
"We wanted to make [the book] more adaptable to the actual current experience for students and especially our early learners who may be going to an in-school facility," said Anglin, who also runs the museum's WeeMuse programs and the newly created virtual after-school programs. "We changed some of the language and included new illustrations with more of what they may see, especially mask wearing."
The book is also now being offered virtually, along with videos that explain the importance of face coverings and what adults mean when they say "social distancing." The new series, Berkshire Museum@Home, will have 12 to 15 videos released throughout the semester, Anglin said, covering more kindergarten skills.
Anglin has been in close contact with teachers in the field right now and said she is hearing that teachers are students are "hopeful."
"What teachers are seeing — even in this crazy time — is everyone is very hopeful and excited about school," she said. "Kids are just ready to get back and learn again."
To help your children better understand what the school year might look like for them and the changes to daily life, we asked Anglin and a few local librarians for their COVID-19-inspired book picks.
Top picks from Liz Anglin, early education specialist at Berkshire Museum
• "If You Can't Bear Hug, Air Hug: A Book Inspired by Social Distancing," by Katie Sedmak.
This is a great, fun and whimsical take on the importance of social distancing. I think it's a great take on how to teach this new idea and also show that you can still support and love others, even at a distance.
• "Lucy's Mask," by Lisa Sirkis Thompson and John Thompson.
Lucy's Mask brings excitement and the possibility of adventure to children and mask-wearing. This story presents the idea that masks can make you a superhero and also brings comfort and reassurance to a world of sudden changes.
• "Our Class is a Family," by Shannon Olsen.
"Our Class is a Family" expresses the importance of class community; that classes are safe places for expression. During these times, when classes are in flux, this title help pass the idea along that in a class students are safe, included and loved.
• "Maurice the Unbeastly," by Amy Dixon.
A photogenic beast? This book had me from the very beginning. It is all about a special creature starting at a new school and all the important things he finds that he can offer his new community. A great read for those starting school!
• "Mae's First Day of School," by Kate Berube.
Starting school can be scary for anyone; whether it's the student or the teacher. "Mae's First Day" reflects on how the unknowns can be frightening, but by facing the unknowns together, with friends, they all can be overcome.
• *FAVORITE PICK* "The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend," by Dan Santat. Winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal.
Beekle is an imaginary friend waiting to be chosen by a child. After not being chosen over and over again, he takes his future into his own hands to find his "perfect match." Beekle is an imaginary friend I would choose any day!
- "The Day the Crayons Quit" (SERIES) by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers.
Classic picture books are written from the viewpoint of some very frustrated crayons. Luckily, this tale doesn't end with one title, for there is a whole series of books about these characters. Jeffers is one of my all-time favorite author/ illustrators as well, and I highly suggest any of his titles.
Picks from Katie O'Neil, director of Lenox Library
• "Coronavirus: A Book for Children," by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson, and Nia Roberts. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Consultant Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
This book offers an accessible overview of what coronavirus is, answers common questions children may have, and offers suggestions for what people can do to help as we deal with the virus. Great for children and parents.
• "Mira Does Her Part: How One Girl Vanquished a Virus with Healthy Habits," by Jen Holman and Kristina Bondurant. Illustrated by Cary Smith.
Written and illustrated by three moms, including a microbiologist and epidemiologist (Bondurant), I love the idea that Mira, tired of the virus isolating her from friends, school, and her "normal" life, envisions her battle against the virus as one with a dragon. The book also includes history and facts about pandemics through the ages.
• "Good Morning Zoom," by Lindsay Rechler. Illustrated by June Park. (To be published Oct. 6)
Couldn't we all use a parody of Margaret Wise Brown's classic "Good Night Moon" for these times? Lighthearted, but reassuring at the same time.
• "A Little SPOT Wears A Mask," by Diane Alber
(There are more in this series, like "A Little SPOT Learns Online")
Little Spot offers clear explanations of why kids should wear masks with cheerful illustrations.
Young-Adult Pick from Jenny Cummings, Senior Technician in Youth Services at Berkshire Athenaeum
• "Peeps," by Scott Westerfeld.
It goes back a few years (School Library Journal selected it as one of the Best Books of 2005), but it's a combination of epidemiology and science fiction makes it particularly compelling for our COVID-19 times. Contact tracing is much more interesting when it involves vampires and young love, right?