Explaining the unexplainable

Eleanor Southgate with son Charlie
Eleanor Southgate with son Charlie

Eleanor Southgate has written a book to help communicate coronavirus to small children

How do you help a not-quite three-year-old child make sense of how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live? How do you explain why the playground is shut? Or why he can’t go to nursery?

I wondered this back in April, as I watched my young son holding the locked gates of Coppermill Park looking miserable. “Someone needs to write a children’s book for pre-schoolers about all this,” I said on a call to two of my oldest friends one evening.

Friends since school, Claire is a scientist specialising in global public health, Hannah is a GP and I’m a trainee GP. We each have two children under four years of age. My husband is an intensive care doctor and was bringing home worrying news each night of yet more admissions and sicker patients.

Over WhatsApp and Zoom, we chewed over the science, debated the policy, and compared notes on local protocols. That night, as it often did, the conversation turned to how our respective three-year-olds were coping with lockdown.

Thinking about how my son had found picture books helpful for other toddler life-hurdles, I was frustrated that nothing about the coronavirus had yet been produced for pre-schoolers, despite some excellent publications for older children. Claire’s answer to this was that we should write something ourselves. By the next morning she had written the first draft of Coronawho?

Coronawho? is the story of a three-year-old, Elsie, searching for answers as to why life has dramatically changed. We didn’t want it to be a scientific or medical ‘explainer’ but a story to read to young children. We wanted it to be gentle and comforting, with illustrations to make adults and children smile.

Together we worked on the text while Hannah picked up her paintbrush and brought the story to life. After a positive response from our own children, family and friends, we were encouraged to share the book more widely. We made it freely available as an e-book, and to date it has had over 18,000 users in more than 100 different countries. The book has even been translated into French, Spanish and Welsh!

Feedback has been heart-warming; parents and early years providers have told us that it creates a much-needed space for young children to talk about their experience of the last few months.

Coronawho? is now available in paperback, with all proceeds being donated to UNICEF:
Visit elsiestayshome.com