News & Politics

These Maryland Social Workers Wrote a Children’s Book to Answer Coronavirus Questions

The authors have a series of books to help parents break down tough topics.

Authors Arlen Grad Gaines and Meredith Englander Polsky. Photo courtesy of Meredith Polsky.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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Perhaps your kid is asking, “Can I catch coronavirus?” or maybe just “What is coronavirus?” As parents themselves, Maryland social workers Arlen Grad Gaines and Meredith Englander Polsky are encountering the same questions. In response, the co-authors wrote I Have a Question About Coronavirus, a free children’s e-book to help parents maneuver coronavirus-related queries.

The book is the fourth in their “I Have a Question” series, which breaks down tough topics like death and divorce. Gaines and Polsky saw a gap in such resources catering to the learning styles of kids with autism spectrum disorder and special needs, so they created their own.

“I’ve always said this as a special educator myself, that special education is just really good education,” says Polsky. “So the things that work really well for kids with special needs work really well for all children.”

Washingtonian spoke with the authors about starting the coronavirus conversation with your kids:

The e-book is a tool to start a conversation with kids about coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Meredith Polsky.
The e-book is a tool to start a conversation with kids about coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Meredith Polsky.

You’ve created this “I Have a Question” series to confront ideas like death and divorce. What catalyzed you to add a coronavirus-specific edition? 

Polsky: We felt really overwhelmed as parents. We were trying to think about a way we could help, and we realized that, because we’ve written these other three books already, we had a really good template already in place for helping children understand challenging topics.

Gaines: I think we brought both our parent hat and our social work hat to this. Though we are not public health coronavirus experts, we are experts around supporting children and families around times of loss, change, and transition.

How does the book balance providing honest information to children without introducing unnecessary fear?

Polsky: All of the questions in all of our books are things that real children have asked. We try not to come up with a question that we as adults think to ask. Once kids are asking questions, it’s really important to provide them with answers. So we think about the age appropriate, developmentally appropriate ways to do that.

Gaines: Our hope is that this book helps start the conversation, and gets people talking, and puts out the idea that it’s okay to talk about this. The idea that there are questions we can answer and there are questions we can’t answer right now.

How are the text and visuals designed with accessibility in mind? 

Polsky: We ask and answer the questions from the perspective of the child so they can see themselves in the story. For the pictures, we utilized SymbolStix, which is often utilized in special education to convey the message of the story so they don’t have to rely on text or auditory or verbal learning. We use straightforward language—we don’t use metaphors.

The crisis is constantly changing. What are the challenges of creating a resource when the topic is so dynamic?

Gaines: We chose to keep the book more focused on the impact of this transition and this time on the child, rather than “here is your medical advice.” Mostly talking about the feelings around this, the impact on routine, how school is closed. Those kinds of things that we felt we could confidently talk about.

The book also features suggestions for parents and caregivers. What are your favorite tips?

Gaines: Really encouraging [parents and caregivers] to focus on self care, because that will go a long way as they are supporting their children.

Polsky: Part of staying grounded as a parent during this challenge is remembering things that have worked well for your child in the past. See how we can incorporate those into our days right now.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.