Welcome back to the MTA Book Blog, where I, Managing Editor and Bookworm-in-Residence here at MTA, am once again dropping into your inbox to spread the word about one of the awesome book packs that we’ve been busily curating for your classroom.
We were over the moon (wink) that so many of you enjoyed the first post, ‘Storytime in Space’, and joined in with the National Simultaneous Storytime read-along from the International Space Station, what an unforgettable experience!
For this post, we are firmly back on planet Earth, as we explore a collection of stunning picture books that chronicle the event that has undeniably touched every one of us and every corner of the globe over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic. In the ‘Together Apart’ book pack, we have compiled four gorgeous picture books that reflect on the pandemic and capture the lived experience of lockdown through inclusive, empathetic and sensitive storytelling. So, gather round (maintaining a 1.5 metre distance, of course), as we settle down together, but apart, to discover these beautiful new books that so exquisitely tell their own stories of lockdown.
‘While We Can’t Hug’ by Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin
We begin with an adorable picture book that addresses perhaps one of the toughest aspects of the pandemic for young children, and that is the restrictions to physical contact with our loved ones. ‘While We Can’t Hug’ is the heart-warming second picture book from author/illustrator duo Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin, the team behind ‘The Hug’. This bestselling picture book once again features best friends Hedgehog and Tortoise who desperately want to give each other a big hug but aren’t allowed to touch.
“Don’t worry,” said Owl. “There are lots of ways to show someone you love them.”
Hedgehog and Tortoise share a wave, blow kisses, write letters, do silly dances and sing songs together, joyfully demonstrating the various ways we can show affection to those we can’t be physically close to due to the pandemic. This book would be the perfect springboard to a discussion about the new ways of communication that your students adapted to during lockdown, perhaps it was Zoom calls with cousins or blowing kisses through a window to grandparents, or simply spreading some joy to strangers by painting pictures of rainbows just like Hedgehog and Tortoise. Which leads us to…
‘Share Your Rainbow’ by various artists
Throughout lockdown, (perhaps during your permitted daily hour of exercise) you will most likely have seen windows full of pictures of rainbows. Early in the pandemic, the rainbow emerged as the international symbol of hope for better days to come. In ‘Share Your Rainbow’, 18 acclaimed artists come together, while apart, to look ahead and share their interpretations of what the ‘rainbow’ – or ‘better days to come’ – means to them, inspired by the millions of children all over the world who displayed their rainbows in their windows.
“I cannot wait to yak with my neighbours, and laugh with my neighbours, and snarf up toasted marshmallows with my neighbours.”
The eclectic mix of illustration styles, diverse characters and relatable imagery makes ‘Share Your Rainbow’ an uplifting and hopeful record of this remarkable period of our lives, and will no doubt be a catalyst for conversation about what your students were most grateful for when lockdown restrictions eased. A follow-up activity that encourages students to draw their ‘rainbow’ would make for a stunning collage display and would provide a poignant visual reminder of the spectrum of experiences and challenges that we all faced during lockdown.
‘Windows’ by Patrick Guest and Jonathan Bentley
Inspired by author Patrick Guest’s own experience of having to leave his family home during lockdown due to his son’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, ‘Windows’ is a beautiful, contemplative story that captures the wistfulness of lockdown ennui. Brought to life by Jonathan Bentley’s stunning watercolour illustrations, ‘Windows’ follows five children as they observe the dramatic changes to their outside worlds from the safety of their windows. The story opens with the children daydreaming as they observe the shapes of the clouds, a reflection on how the sudden forced slowdown of lockdown allowed us all to observe more of nature’s quiet comings and goings. Gradually, more and more members of the characters’ communities begin to feature, and the children are able to connect and draw strength from their communities from a distance, for example by leaving rainbows and teddy bears in their windows. The story concludes with a socially distanced appearance from each child’s grandfather, cheering them up with a silly dance and a song:
“I’d love to give you all a hug,
I’d love to squash this silly bug,
but just for now, I’ll keep away, until the lovely, happy day, when all the world can dance and kiss, and hug the ones we really miss.”
‘Windows’ is an uplifting story of how communities and humanity pulled together, despite being apart, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Comprehensive teaching notes, including suggested follow-up activities, are available to download here from our website.
‘Outside, Inside’ by LeUyen Pham
If you’ve managed to get this far through the ‘Together Apart’ book pack without tearing up, then get ready for a flood of feelings. ‘Outside, Inside’ by Caldecott Honor Winner LeUyen Pham is a heart-wrenchingly beautiful picture book that addresses not only those of us who had to move their lives inside during lockdown, but also those essential and frontline workers who remained outside to serve their communities. There may well be students in your classroom who had parents or family members who fall into this category, and ‘Outside, Inside’ does a fantastic job of honouring these key workers and allowing for their experience to be represented. The format of the book contrasts the inside world with the outside world on alternating spreads, illustrating the different challenges faced by people on both sides of the door.
“We had birthdays without parties, shared words without sound, and reached each other without touching.”
Pham’s writing is moving and poetic, and her illustrations are diverse, rich with detail and bracingly real, perhaps due to the fact that she was inspired by real photos of the pandemic when creating the illustrations for ‘Outside, Inside’. This book is truly destined to become a timeless testament to the lived experience of lockdown for children all over the world and will be an invaluable conversation starter and catalyst for emotional expression, both inside and outside the classroom.
The pandemic continues to impact our lives and will do for a long time yet to come. It seems inevitable that this moment in history will be something we look back and reflect upon well into the future, much as we do with other major events that have shaped the international landscape and consciousness. The titles in the ‘Together Apart’ book pack will undoubtedly help you to facilitate meaningful conversations with your students and encourage them to verbalise the complex emotions they have experienced during lockdown and the pandemic. And who knows, sharing these four stories of lockdown may inspire a whole classroom-full of future authors who have their own lockdown stories to tell.
Elbow bumps all round.
About the Author
Emily Bruce is the Managing Editor at Modern Teaching Aids (although she prefers the term Grammar-Wrangler-in-Chief). She has worked in children’s publishing in the UK and Australia for over seven years and is passionate about finding the spark that ignites a lifelong love of literacy in the next generation of storytellers.