“Paula and the Pandemic”: Explaining Social Distance to Preschoolers

In “Paula and the Pandemic,” a little girl watches a flower grow from a seed while missing her best friend.

“I have been in this house forever!” my frustrated 3-year-old complained earlier this week. It was a good time to introduce him to “Paula and the Pandemic,” a sweet children’s book that I discovered through a recommendation on Moms on the Hill (MOTH).

The story follows Paula, a little girl who struggles when she is no longer allowed to play with her best friend Ben. Paula’s mommy helps Paula learn about patience as they plant a sunflower seed together and wait for it to grow.

Paula misses playing with her best friend Ben.

The book was written and illustrated by Dorothea Laurence, a mom who lives with her husband and two young daughters in nearby Cheverly. Laurence was inspired to create the story to help her 3-year-old and other small children understand what is happening.

“It will take a while until things will be back to ‘normal,’ but time is such a difficult concept for small children,” Laurence wrote. “That’s why I found it important to include an image of long-time waiting in the book. Waiting for a plant to grow from a little seed seemed a good image to use to illustrate patience.”

My AJ listened attentively as I read the book, and then he asked me to read it two more times. He had previously understood that we were staying away from friends because of “germs,” but after weeks without school or playground, he had been waiting a long time. In the book, Paula feels “sad,” “alone” and even angry as she misses her favorite friends and activities. The story helped AJ recognize and feel validated in those same feelings.

Laurence, who grew up in Germany and went to medical school there, has had a lifelong passion for art. The book’s illustrations are darling, done in old-school nib and ink with watercolor. She worked on another children’s book before the pandemic, but it was unfinished.

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to drawing though, and keep redoing everything,” she wrote. “So for ‘Paula and the Pandemic,’ I gave myself the challenge of just attempting each picture once, knowing that it would otherwise never get finished to be of use to anyone.”

Laurence also worked on the book while challenged by an illness that may have been COVID-19.

“I had a virus that went straight into my lungs, causing painful breathing and shortness of breath,” she wrote. “I basically wasn’t able to get out of bed for eight days without feeling nauseous and dizzy. In those moments during the day where I felt better, I started to make the drawings for this book. It was a little awkward, drawing while lying in bed, but it worked somehow and also helped me to not get too depressed from this sickness.”

Until antibody tests are made available, Laurence won’t know for sure if she had the coronavirus.

“Paula and the Pandemic” is available on Amazon in ebook format for just $2.99 and in paperback for $7.25 (this price is higher because it is printed on-demand). I bought both–the Kindle version for immediacy and the print version because I loved the book and anticipate rereading it with AJ as needed over the duration.

Laurence will donate proceeds to Doctors Without Borders and GiveDirectly.

“My hope is to help parents and children with this little book, and support valuable work by these charities through the proceeds.”

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