Nosy Crow published the first edition of this free digital book for children on April 6 2020 under a creative commons licence – a first, we think, for trade publishing – which means that anyone can share and re-upload it, as long as they don’t alter it. It’s been viewed and downloaded 1.5 million times from the Nosy Crow website, but is hosted on countless other sites, so we don’t actually know how often it’s been read.
It’s been translated into 63 languages, including 3 different sign languages – our only conditions were that no edition should make a profit for the publisher, and that it would be translated faithfully, and any alterations to reflect local conditions and restrictions would be cleared with us.
It was updated – with new information and illustrations to reflect changes in understanding and regulations (so, for example, we have more people wearing masks in it now) – on July 23, when Nosy Crow also published a not-for-profit £1.99 print version, with £1 from each copy going to the NHS. So far, we’ve sold 45,000 print copies.
The idea of the book was conceived on March 17, just 3 weeks before publication, after I had a conversation with a friend who is a London head teacher, who spoke of confusion and distress among the children in her primary school. We wanted to make a book that would inform and, as far as possible, reassure, as many children as possible. The book was written in-house by Elizabeth Jenner, Nia Roberts and me at weekends and in the evenings, because we were also managing the transition of the business to working from home – now something so automatic that it is hard to remember how challenging and traumatic it was at first!
Axel Scheffler agreed to illustrate it within minutes of being asked at 8.22am on March 18. I Googled the email address of Professor Graham Medley at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who I’d heard interviewed on the BBC, and, after a nail-biting silence, he agreed to act as scientific consultant. Two head teachers and a deputy head acted as educational consultants, and Dr Sarah Carman, of the Evangelina Hospital attached to St Thomas’s, acted as consultant from a child psychology perspective: we wanted to be sure not only that the science was right, but that we got the balance between reassurance and a recognition of an unhappy set of realities right, too.
We persuaded a leading newswire service to publicise the book for free, and Axel and I were widely interviewed by online and traditional press, regional and national UK TV and radio, and by Australian and US news channels including ABC.
The response from users (look at Amazon) and the many critics who have drawn attention to the book has been unanimously positive. School Library Journal gave the book a starred review:
“A diverse cast, a global stage, practical and expert advice, along with friendly, accessible illustrations by Scheffler make this free digital download a must-have in the home or collection of everyone on the planet. In an NHS-endorsed project, Jenner, Wilson, and Roberts start with what we know right now about this virus, why it matters, how it is spread, what children can do, and how they can help. This part is a revelation, with everything from being kind to siblings also stuck at home, understanding that parents may not be available if they are working from home, that isolation is necessary, and that it may come with sadness and worry. Then the authors offer advice for what a child can do with this fear. This is a generous, straightforward, and necessary text; by showing people of all races, every age, all abilities or challenges, Scheffler’s cartoons, replete with asides in speech bubbles, smooth the facts and underscore the message that we can get through this.
An elegant, effective work. Download this now, read it immediately, share it with everyone you know. An educated citizenry is our best hope.”
The bottom line is that we are proud of many things we’ve done during the coronavirus crisis (and I wrote about some of them here), but the most tangible thing we are proud of is this book.
As Professor Graham Medley tweeted: “TFW you spend a few hours discussing draft manuscripts and it turns out to be, perhaps, the most significant thing you ever did. Thank you @NosyCrow for giving me the opportunity to contribute.”