As the new coronavirus moved through communities in March, children’s author Beth Bacon, who has written The Worst Book Ever along with a number of other humorous books for reluctant readers, watched others spring into action. Some practiced medicine. Others taught. Bacon’s husband worked long hours as an employee at their local food bank. But how to help as an author seemed a more difficult question for Bacon to answer, until her old MFA classmate posted news of the Emory Global Health Institute’s Covid-19 Children’s E-book Competition.
Bacon enlisted her friend, illustrator Kary Lee, and together they leaped at the opportunity. On May 8, they won the competition for their e-book Covid-19 Helpers, which praises young readers for their role in fighting the coronavirus by staying home while teaching them why it is so important to be doing so. Along with publication of the book on EGHI’s website, Bacon and Lee will also split a $10,000 prize.
The message in Covid-19 Helpers is one that an overwhelming majority of Americans support. An AP-NORC poll released Wednesday showed that 83% of people were concerned about state reopening plans causing an increase in infections.
“I wrote what I was feeling,” Bacon said. “I felt proud of everyone who was staying home. I thought, ‘We’re all in this together.’ I have a friend in France who is quarantining there. Everyone around the world is doing it. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Turning that idea into a fully illustrated book in two weeks was no small endeavor. Bacon joked that the turnaround time reflected the background of the EGHI staffers who created the competition. “They’re doctors,” she said. “I’m not sure they really understand how long it takes to write a children’s book.”
She was able to do it because of the speed with which the text came together along with Lee’s quick completion of the art. Lee, who had closed on purchasing a house on the day her state’s shutdown began, managed to do two rounds of thumbnail reviews with Bacon and finish the art, all on time.
Years of experience in producing her own e-books prepared Bacon to turn the proofs into a completed digital edition. “I knew InDesign and I knew typography,” she said. “So it didn’t take a lot of time.”
The effort has helped Bacon prepare for the forthcoming release of her new title I Hate Reading: How to Read When You’d Rather Not (HarperCollins, June), which helps reluctant readers explore ways to enjoy books. Bacon has designed a single-sheet PDF with images from the book, which readers will be able to print out for her readings and—with one cut on the page—turn into a small book of their own. Together, they will then come up with the theme and ideas for the book during the reading and attendees will leave with their own handmade book.
As for Covid-19 Helpers, creating the book has helped Bacon answer the question she had two months ago about the role of children’s authors in a time of crisis. “Storytelling is essential,” she said. “It gives us perspective.”