As the new coronavirus outbreak swept through New York City in March, officials at United Nations Publications moved quickly to share a message for young people from young people, telling them that they were not alone. The plan proposed by intern Snow Xue Bai was to create vignettes from children all over the world featuring stories of resilience during the pandemic. Those plans changed when officials saw Xue’s storyboard drawings, which prompted them to commission her to write and illustrate From My Window: Children at Home During Covid-19, a picture book released by UN Publications earlier this month.
“As Snow presented more of her illustrations and texts for each vignette showing children from different parts of the world sharing similar experiences, we realized that we had a full-fledged, engaging, beautifully illustrated, and timely volume that would inform and entertain young readers while also sharing the values and messages of the UN during this special time,” said Antje Kristin Watermann, associate marketing officer at the UN’s department of global communications.
A Masters in Arts and Cultural Management student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Xue has worked on a wide array of design projects, from ensuring accessibility for blind readers of digital texts to helping the office develop its new UN Storytime Online program and providing multilingual resources to kids about the UN’s sustainable development goals. But she drew on personal stories she heard in New York and coming from friends and family in China to develop her book idea.
The UN Publications team then expanded the source material for the book by adding stories from South America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Each page spread in the book is written from the perspective of a child looking out their window, describing what they see and how they are responding to the crisis, from playing music and reading, to making masks for others.
“Our main message to children—and adults—is that by staying positive, creative, and empathetic, we make a difference and live the learning,” Watermann said. “Our goal for the volume was to inspire children by showing them that many other kids like them face the same challenges, have the same fears, and can overcome them by being creative and empathetic, by staying positive and healthy.”
With the UN’s New York and Geneva offices closed—including the organization’s bookstores—the publications team needed to produce a print copy that could be ordered online along with a digital version that they have made available for free. “While we have produced other books for children and young readers in the past, this one was by far the fastest schedule given that Covid-19 was affecting us all and we wanted to publish this book while staying at home was still a shared experience for most of the world,” Watermann said.
Proceeds from the sale of print copies of the book will go to fund UN operations, and an online video reading of the book will be posted in July. The book is also being translated into French and Chinese, with plans to publish versions in Spanish, Russian, and Arabic.
The book is Xue’s first, and Watermann said its creation provided an opportunity for the UN to practice the very message the book preaches. “We all saw the unique opportunity of this serendipitous moment,” she said. “The book shows how there are always opportunities to take action, to love, learn, create, and connect, no matter the circumstances. Snow created an inviting, warm, and hopeful tone for the book, emphasizing that even during a global crisis such as the coronavirus, there are opportunities every day to love and create.”