In early April, Random House Children’s Books president and publisher Barbara Marcus discussed the idea of a children’s book about the new coronavirus outbreak with editors at Little Tiger, the U.K. publishing house acquired by RHCB last year. Having watched as essential workers stepped into the Covid-19 crisis in ways that were unimaginable, Marcus wondered if a book could honor their efforts. That led to the creation of Thank You Helpers, a picture book released as an e-book in late May and published today in print.
Written by Patricia Hegarty and illustrated by Michael Emmerson, the book celebrates front-line workers, from doctors, nurses, and paramedics, to teachers, grocery workers, and warehouse workers. It represents a highly collaborative effort that included the author and illustrator along with associate editor Tricia Lin and editorial director Caroline Abbey.
“When Tricia and I first started working with Patricia on the text, I immediately thought of the famous ‘Look for the helpers’ quote from Mr. Rogers,” Abbey said. “We also really wanted to be inclusive of all kinds of helpers—this book includes grocery workers, warehouse workers, and delivery people alongside medical personnel.”
By partnering with Little Tiger, RHCB was able to streamline the creation of the book despite the difficulty of transitioning to working remotely during the pandemic. “It was so valuable to have so many extra sets of eyes on the text and the art—and the time difference didn't hurt,” Abbey said. “We could send notes at the end of our day and see revisions at the beginning of the next day because they were working while we were sleeping.”
Still, the disruption to a traditional workflow presented challenges for the team. “The hardest part was not being able to gather around a set of printouts with the design team and talk through any little tweaks or issues in the art. Email, phone calls, and video calls are great, but I think all of that electronic communication can also slow us down,” Abbey said. “You just can’t quite replicate the important work that happens when you’re all looking at the pages together and talking through color or design.”
Despite those challenges, the end result is something Abbey said RHCB and Little Tiger are exceedingly proud of. “We love that this book offers children a look at both the hard work needed to deal with the crisis and the positive feeling of gratitude,” she said.
RHCB and Little Tiger are expressing gratitude of their own by making a one-time donation to Americares, which provides health care relief during major emergencies. “Their mission to help frontline workers during the pandemic felt like the right pairing for this book,” Abbey said. “Their work is focused on both frontline health workers and those in need of essential health services during the Covid-19 crisis—especially those who suffer from deadly inequality.”