One year into the Covid-19 crisis, children’s publishing staffers have more or less gotten the hang of working from home and all the complications that entails. But work isn’t the full picture of pandemic life. With limited options for social gatherings, many of us are taking up new hobbies, from the practical to the quirky and everything in between. We asked children’s book professionals to tell us about some of their surprising quarantine pastimes, kicking off a series.
Andi Diehn, author and senior editor and content marketing manager at Nomad Communications/Nomad Press
I never meant to adopt a duck.
But when a friend of a friend sends out a Facebook plea for someone to take a duck named Clyde before he’s homeless, well, who can resist? Though I suspect if it hadn’t been plague season, I’d have been less likely to say sure. But school (such as it was) had just gotten out for my three sons and the summer stretched ahead in all its boring glory.
Maybe a duck would help, I thought.
My youngest son, Barnaby, age 12, and I drove the 20 minutes to meet the duck and then drove 20 minutes home, said duck balanced on a towel in my son’s lap, staring out the window for all the world looking like a very sad foster child whose meager collection of belongings was stuffed in a trash bag at his feet. We tried to say soothing things to him during the ride, but he still looked deeply concerned at this turn of events.
When we got home, before we could release him into the yard, he expressed his dismay with an explosive bowel movement all over the front seat. This won Barnaby’s heart, and they have been close ever since.
That first afternoon was a tense one. Clyde didn’t trust us—can you blame him?—and we had no idea bread was bad for ducks. Luckily, Barnaby is an intrepid researcher, so he soon set us straight and opened a can of peas for Clyde, which we used to lure him into his fenced-in yard where an old chicken coop would keep him safe from the predators that live in our woods.
But let me tell you, there are few things more pitiful than a lone duck bedding down in an extra-large chicken coop. So we got him a couple of friends. Turns out, once you become known as someone who will take in orphan ducks, you begin to have plenty of opportunities.
Clyde and his buddies have provided ample entertainment this long year. They come to the door and peck at the glass, determined to be let inside. They chase our 90-pound greyhound. They run through the snow to greet us when we come home from school. They have made our time sweeter, and if I have anything to thank the pandemic for, it’s the ducks.
Kate Schafer Testerman, founder and senior agent at KT Literary
I’ve picked up new hobbies and had a lot of time to practice previous ones in the last year of quarantine. Like so many, I baked a lot—sourdough bread, English muffins, cinnamon raisin bread, bagels, donuts, baps, challah, honey wheat loaves, even an “exploding” multi-tier Minecraft cake for my son’s 10th birthday.
As a photographer, I also kept myself busy when I couldn’t photograph other people with a series I called #QuarantineCouture, which was self-portraits of myself in evening gowns doing random maintenance around my house—watering my plants, vacuuming, cleaning the toilet, picking up dog poop in my backyard, making the bed, getting the mail, etc.
My current photo project is remaking favorite movie posters with my family. We’ve done The Breakfast Club, Octopussy, Flashdance, Back to the Future, Sixteen Candles, The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, and more. I post a new one every Thursday on my Instagram @ktbuffy.
But my biggest new hobby came about last summer, about five months into quarantine, when I realized I was a 40-something woman who still loved horses like the 12-year-old girl I’d been who devoured every Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley book in my library, and I started riding horses regularly again. I take twice-weekly lessons at a nearby rescue, where I’ve also leased a horse to help pay for its care. I’ve done trail rides with my kids in our beautiful state parks, in the Rocky Mountains, and in the red hills of Moab. I also volunteer at a therapy ranch nearby, helping lead horses for the children and adults with physical and mental disabilities who participate in hippotherapy and adaptive riding sessions. And in hopes that the world will allow it again someday, I’ve booked a trip for summer 2022 to ride Icelandic ponies under the midnight sun for a week.
Nicole Wheeler, brand marketing and sales manager at Fabled Films Press
Beading has been a welcome distraction from the pandemic as I've been able to turn my stress into tangible crafts that I’m proud of. I love the look of traditional embroidery but I couldn’t get the technique down. Last spring, I stumbled across Jonathan Adler bead art and was intrigued because I’d never seen beads used like that. I started researching the history and how-tos of bead embroidery and I really liked how forgiving yet complex it was. While of course there is technique, for the most part, as long as you secure the beads to the fabric then you’re good.
I thought I had most of the supplies from my past forays into embroidery, so early in the pandemic when I was bored out of my mind, I impulse-ordered beads on Etsy. The first set of beads were neon colored and when I opened the box, I saw “Patrick Star” [from SpongeBob SquarePants] in the colors, so that was the first one I made, though not without a lot of trial and error.
I’ve never been good at conceptualizing my own designs. At first, I was looking at Google image search and Pinterest for inspiration, but I got concerned about plagiarism and receiving credit for a design that wasn’t mine, which led me to cartoon characters as they are more obviously not my original work. It’s a bonus that the art is already styled to be made of thick lines and bright colors. I’m testing new techniques and am currently working on trying to translate photographs.
I like to pick moments or characters that are not the first thing you think of because I think it’s more fun, and in a weird way, I think it says a little more about who I am. Plus, when I do really random things, people have fun guessing what they are from.
See our series of Authors’ Quarantine Stories and stay tuned for more Publishers’ Pandemic Pastimes.