When the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus first began to spike, leading many states to close schools and issue stay-at-home orders, children had questions. Lots of them. What is a coronavirus? Why do we have to wash our hands so much? Why can't I see my friends? Why do we wear masks? When peppered with questions like that by her own daughter, one New York mom reimagined popular children's book covers to explain coronavirus in a way that was lighthearted, fun, and approachable.
When Stefanie Trilling painted her first coronavirus children's book cover she had no idea that, within just a few weeks, she would be creating one cover a day or that tens of thousands of people would be liking and sharing them across social media networks. In fact, at the time, she was just hoping to distract her two kids for a short period of time.
"My family lives within about 10 blocks of four major hospitals in Manhattan and in the early days of the pandemic in New York we would hear sirens all the time," Trilling tells Romper. "It was really distressing to me, it was distressing to the kids and we tried to do anything we could to distract ourselves from the constant blare of sirens outside our window."
To truly get her children's minds off the sirens, Trilling knew she'd need to pull out the most powerful tools she had at hand: craft activities. When Trilling noticed how much fun her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were having painting, she picked up a brush herself and started painting the first thing she saw: An Elephant & Piggie book that had been left on the family's dining room table.
"I started painting the characters and my daughter was asking lots and lots of questions about COVID-19 and what exactly a coronavirus is," Trilling says. "So as I was answering her questions I started painting pictures of what coronavirus looks like under a microscope into the piece I was working on."
Her painting was at hit with her daughter and served to expand their conversation around what the novel coronavirus is and how it had spurred a global pandemic. "It really opened the conversation to talk about what it meant scientifically but what also it meant emotionally and what it meant for us as a family and as a community and really for the world," Trilling says.
Trilling enjoyed painting a reimagined version of a children's book; it was a moment of fun in an otherwise busy and chaotic day in quarantine. And so, later that day, she sat down and painted another one, this time using a book from the Pete the Cat series to create "Pete the Cat and the Bad Corona." Again, her kids responded positively to the painting, which spurred Trilling to share it on social media, where her friends encouraged her to do more and asked if they could share them among their own followers.
"I thought if they brought my family and my friends joy, they'd probably bring other people joy as well," Trilling says of her decision to eventually make Facebook and Instagram art pages for her Children's Books for Pandemics project. "So I started sharing them on these pages. I started painting one every single day and from there it went viral."
To date, Trilling has painted and shared more than 50 reimagined covers, including "Goodnight Zoom," "Oh The places You Won’t Go," and "Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad 2020." But don't ask her to pick a favorite cover. "I can’t say I have any favorites because that would be like saying one of my kids was my favorite," she tells Romper while laughing. "I mean, I put so much blood, sweat, and tears into these that I can’t pick a favorite."
Tens of thousands of people are now following Trilling's art pages, many of whom thank her in the comments for bringing much-needed humor into their lives. "The reactions have been really unbelievable," Trilling says. "It's largely been a response of joy. I’ve been thanked for bringing something bright, something fun to a time where a lot of people are struggling."
In an effort to help her Children's Books for Pandemics project do even more good, Trilling is launching an e-store where a generous percentage of the proceeds will go to charity. She's also hoping to publish her covers in a book with vignettes of what family life was like during the coronavirus pandemic. Until then, she'll keep pulling out the art supplies after putting her kids to bed and painting one cover a day.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.