Kids story

A children’s book: the story focuses on the “little warriors” to teach the virus


By Stacy Thacker
Special at the time

CRYSTAL, NM

Understanding a pandemic and the impact of the coronavirus on communities can be overwhelming and complicated, especially for children.

In an effort to educate and help children understand the world they currently live in, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health has developed a book that targets Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada.

The story, “Our Smallest Warriors, Our Strongest Medicine: Overcoming COVID-19,” follows twins Virgil and Tara as they begin to learn more about the virus and why it is important to wear a mask and wash their hands.

Through their dreams, the twins go on a journey to see how the virus has affected their friends and family. Along the way, they learn helpful tips for staying safe and begin to understand why they can’t yet visit relatives and why their mother’s job as a nurse is so important.

“This book aims to provide public health education, strength-based coping tools and most importantly hope for Indigenous children and families during this pandemic,” said Victoria O’Keefe.

O’Keefe is a member of the Cherokee and Seminole Nations of Oklahoma as well as a psychologist. She works with the Center for American Indian Health and said the book is designed to “provide tribal communities with access to supportive and culturally appropriate resources.”

The story was adapted from ‘My Hero is You’, a children’s book that also teaches children about Covid-19 and was developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in emergency situations.

By adapting the book to a Native American audience, a working group of representatives from 12 tribes, including experts in child development, metal health, and healthcare providers, helped create a book that was tracking health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while also making it culturally relevant.

“It is also important that indigenous children see themselves represented in books, because unfortunately we are not always represented in the media,” said O’Keefe. “We wanted this book to reach as many Indigenous communities as possible. ”

The coronavirus impacts more than physical health and they wanted to make sure the book addresses it.

“It is wreaking havoc on the mental and spiritual health of families and communities,” she said. “Not being able to connect with loved ones, friends or community or have tribal gatherings or ceremonies that can impact our mental and spiritual health.”

Not only are family and community members affected by the virus, but daily tasks such as shopping or going to school have changed.

“So this book really acts as a jumping off point for families to come together to talk about this pandemic, to talk about coping strategies with each other and to deal with all of these impacts that they are experiencing,” he said. O’Keefe said.

The book came out about a month ago and in the first days of the launch it reached 50,000 people via Facebook. Since then, they’ve had over 100,000 social media engagements when they post to the book.

For those without internet or social media access, they’ve been able to deliver over 11,000 pounds via wellness boxes and treatment packages, O’Keefe said.

The books are shipped to U.S. Indian Health Service units, tribal departments, tribal organizations, and Native American urban health centers across the country.

About 1,200 books have been distributed over the Navajo Nation and after a partnership with UNICEF USA, an additional 25,000 books will be distributed in the Indian country, of which 10,000 will go to the Navajo Nation, O’Keefe said.

Feedback from the community is positive. They heard from caregivers that the book helped their children understand why they had to wear a mask and made children proud to wear it.

The comments are helpful for the Center for American Indian Health and encourage readers to let me know how the book has helped them.

With commentary from her own children, Crystal Kee, screenwriter and program consultant for the Center for American Indian Health, related the story to questions and experiences children might have.

Kee, Diné, said the screenplay took him about three or four days to write, but a lot of research went into it. She had to develop a common theme among all the tribes and landed on powwows. She also wanted to balance the male and female roles, so she decided to make twins one of each gender.

Kee also had to make sure that the lessons were relevant and reflected the readers of the indigenous communities.

When creating the title, she said that children are a powerful medicine and they have a lot of strength and power. Kids are honest and it’s important to give them space in this conversation about the pandemic.

“Sometimes kids get forgotten in the mix, but their feelings and perspectives are just as important, if not more, because their exposure to what’s going on around them really determines or shapes their behavior and way of thinking,” she declared.

The book is designed to be read to children by their guardian so that they can help explain situations that could be related to their personal lives and together they can learn more about the virus and why it is important to take certain precautions. .

Sometimes it is easier and more comfortable to talk about situations in a form where children do not feel put on the spot. Using Tara and Virgil as examples is a good way to start the conversation, Kee said.

“Kids develop fears, kids develop anxiety and stress, especially when things are going on around them that they don’t know what it is,” Kee said. “They know something is wrong, they know there is a lot of verbiage about covid, but what is it?”

Kee said the virus won’t go away with the snap of a finger, so talking about how to best live life during this time when the virus has created temporary lifestyles is essential.

But it’s also important to focus on any lessons that this experience might leave behind, such as slowing down and having dinner with your family or continuing to be kind to each other and the earth.

The book is available online at: https://bit.ly/SmallestWarriorsBook

More resources can be found at: https://bit.ly/NativeStrongMedicine



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