The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked worldwide havoc. Even for those lucky enough to stay healthy, the economic, personal, and emotional repercussions have been huge. It's incredibly heartening, amidst all that, to see that the challenges we're facing have inspired some truly creative solutions. And all the more inspiring when innovations and empathetic initiatives are dreamt up by children, as we find in Erin Silver's What Kids Did: Stories of Kindness and Invention In the Time of COVID-19 (Second Story Press).
From a sweet and cheering neighbourhood joke stand to using 3D printers to creating sorely needed medical equipment, the stories in What Kids Did are an uplifting counterpoint against the news of the day. They also offer a great, approachable way to discuss the pandemic with the young people in your life, and to offer positive, true stories of how even the youngest and smallest amongst us can make a difference.
We're happy to welcome Erin to Open Book today to discuss What Kids Did as part of our Kids Club interview series for authors writing for young readers. She tells us about how researching the stories of kids helping out during the pandemic helped ease her own pandemic-induced anxieties, her idea of a great book, and how she's been inspired while connecting with young readers during her digital book tour.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
I had been working on several other manuscripts for children and was sending them around to publishers when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, bookstores, libraries, and schools were closed. With no activities or access to friends, my kids were cranky and bored and they struggled to learn from home. To top it all off, I was so disappointed when the publication of my very first book for kids was postponed until the following year. Overall, I was feeling pretty helpless and low in March.
I happened to be speaking to an editor at Second Story Press when she asked if I’d be interested in writing a picture book about the ways kids around the world were helping others during the pandemic. The cloud that had been hanging over my head instantly lifted as I dug into my new project and began researching good-news stories. I found so many inspiring kids from across the world—from ones in my own hometown of Toronto to places on the other side of the map. All of these kids—some as young as six—were making a difference in a crisis; taking action at a time when even adults were paralyzed by fear. It made me realize that we’re all in this together, and it gave me hope. As I wrote, I was excited to share this hope with others.
In all, I had about a month to write the whole book—from finding stories to interviewing the kids and writing about their good deeds. Throughout the process, I was comforted by the kids’ stories and couldn’t wait to share the finished book with readers this fall. It came out in October, and the response from both the kids in the book and readers has been overwhelming. I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity and proud of how the book turned out.
Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?
I hope readers feel inspired and empowered by the book. I hope they realize that kids can accomplish big things, even if they’re small. I hope it teaches them that no matter how old they are or where they live, they can make a positive impact on someone else’s life. I also hope it makes readers think about what they can do to make a difference. Maybe this book will be a call to action, not just in a crisis, but long afterward, too.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
I need a nice, quiet room and a lot of time stretched out ahead of me so I can focus. I can work in spurts, too, but I tend to work best when the kids are at school and I have several hours to dig into whatever it is I’m working on. And coffee—I definitely like to fuel up with coffee before I write.
What defines a great book for young readers, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great kids books, whether you read them as a child or an adult.
To me, a great book is one that teaches us something but without us realizing we’re being taught. A great book is one that touches us on an emotional level and makes us feel something. I just finished Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. I sat down and read it in one go—I just couldn’t put it down. It was so masterfully written with humour, voice, and heart. I loved every word of it. I also recently discovered Sharon M. Draper and devoured her book Out of My Mind. “Wow,” is how I’d describe it. The book was a piece of art. I felt it more than I read it. These are books that make a difference—they teach us as much about ourselves as we learn about others. And both are a crash course in the craft of writing, that’s for sure!
I actually read a lot of middle grade and picture books. I love funny books and books about groundbreaking individuals—people who never gave up despite whatever obstacles stood in their way. I guess, overall, the books I remember, the ones that I love, are the ones that make a difference somehow. In all the projects I tackle, I strive to choose ones that will make a difference, too. Books that will matter in some way, even to just one reader.
What are you working on now?
I’m just finishing up the first draft of a middle grade novel about a girl whose eco-conscious parents move the family to a co-housing community where everyone shares resources and makes their own bread and hand sanitizer from scratch. Faced with no friends and a “greener” new life, the main character is forced to make some big decisions as she gets pulled into a crime ring. Then, it’s up to her to help her friends out of a dangerous situation. It’s funny, fast-paced, and will appeal to readers who care about the environment. In short, it’s about growing up during global warming. I’m also about to start a nonfiction book about how kids can help prevent food waste. You wouldn’t believe how much food gets wasted every day!
I have several other books coming out in the next few years, too. I can hardly wait to have copies in my hands. And I’m having a ton of fun talking to students virtually about What Kids Did. They all seem to love the book and have asked me some really insightful questions. I’ve gotten some great letters from readers. Interacting with kids is one of my absolute favourite parts of being a children’s author.
Erin Silver has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. Her work has appeared in everything from The Washington Post and The Globe and Mail to Harper’s Bazaar and Good Housekeeping, among many other North American magazines, newspapers and blogs. She has a postgraduate journalism degree from Ryerson University and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from King’s College. She's a member of CANSCAIP, SCBWI, IBBY, The Writers Union of Canada, and Authors Booking Service. She lives in Toronto.