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Caring, Coping + COVID: 5 Picture Books to Help Kids Manage

with lots of discussion/activity Ideas for Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).

By Katie O. Engen, M.Ed.

COVID-19 has impacted our familiar routines and raised big concerns for everyone. For youngsters, cozy interactions around quality stories can really help them process, manage and move forward.

Below you’ll find discussion starters, activities, and related resources for sharing five picture books with youngsters. Each story has a message and meaning that relates in a special way to the challenges of this pandemic.

Enzo the dragon is sick and miserable. In a panic to be cured, he sneezes “crackling goo” everywhere as he flies over the land to reach a royal magician. Enzo embodies the panic anyone can feel when illness seems overwhelming. His overblown antics lighten the tone for thinking about viruses, hygiene, self-care, and community health.

Discussion: How did Enzo make things worse for himself and others? How do others react to Enzo? Who is amused, mad, calm, disgusted or other? How can you tell? What could Enzo have done differently along the way, to avoid so much mayhem?


· Sid the Science Kid’s The Big Sneeze (PBS, 26-min.) - hygiene solutions backed by science; compare Sid’s and Enzo’s problem-solving choices

· Grover’s 3-step reminder for how to cough or sneeze (video, 30 sec.)

· NPR comic panels blending practicalities with nose-picking humor

· How Far Do Sneezes and Vomit Travel – Gross Science (PBS, 2:45 min.); germ-nervous folks will need related text lower on the page

· National Geographic’s still photos of sneeze spread

· A read aloud of the book (copyright policy aligned)

This title uses practical, kid-centric approaches to explain complicated situations. With concise, friendly patter, Spot shares small units of information and relatable examples to explain terms like virus, germ, contagious, outbreak, and essential worker. The simple text and art combine effectively to promote safety and clear thinking related to COVID-19 health habits. Spot inspires trust and frees youngsters to process big ideas in low-pressure ways that fit their daily routines.


· Enjoy this author’s story presentation (with ASL interpreter)

· Compare Enzo and Spot. Act out their physical habits and their Big Ideas (e.g. Enzo panics, Spot gathers information).

· Watch Adler create with spots, scribbles, and spatters. Make mini posters with her techniques. Add health and safety tips from the story.

· View Coronavirus COVID-19: What is social distancing? for kid-centric media options

· Find 125+ COVID-19 social stories and activities or these picture books that instruct on classroom safety.

Robin, Rabbit, Squirrel, and Beaver loudly enjoy all sorts of winter fun, inviting Tortoise to join them – but Tortoise just wants to be left alone and nap. He moves to quieter and quieter places, yet the truth sneaks up on him: napping too long can turn into withdrawal.

From high on a far-away hill, an unexpected nudge helps Tortoise slip free of his isolation. Still not quite sure it is the perfect time, Tortoise rejoins the others, and tries something new anyway.


Compare Tortoise’s choices to what you might prefer or practice: Ignore your instincts, or adjust slowly? Rely on others, or go it alone -- what are the risks and rewards?


· Winter ends when spring begins, but the 2020 pandemic doesn’t have a deadline. Make a chart showing what other tortoises or turtles might say to help people stay connected in healthy ways. Think up advice from Yertle the Turtle, Crush or Squirt from Finding Nemo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Franklin, or Bowser from Super Mario Bros.

· Draw 3 maps of your house (or copy the first one). Label them: Morning, Midday, Evening. Add people to each map as they work, eat meals, exercise, sleep, use free time, or find space. Is anyone alone a lot? Too much?

· Make sidewalk chalk art with encouraging ‘We’re in this together’ messages. Write a weekly question on the sidewalk, and leave chalk to collect answers.

· Start a music hour or teddy bear hunt in your neighborhood. Get inspired by this Voice of America video (2:42 min.).

· Create a neighborhood story scavenger hunt like this.

Waiting can be hard. It may feel lonely or boring. It can take patience and be confusing – especially when you don’t know exactly what or for how long you are waiting. And yet… sometimes – as in this story --- waiting is like opening a gift.

Five toys on a windowsill wait and watch the world go by. Each enjoys the wait in different ways, and nobody seems impatient. Eventually, time provides just what each friend needs and wants. The simple art and story line will cue discussion about the silver linings of waiting.


What did each windowsill friend want? What items helped them wait? How? The rabbit didn’t have an item. Was just waiting enough? What held the friends’ attention while they waited? How did the unexpected (good and bad) affect the friends’ overall satisfaction with waiting?


· Brainstorm events – large and small – that are fun to wait for, every day, month, or year. Emphasize what’s possible right now. Make a logo or emoji for each event. Add your event art to a calendar.

· Listen to Anticipation by Carly Simon. How are these days YOUR good old days? What does anticipation feel like to you? Dance it.

· Enjoy this copyright-protected read aloud by the author.

Evan the fox grapples with loss after his beloved dog dies. First, he is sad and withdrawn. Then anger erupts, and Evan thrashes the beautiful garden he had nurtured with his dog for company. Evan cultivates everything that is prickly, weedy, and dark – in his garden and his heart.

A vine creeps under the fence and Evan lets its twisted form grow. A pumpkin emerges, first as a small bloom, and later, with immense promise. Fair Week arrives and Evan shares his prized gourd with the community. Despite coming from a twisted, creepy vine, that pumpkin earns Evan a ribbon and prize money. Surprising himself, he buys a puppy to take home. Life goes on.


· Plant some pumpkin seeds.

· Make a flipbook. Sketch what you see each day.

· Rate your Waiting Mood each day (e.g. 1=argh, 3=meh, 5= wow!).

· Re-connect. Send 10 postcards to folks you haven’t seen in a while. Share good news then ask for return mail.

· Enjoy this read-aloud (per publisher’s COVID-19 policy).

More COVID-19 Context

There are always silver linings. Check out these 101 Good News stories that happened because of COVID-19.

Stay safe, everyone.


Katie O’Brien Engen, M.Ed, currently works in private practice to mentor students with executive functioning and language processing challenges. She also writes stories and cross-curricular lessons to engage young minds with big ideas, does writing work for hire, and reviews books for various kidlit outlets. Katie is fueled by faith and laughter, and rarely is she too busy for family, sports, or ice cream. She lives in Maryland where one of her favorite runs is the ~10 miles to the Washington Monument in D.C. Learn more about Katie here.


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