From school shutdowns to prohibitions on visiting grandparents, the global COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of children around the world — and the disruptions are set to continue for the foreseeable future.
“Their routines have changed. Kids are struggling to adjust to that; they don’t have the same control we have,” said Maya Adam, MD, director of health media innovation in Stanford’s Department of Pediatrics.
Concerned that kids may be feeling anxious, depressed or generally powerless, Adam wanted to do something to help families everywhere cope with the current reality. So when she was offered an opportunity to create a video adaptation of a kids’ book about COVID-19, she jumped at the chance.
‘My Hero is You’
“My Hero is You” was produced this year by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the United Nations. The IASC coordinates the humanitarian activities of the World Health Organization and UNICEF, among other agencies.
The book tells the story of a young girl’s interaction with an imaginary flying creature named Ario, a friendly orange unicorn-dragon hybrid meant to symbolize children’s resilience. Ario helps children around the world understand basic concepts related to the pandemic, such as why they need to sneeze into their elbows and how they can keep caring for their friends even when they can’t see them in person.
“The book is very well thought-out, and has been translated into more than 150 languages around the world,” Adam told me. “The problem was that it needed somebody to read it, so it required a parent or caregiver who could read.”
Bringing the story to life
Adam, who specializes in conveying public-health messages through video, simplified the story to focus on kids’ feelings of loneliness, and how they can use mindfulness techniques, such as calm breathing, to help manage their emotions. Faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine provided input on the story adaptation.
Adam recruited an award-winning team of animators — the folks behind the Oscar-winning short film Hair Love — to bring the streamlined version of the story to life.
The finished product, which is the fourth COVID-themed video Adam has produced, features a very charming version of Ario and a diverse group of kids. It is wordless and set to music to engage children around the world.
Adam noted that the kids in the video are staying far apart, but aren’t wearing masks because global recommendations regarding mask-wearing for children vary by country. Families should follow the guidance of their local public health agencies with regard to mask-wearing for children and adults, she said.
Adam hopes the story will resonate with kids and families everywhere, and that watching the video together will give parents an easy way to be supportive of their kids.
“Parents play an important role in providing the extra stability that kids need to get through this time, and the video gets at that,” said Adam, noting that the story shows the main character’s mom hugging and taking care of her, noticing what she needs.
“That’s probably the best medicine for kids right now,” Adam said.
Image from “My Hero Is You” video produced by Maya Adam, MD.