Samantha Harris and Devon Scott, both medical students at Loma Linda University, wanted to give children straightforward, easy-to-understand information about the pandemic. So they wrote a book. It´s been translated into four more languages and is being read by tens of thousands of families in countries around the world.
Question: You have jointly written a children’s book called Why We Stay Home: Suzie Learns About Coronavirus. It´s available as a free download. When did you put it up online? How many times has it been downloaded to date?
Answer: We made the book available online on April 23 and since then it has been downloaded over 40,000 times!
You are both medical students at Loma Linda University. What gave you the idea to write a children’s book?
As medical students, we were overwhelmed by the amount of information available about Coronavirus. And it seems as though the guidelines change constantly.
One night we were talking about this and realized that this must also be a confusing time for children. They know that their family members are home with them, but do they really understand why? We wanted to make this resource to help explain Coronavirus in child-like terms, but also to accurately present the symptoms of the virus and ways that they can protect themselves.
Tell us about the illustrator.
Her name is Harriet Rodis, she is a freelance illustrator and has worked on several children’s books in her career.
How did you find her? Was she paid?
We met Harriett online through a freelance artist site, and yes, we did pay her.
What feedback have you received so far about the book?
The feedback from the book has been extremely positive. When we first talked about this project, we told ourselves that it would be a success if we were able to reach 100 children. So far the book has been downloaded more than 40,000 times all over the world and people have reached out to us from places like Syria, Brazil, and Kenya because they are interested in translating the book into their native languages to share with children in their area.
My seven-year-old daughter liked the book and the illustrations. She thought it was more interesting to hear kids talking to each other than listening to an adult. Is that why you made the narrator a child?
A lot of children’s books that explain complex topics to kids usually use an adult as the narrator. We wanted to change this and use a child because we believed that would be very relatable to kids. We can remember from both our childhoods, learning a lot from our older siblings. We wanted to bring this dynamic to the story by having Millie, the older sister, explain this topic to her younger sister, Suzie.
Are you making any money through the book, from ads or something else?
One of the core concepts that we discussed in the beginning stages of this project was that we wanted this book, and our entire series, to be available as free downloadable ebooks. The reason is that we want the book to be available to children everywhere, regardless of socioeconomic background. On our website we have a donations tab where people can donate money toward the production of future books.
Do you have more Millie & Suzie books planned?
During the process of writing Why We Stay Home, and with the great responses we were getting from readers, we decided that we could expand this storyline into an entire series.
The plan is to have each book teach about different body systems and the physicians that care for those systems. For example, in our next book What Happens When You Break a Bone? Suzie Learns about Bones and Muscles, we introduce kids to bones and muscles and how they work to help move our bodies. We also explain what an orthopedic surgeon does.
Can you tell us more about what you are studying at Loma Linda and when you plan to graduate? Have your studies been disrupted by the pandemic?
We are both rising fourth-year medical students at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. After graduation, Devon plans on going into residency for Orthopedic Surgery and Samantha for Pediatric medicine. Due to the pandemic, our in-person rotations were changed to online learning experiences, but we recently started going back into the hospital again to finish up the rest of the school year.
Where are you both from? Where did you meet each other?
I (Samantha) was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. Devon was born and raised in Belle Glade in South Florida. We met at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama and continued on to medical school together at Loma Linda University.
You don´t have kids of your own — what children did you have in mind when you were writing this book?
We both have young nieces and nephews. Before we released the book to the public, we shared it with our siblings so that they could give us feedback as the parents of young children. They loved the book. Devon’s nephew gave us one of the best critiques when he said that it was really good that the book is short as it caters to a child’s attention span.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photos courtesy of Samantha Harris and Devon Scott.
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