SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio – The pandemic has been a difficult time for many people, but has also provided educational opportunities for some. Joan Morgenstern, for example, had always wanted to write children’s books, and COVID and its effects on society opened the door for her to educate others.
When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Morgenstern, who works for Senders Pediatrics (2054 S. Green Road) as director of education and community outreach, spoke to Dr. Shelly Senders about an idea she had. “I brought him (the book idea),” said Morgenstern. “During the start of the pandemic, we were all in hiding. I had to adjust my work because I work with parents and of course I couldn’t see them in person. I was very sensitive to the problems parents struggled with.
“My ‘a-ha’ moment was when we (Senders Pediatrics) open up young kids, we’re talking 3-6, will be very surprised when they have to wear masks and they see people wearing masks. This is not normalized behavior and if not explained properly it will cause an alarm. And alarm is where fear begins. I thought, ‘I don’t think there are any books on child masks,’ so I made the book ‘Task of the Mask’. ”
That book, she said, was designed to help children feel more confident about wearing masks and seeing masks on others. However, Morgenstern’s creative streak had only started with ‘Task of the Mask’. Soon followed the pandemic-influenced early childhood books “Embrace the Space,” which give children a sense of spatial boundaries; “Way To Go Elbow,” which uses rhyme to let kids know that sneezing in the elbow can help stop the spread of germs; and “Sammy the Shot,” using the playful, animated shot called Sammy to prepare children for vaccination.
Morgenstern said that while studying at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, she was inspired by Fred Rogers, also known as Mr. Rogers from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” She worked as an intern for Rogers in the late 1970s.
“I call him my role model,” Morgenstern said of Rogers. “Although I was very much in an intern role, so I didn’t have much access to him or (did) not (do) glamorous things, I was always impressed with the way he wrote and spoke for kids, for kids. That’s what my background has sown (for writing children’s books), and my degree is education. My passion is working with teachers and parents so that they do their job well in the service of children. “
Morgenstern, a resident of Pepper Pike, said the books were initially available through Senders Pediatrics as a free download to anyone who requested them, but can now be purchased on Amazon.com as paperbacks and as Kindle downloads. While she found writing the stories easy, Morgenstern said learning the technical aspects of writing self-published books and the process of collaborating with illustrators was a bit more difficult, but worth it.
“We know that books are beneficial for children because they support language skills,” she said. “The other way books are important is because they expose children to concepts or ideas that might otherwise be difficult to explain. When we read to children, the chances are that they are calm and relaxed so that their brains can better absorb the information, rather than trying to explain something to them at a tense time.
“But what was also clear was that there weren’t many books to deal with the pandemic, because we hadn’t actually had a pandemic before. So ‘Task of the Mask’ was super helpful and I thought, ‘I should write more of it.’ And Dr. Senders said I had his blessing to write more. “
Senders believes the book series will help as children and their parents will continue to deal with the pandemic and its consequences in the coming months.
“While the new vaccines hold great promise and we hope that COVID-19 will soon be behind us,” said Senders, “I think it is unrealistic to assume that we will stop worrying about coronaviruses, infection control and the spread of disease … At Senders Pediatrics, we have discovered the value of adopting a “child-centered approach” that enables children to become active participants in their health.
“We created this series of books to remind young children in an age appropriate way of the simple things they can do to protect themselves and others.”
And, Morgenstern said, the flow of books doesn’t stop with the four already released. Morgenstern is already working on a book, which should be ready within a month, that will help children deal with their anger safely and responsibly.
“Writing (for kids) is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “I thought I would one day, but I didn’t know when the opportunity would come. I certainly didn’t think these (pandemic-related) things were going to be what I was writing about. “
To purchase Morgenstern’s books, visit Amazon.com.