Sabbithry Persad, MBA has followed up her Garbology Kids waste management series with the release of What Is Coronavirus?: How It Infects, How It Spreads, and How to Stay Safe. To say such an addition is timely would be a massive understatement. The thing I loved when reading the book was how she designed and structured it narratively. It’s an image-driven book no doubt, complete with brightly colored, moderately stylized drawings that by themselves prove arresting. But on top of that, the book is structured like a series of conjoined flashcards, the text beautifully married to the arrangement of images themselves.
The read is likely for an intermediate elementary audience, younger children likely won’t enjoy the design, but older kids may find comfort in having things explained in a way that isn’t excessive, but wholly informative. Persad and two editors who worked with her — Camilly P. Pires de Mello, Ph.D. and Viveca Giongo, Ph.D. respectively — seem interested in making what even for adults has proven incomprehensible as understandable as possible for the widest possible audience. It’s a valiant effort that pays off. Whenever the text becomes too wordy, you always have a beautiful illustration or evocation on the page, bookending one point or aptly worded statistic to the next.
“People talk a lot about viruses, but what are they?” Persad writes on page one. “Viruses are one of the four major types of germs: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Viruses are microscopic organisms that have four main characteristics: structure, size, shape, and host dependency.” It’s through this sort of peeling onion technique that she’s able to instill a sense of calm, maybe even excitement, for the targeted reader. Something causing a big, scary world is suddenly shrunk to a level where kids can dissect it intellectually, laid out expertly from A to Z. This is further reflected in page two, titled Are viruses dead or alive? “Viruses challenge the concept of a clear distinction between living and dead,” Persad writes. “Scientists are not sure if viruses are living or nonliving. Biologists use a common set of criteria to understand if something is alive or not. Viruses do not meet most of these criteria.”
Riffs on phrases like Truth is Power apply here. Indeed, by making kids feel empowered at such a historically torturous and divided time, Persad simultaneously performs a worthy literary feat, and something of a public service. What Is Coronavirus?: How It Infects, How It Spreads, and How to Stay Safe may very well have a place in a historical exhibit, at a later point in time. If not for its actual literary prowess, then simply for its place in time — an everyday example of a period that offered unfathomable difficulty for so many Americans. It’s tricky to think of an era existent after the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it is probably the second great American pandemic since the Spanish Flu post turn of the century. But books like Persad’s offer a glimmer of hope with respect to that. They reinforce that with careful implementations in place, one can successfully navigate their way through something gargantuan…