Jackie French: Pandemic

Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Published by Scholastic Press, NSW, 2020

The last pandemic that affected many countries in the world was the Spanish Flu, arriving just as the Second World War was ending in 1918. Even though no one is sure where the virus originated, it is likely that soldiers brought it home with them on ships, planes and trains, and the virus spread quickly from person to person, home to home, workplace to workplace, country to country. Masks, quarantine and isolation measures, business closures and a rising death toll were commonplace. It sounds all too familiar doesn’t it?

By the end of 2020 every one of us will have their own story to tell about the way Covid 19 has affected them. For some, it will have been a time of great uncertainty, loss of work, increased stress in relationships and illness. For others, it may have been the catalyst for redefining their work/life balance, granting an unexpected opportunity to pursue new interests and flexibility in an otherwise entrenched lifestyle.

In Pandemic, Jackie French has written about her great grandmother’s tireless efforts to bring food, bunches of flowers, books, magazines and newspapers to people in her community who were in need and isolated from their work and their loved ones during the 1918 outbreak.

Marshalling help from survivors of the infection, whether they were children or adults, Jackie’s great grandmother organised help for farmers who could no longer work the land, milk their cows or collect eggs from their chickens. The story is set in a time gone by, but the heart of it is the same and we can still learn its valuable lesson: that kindness goes a long way on the road to healing and practical help gives people time to recover and get back on their feet again.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie French are a powerhouse team, having worked together on many picture book publications, some of which have focused on the natural disasters that have affected all of us as Australians: Flood (2011), Fire (2013), Cyclone (2016) and Drought (2018).

Amazingly, Bruce Whatley worked on the illustrations for Pandemic whilst quarantining for two weeks in an Adelaide Hotel and the illustrations reflect the limited art supplies he had on hand at the time. The muted colours give the story a historical feel, reminding me of old sepia photographs at the turn of the century.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it is a gentle and positive introduction to the reality of pandemics. Below are suggestions for further reading on a similar theme:

Windows by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

The Great Realisation
by Tomos Roberts
Illustrated by Nomoco

One Hundred Steps: The Story of Captain Sir Thomas Moore Illustrated by Adam Larkum

My Hero is You by Helen Patuk Developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health
and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings

Coronavirus: A Book for Children by Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson and Nia Roberts
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

What Color is Today?
by Alison Stephen