Georgie and the Giant Germ might look like a coloring book for kids — and it is. But it’s also a guidebook for parents who are still struggling to find the right words to comfort children as we all navigate the next stage of the coronavirus pandemic.
The free, downloadable coloring book represents a collaboration among experts in the fields of social work and child psychology, including one from Arizona State University: Paige Safyer, PhD, LLMSW, an assistant professor who is fairly new to the ASU faculty.
Safyer recently completed a doctoral degree in social work and developmental psychology at the University of Michigan, where she collaborated with Julie Ribaudo, LMSW, IMH-E (her advisor) and Sara Stein, MS, LMSW, RYT (another doctoral candidate) on an earlier project to address childhood trauma.
That book was designed to support families fostering children who had been separated from their families by Trump administration immigration policies — to “give them a way to help the children understand,” Safyer said.
“Paige and Sara and I had worked together on that book,” said Ribaudo. “Then when COVID hit, we already had a framework.”
An aspirational publishing house, Tender Press Books, was launched.
“Tender Press gives us a way, on an ongoing basis, for people with a great number of years of experience to work quickly, when there’s a crisis, to help families work through it with their young children,” said Ribaudo. “We hope to decrease the stress and potential trauma.”
Georgie and the Giant Germ follows a little boy as he learns about the coronavirus by questioning his mother, who provides comforting, calm, accurate and age-appropriate explanations. The book includes lessons on how to keep germs at bay, and reassurance that it’s OK to be grumpy when you can’t go out and play with friends.
The book’s illustrator is 12-year-old Maja Rosenblum-Muzik, the daughter of Katherine Rosenblum, PhD, a UM professor of psychiatry and another collaborator on the Georgie book. Ribaudo and Rosenblum are on the Zero to Thrive faculty at UM.
The book, recommended for ages 3-9, draws from 60 years of collective clinical experience represented by its authors, and is available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew and Arabic.
Safyer said she and her co-authors knew what messages they wanted to convey in the book but found it challenging to strike the right balance between the right tone. “We all work clinically with kids, with young children,” she told ASU Now. “But writing is awfully hard.”
“There’s the desire to tell kids they are safe and fine, but that’s not always the case,” she said. “How do you tow the line between reassurance and honesty?
“Children like to create, to make things happen,” Ribaudo added. “Just the act of coloring helps them have some mastery. They can imagine what the germ looks to them. Even the physical action of coloring can help them develop a sense of control.”
The book aims to help children acknowledge what’s causing them stress and help them to know that their caregivers are there to keep them safe. But it also offers language parents can absorb and reiterate throughout daily life.
Working on the book was somewhat therapeutic for the authors, Safyer said. “In some ways, it’s what we were feeling, what we wished someone would tell us,” Safyer said. “That desire to feel safe, to have someone comfort you.”
“Giving children a way to understand their world alleviates their stress,” Ribaudo said, “and by extension alleviates stress on parents. When children feel well, they behave well. When they are stressed, that comes out in their behavior. And that creates stress for parents.”
As states gradually reopen, these experts know new anxieties will surface as families navigate changed environments, see lots of people wearing masks, and are continuously told to maintain physical distance from friends and classmates.
A sequel to Georgie is already in the works.