— BOOK AND MEDIA REVIEWS —

The Virus That Came to Town

Christy J.W. Ledford, PhD

Fam Med. 2022;54(4):314-315.

DOI: 10.22454/FamMed.2022.600274

Book Title: The Virus That Came to Town

Author: Wesley Walters (author) Abby Little Jessup (illustrator)

Publication Information: Evanston, IL, self-published, 2021, 28 pp., $14.95, hardcover

 

COVID-19 has dominated our news feeds and workdays for almost 2 years. As family medicine educators, we face the daily challenge of communicating risk, prevention, and treatment messages to patients and to the public. As a discipline that provides comprehensive care across the life course, family physicians have been doubly challenged to communicate these complex ideas to children and their families. In The Virus That Came to Town, author Wesley Walters and illustrator Abby Little Jessup give family physicians a tool for helping their youngest patients understand prevention tactics such as handwashing, mask wearing, and physical distancing.

In this children’s picture book, Walters, a medical student at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), tells the story of Monica and Marshall as their family experiences an unnamed viral pandemic. Through the narrative, Monica and Marshall learn new health behaviors and cope with an uncertainty and fear that will sound familiar to many of us. The illustrations help children visualize some of the big ideas they have certainly heard the adults around them discuss. With striped tights reminiscent of Dr Seuss’s mischievous Cat in the Hat or the malicious Wicked Witch of the East, the anthropomorphized virus is ever present, popping up on every page.

The Virus That Came to Town will not answer every question a curious child asks. The book uses linear storytelling to help children understand basic prevention strategies. However, the current pandemic has been neither simple nor linear. Some young readers will likely ask why someone they know still got sick even after they did everything right, as described by the book’s doctor.

In the book, the author and illustrator evidence two important decisions in their process. First, by leaving the virus unnamed, the author enables us to apply the narrative to the viral threat of the day. In 10 years, the book will still be a powerful tool for teaching the principles of handwashing, mask wearing, and physical distancing. Second, the illustrator infused the book with diversity and inclusion. Characters Monica and Marshall are illustrated as part of a multiracial family. The town doctor is also a woman of color. Although this is not the primary message of the book, this diversity can inspire young readers to see themselves in the characters. This inspiration is most direct near the end of the story, when the text turns from third to second person, encouraging the reader, “one day you can help heal people…as a doctor or nurse” (p. 24).

For family medicine educators, the book offers an opportunity for teaching medical learners the power of children’s literature in practice. Children’s literature can be a useful tool for health education, potentially influencing health behaviors in children. Storybooks start health-related conversations with children in a nonthreatening way.1 Through a depicted narrative, books can teach readers (or listeners) specific prevention behaviors and boost self-efficacy.2 For example, The Virus That Came to Town offers a lyrical option for timing handwashing. Books can also be used to help children work through times of uncertainty and change. Bibliotherapy, guided therapeutic reading in which clinicians or counselors share or read books to develop insight into personal problems,3 has been used with children to address social and emotional needs and trauma. The Virus That Came to Town is one reading that clinicians can use with families to help them talk about children’s emotional response to the pandemic and how it has changed their lives.

Family medicine educators may also see an inspiration here for how writing can be a powerful tool with our learners. The author is a medical student in the MCG Class of 2024. Through the creative process of writing, collaborating with an illustrator, and publishing this book, he gained experience in how to communicate complex, timely messages to a young audience in a challenging time. This book is just one example of how medical students recognized, rose up, and met needs in their communities, whether it was coordinating local volunteers to use 3D printers to create protective equipment or providing emergency childcare to health care workers during shutdowns.4

The Virus That Came to Town tells a story that our patient families need to hear. It is also part of a larger story that we, as educators, need to remember.

References

  1. Pflug EC, Nasir AK. Children's Health Literacy Through Literature: What Makes a Good Book? Pediatrics. 2018;141(1 MeetingAbstract):228.
  2. Pulimeno M, Piscitelli P, Colazzo S. Children’s literature to promote students’ global development and wellbeing. Health Promot Perspect. 2020;10(1):13-23. doi:10.15171/hpp.2020.05
  3. Heath MA, Sheen D, Leavy D, Young E, Money K. Bibliotherapy: A resource to facilitate emotional healing and growth. Sch Psychol Int. 2005;26(5):563-580. doi:10.1177/0143034305060792
  4. Collaborative Student Volunteer and Service Projects. Association of American Medical Colleges. Published 2021. Accessed September 13, 2021. https://www.aamc.org/resource-library/collaborative-student-volunteer-and-service-projects

Lead Author

Christy J.W. Ledford, PhD

Affiliations: Department of Family Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, GA

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