Free download: Coloring pages with art by Nicky Rodriguez, from a forthcoming zine about how kids can be heroes during a pandemic

About five weeks ago — remember then? — I had the idea to make a zine about coronavirus for my storytime kids. Every kid-friendly resource I found was clearly speaking to children in very different situations from my kids’ (“your mom and dad might be working from their home office for a while!”). I wanted to make something that spoke honestly about the impact that coronavirus would likely have on their majority-Black neighborhoods in the East Bay, and that would guide them to ways that they could become ‘helpers’ for their families, neighbors, and communities, something they’ve always been enthusiastic about. Even-numbered pages would have big portraits for coloring (superimposed onto affirming statements in big letters to counter the implicit and explicit messages they were hearing); odd-numbered pages would have accompanying written-out scenarios and conversation starters for their grownups to read out loud with them. And, at the end, a few extra resources: handwashing song lyrics, draft letters for neighbors, etc.

I could picture it all in my head and figured I could get it all done and printed in a week if not a weekend, in time to hand out to my kids at our next Friday morning classroom visit. I put out an ask on Twitter for an illustrator, connected with the absolutely excellent (and extremely fast!) Nicky Rodriguez, and had the coloring pages more or less ready to go within a few days. All that was needed was the conversation prompts to explain the current situation! AND THEN.

A few hours after my usual Friday morning storytime classroom visit (where, at least, I had a chance to read and distribute a printout of Malaka Gharib’s informative and entertaining coronavirus explainer comic), the preschool announced to families that they would be closed for at least the next two weeks. That same day, I learned that the entire library outreach program that I volunteer through was on hold for at least six weeks. A few days after that, the entire Bay Area was put under a shelter-in-place order. And then… waves of layoffs, surging infection and mortality rates in Black communities, announcements of mandatory mask policies, massive coordinated disinformation campaigns. Evidence of coronavirus being transmittable simply by breathing. The President of the United States making anti-Asian racist jokes at an official White House press conference. Tea Party-style coronavirus-truther rallies. The first known death of an infant to COVID-19. Every new day brought something that completely uprooted any honest explanation I could offer to my kids about the history and the future of the problem I was asking them to help with.

This is all to say that the scenario-based conversation starters I drafted back in the second week of March 2020 — about fears of future layoffs, the stigma of at-home quarantine, and the necessity of washing your hands — wouldn’t cut it. In a way, it’s a good thing that I didn’t finish this zine over that first weekend, just to have the entire thing be made irrelevant a few days later!

I haven’t yet found the time to rewrite the read-aloud pages to my satisfaction (I’ve been busy recording storytime videos), but I also don’t want to let Nicky’s wonderful portrait work languish on my hard drive any longer. So: here are just the coloring pages, for you to print and share as you see fit. Consider this a preview of the finished zine, coming in the next couple of weeks. There are rumors that my storytime site might reopen at the beginning of May; I don’t know how I feel about that and I don’t know if I’ll be there in any formal capacity, but I’ll absolutely have a stack of these dropped at the front door ready for the kids.

Ok see you again soon with more! – CK

Right-click to view larger and save to your computer. All art by Nicky Rodriguez; text by Channing Kennedy.