“Where were you during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020,” will become a common query of us by generations to come. Some of us will respond with poetry–there’s been plenty of time to write, and America’s poets have answered Covid-19 with verse. Notably among them is Daniel Mark Epstein, who recently launched a series of sonnets created during the early days of the shelter-in-place order.
Dubbed “Cruel April: Poems from the Pandemic,” Epstein’s suite of ten sonnets explore the world as it has become, and our roles in it. “They are part of a larger sequence of sonnets that explore the themes of isolation, danger, and the strangeness of our new reality,” Epstein explains. “The themes include the anguish of loved ones being separated, the dangers of the virus to young and old alike, and the healing power of love.”
Though believed to have been originally conceived as a form to be read silently, the sonnet’s intrinsic musicality of fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter lend itself to being shared aloud, and as such, Epstein, whose own accolades include National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships, tapped stars of the screen and stage to record themselves reading the poems: Emmy award-winning actors Tyne Daly and Paul Hecht, voice over narrator Jennifer Van Dyck, and screen legend Harris Yulin provided their voices, while visuals created at the Tivoli Arts Gallery in New York accompany the readings. As such, the series of poems is very much a multi-sensory endeavor.
Pestilence as poetic inspiration is hardly new–the Illiad opens with Apollo punishing the Greeks with nine-day plague, while the protagonists of Boccacio’s Decameron flee a disease-riddled Florence–and even now, Knopf has already published a volume of poetry created during the pandemic. “Cruel April,” meanwhile, is not a commercial enterprise–the poems are freely available online–and are intended to inspire and rally viewers to the notion that, despite our struggles with calamity and death, we can persevere, united and strong.
Having a hard time explaining the new normal to your youngsters? Striking the right balance between informative without causing panic is essential, and Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham–the children’s book trio behind the bestselling The Princess in Black series–recently completed a child-friendly coronoavirus public service announcement to help make that task a little easier.
Created in accordance with Center for Disease Control guidelines as of April 8, 2020 and published by Candlewick Press, the free eight-page booklet is a “call to heroes” to join the intrepid problem solver, the Princess in Black, and do their part to slow the spread.
All three creators have children at home and face many of the same quarantine-related issues as other parents: “LeUyen, Dean, and I are all parents self-isolating at home with our children,” said Shannon Hale. “The anxiety and distancing is hard enough on our older kids, but we know that younger kids might be having an even harder time. We hoped that it’d help if a familiar book friend like the Princess in Black talked them through it. Even the Princess in Black is staying home! Even Princess Sneezewort had to cancel playdates! LeUyen had the idea of creating a short comic to download and share widely so caregivers could have an extra tool for talking to kids. Our goal is both to help kids understand what’s going on and to help them feel less alone.”
Joseph Elliott’s debut novel, The Good Hawk (Walker Books, 368 pages, $17.99) takes young-adult readers to a mythical, violent Scotland, where war and plague have ravaged the land and the only children of a local clan to evade capture by enemy combatants are a most unlikely trio who must beat the all sorts of death-defying odds to save their family. Featuring a heroine with Down’s Syndrome, Abby couldn’t put this book down, and neither will your kids. Here’s her take:
Good Friday, readers! In Willow the Armadillo by Marilou Reeder and Dave Mottram (Abrams, $16.99), our bespectacled purple armored protagonist wants nothing more than to become a hero just like the ones she reads about in her books. Does she succeed? Well, I’m not going to spoil it–but clearly, heroes are born in the most unexpected of circumstances. Abby provides her take below.
And: thank-you to all the health care heroes on the front lines right now.
Sad news out of New Hampshire: on Monday, beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center due to complications following surgery for head injuries sustained from a fall in his barn last week.
Born in Meriden, Connecticut, dePaola delighted generations of children with his tales of kindly and cheerful characters such as the beloved titular witch in dePaola’s Caldecott Honor-winning Strega Nona: An Old Tale (Prentice-Hall, 1975). Over 15 million copies of dePaola’s 270 + books have been sold worldwide and translated into twenty languages.
In a statement, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu praised dePaola as “a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations.” An outpouring of remembrances from authors and illustrators are popping up across social networks as well.
Well, here’s a nice little diversion to start another quarantined day, especially for those among us who have been considering their reading lists in these sequestered times: the first advance review to come in for “Cross of Snow,” earning a “Kirkus Star,” no less, for “exceptional literary merit.” Read the review here: https://bit.ly/2WRUbdd.
In light of the pandemic, Kirkus has graciously lifted its paywall to offer unfettered access to its current issue and entire archive.
New York City is the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, its citizens in nonessential professions ordered to stay home in an attempt to slow the virus’s deadly march and prevent a catastrophic overload of the local health care system. Images of a city stripped of people are sobering in their eerie solitude.
Politicans, celebrities, and civic leaders have been spreading the word about why such drastic measures are necessary and how each of us has a role to play in combatting a disease with no vaccine or cure. New York City’s Poster House has redirected its education efforts by encouraging the city’s denizens to look out for one another through a series of specially-designed posters, for which the museum turned to designer Rachel Gingrich. Bathed in cobalt blue and rendered in a punchy collage style, Gingrich’s three digital-only posters are available for downloaded here.
Earlier this week, Poster House released another series of PSA posters by its in-house designer Mihoshi Fukushima Clark, also available for download. Clark’s surprisingly upbeat series focuses on spreading the facts on social distancing and proper handwashing while also addressing the feelings of loneliness and isolation many of us are experiencing. As the virus has spread, so too, unfortunately, have xenophobia and anti-Asian racism. After learning about an increase in attacks on Asians, Clark created this series in an effort to remind viewers that we are all in this together.
Having only opened to the public last summer, Poster House is the first museum in the United States wholly devoted to exploring the history of posters and their role in shaping public perception on everything from cigarettes to disease prevention. Posters are designed to present information quickly, and successful posters convey their messages in five seconds or less.
In conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition on Chinese propaganda The Sleeping Giant, Poster House had been in the midst of a project collaboration with stir-fry doyenne and James Beard award-winner Grace Young. That project has been put on hold, but as word got out about racial discrimination due to fears concerning Covid-19, Young went to Chinatown to document the toll on the Asian community. Filmed on March 15, less than 48 hours before Mayor de Blasio mandated all city restaurants to close, Part 1 shows Young walking through a neighborhood at the vanguard of what would soon envelop the entire country. The scenes feel like they were shot a lifetime ago.
Stay strong, stay safe, readers: We will get through this, together.
Abby looks at two titles today: a new picture book for grown-ups set to the lyrics of Andrew Gold’s theme song for The Golden Girls, and Castle of Books, Alessandro Sanna’s joyous introduction to the worlds waiting to be unlocked by the gift of reading. Both are uplifting celebrations of friendships and a reminder that we’ve all got each other’s back, even when going gets a little dark. Brighter days ahead–
Today, Abby selected her current favorites–no, they’re not new–Restartand The Bitter Side of Sweetcame out in 2017–but she’s reading them purely for pleasure. Sometimes, old favorites provide the best comfort.
Good Monday to everyone out there. Here’s Abby’s latest review of Just Bunny and the Great Fire Rescue, by Jean LaSala Taylor and illustrated by Ana Sebastian (Mascott Books, $15.95). It’s a sweet reminder that we owe a hearty thank you to all the first responders out there, especially at this moment.