I thought, let’s turn this situation into a learning opportunity…”

Children’s book author and illustrator Dan Santat ’95 on “The Dandemic,” his online educational series.

Santat Online Survival School from the PandemicI had bookings lined up for an entire year. Then once the quarantine started to happen, I watched as my entire schedule, everything from elementary school readings to an appearance at San Diego’s Comic-Con, were either postponed or canceled altogether.

In the beginning, a lot of my peers in the children’s book world planned to read books to kids or do drawing exercises online via Zoom. We’re a close group and I even made a special appearance on Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems! (episode 08), but I didn’t want to be like everybody else.

The pandemic is in the news… constantly. Parents and kids are home together, often struggling to accomplish a day’s work, and on top of that, schoolwork. I thought, one of the most helpful things I can do it is try to divert the attention of kids for the sake of their parents. I remember what it was like to be a parent who works from home. But now you have the kids there and can’t get anything done. If there was something I can do to distract kids, as an activity, but also at the same time, bring everyone a little sense of comfort about what we’re dealing with and how we’re dealing with it, then I will have accomplished something great.

Quarantine image
Day 1: Quarantine

For me, the most important thing is to inform people. Early on, people were hoarding toilet paper and bottled water. Why? I think they were just panicking and it was really frustrating to watch. I want to be open and honest about what’s going on with the virus. I don’t want to sugarcoat it for kids or shield them from the realities of what’s going on around them. I thought, let’s turn this situation into a learning opportunity for everybody. And at the same time, I’ll also get a better understanding of what’s going on. I was trying to cover basic ideas like, What does quarantine mean? What is it going to feel like if you’re isolated? I consume a lot of podcasts and I remember hearing about an experiment in Hawaii where people had to live in a biodome for a year, and thought, I can use that to explore our current situation.

For both children and adults, it’s important to explain concepts as simply as possible. There were times when I would do a whole thing about the biology of a virus and then realized, oh they don’t need to understand how RNA transfer actually happens. I would just say, it copies itself inside the body of another cell. That’s all you really need to know.  Also, I feel like the human attention span isn’t that long, and especially with kids, you just want to get the main idea across. I made a little doodle or sketch here and there to make things interesting for kids.

At the end of each lesson, there are a few assignments or activities. One of my favorites:  “Let your parents work from home quietly for one hour.” That’s an example of social distancing!


Dan Santat ’95 is a children’s book author and illustrator. He received the Caldecott Medal (2015) for distinguished illustration of his book, The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend. He graduated from UC San Diego’s Revelle College with a degree in microbiology. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, alumna Leah Tanger-Santat ’97, and two sons ages 14 and 11. Download the lessons from The Santat Online Survival School for the Pandemic or visit @dansantat on Instagram. And his latest book, LIFT is available online and in bookstores now.

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