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