If your book club hasn’t let you in on this secret, the worldwide literature industry (never one to miss an opportunity) has kicked its presses into overdrive. They’re pumping out children’s books pitting freckle-faced heroes against the villainous – though totally relatable – nemesis named COVID-19.
There’s good reason for this, according to a website called Conversation.com.
“Children’s literature has a long history of exploring difficult topics, with original fairy tales often including gruesome imagery to teach children how to behave,” the article says. “’Little Red Riding Hood’ was eaten by the wolf in a warning to young ladies to be careful of men. Cinderella’s stepsisters had their eyes pecked out by birds as punishment for wickedness.”
Oh happy day.
These children’s books are hardly creative. “Coronavirus: A Book for Children,” spent hours in the research lab formulating a catchy title.
There’s “My Hero is You! How kids can fight COVID-19,” written by Helen Patuck. In that bedtime story, children are taught to imagine a safe place if they feel threatened by the virus. Because if we’ve proven anything in this Battle of the Pandemic, it’s that our imaginations have clearly led our wartime strategy.
What we’re missing in all these new children’s books is some household reality, which is why I’ve spent the past two weeks tapping the unfiltered workshop of two young boys being forced to grow up together while simultaneously knocking the ever living bacteria off each other’s faces.
Hank, 6, and his younger brother, Cal, 3, have mutated into quarantined ogres.
Case in point: Meghan and I often let our children lock themselves in our bedroom. We do this because there’s little chance of losing our children there, and we also have about 73 pillows on our bed, which means there’s adequate protection from mortal injury.
Normally, our sons throw the pillows on the floor and attempt harmless triple somersaults off the bed. Recently (and I blame COVID), they’ve begun taking action figures in the room with them, probably because they have very few human friends with whom they can interact. Piercing plastic obviously makes for the best replacement.
Mom and I may be sitting on the couch, but you might as well put a dozen eggs under us. At any point, we’re expecting the room to collapse or the windows to shatter or, even worse, silence, which we all know means our children are dismantling the hot water heater.
Instead, within a few short minutes of plastic figure combat, the almost calming cries of our oldest son reverberate through the house.
“CAL!!!” Hank cries in a half-injured, half-annoyed yelp.
We parents dutifully lift ourselves off the egg crate and immediately look for blood. Next we look for bones protruding through skin. We’re winners on both accounts, which means Hank’s misery will be temporary.
“What happened?” we ask.
“Cal threw CatBoy at me and broke my finger,” Hank responds, a bit of Hollywood ever present.
“Let me see,” just to make sure I didn’t miss a protruding phalanges.
Before I can finish the examination, Cal puts his arm on Hank’s shoulder and bluntly ends the hysteria.
“It’s OK brother. You’re a tough boy.”
And that’s what we’re learning about our children during this wretched mess of a year. They’re tearing each other apart and then talking themselves back to health. What could Hank say except to belch out in stomach-shaking laughter?
A few nights later, after seeing a previously undiscovered animated series about ninjas, both our sons viciously twisted around the house, air-chopping couches, refrigerators, mirrors and baby sister.
I found safety in the kitchen, stirring potatoes and nuking nuggets, when Cal darted past me, opened a drawer and pulled out two wooden spoons.
“Where are you going with…” Too late. The kid was gone, back to the pillow padded fight room, where I can barely make out the conversation.
Hank: Hey Cal, do you know how ninjas throw spoons?
Hank: I bet you don’t.
Me: What happened? Blood? Check. Protruding bones? Check.
Hank: Cal hit me with a spoon.
Cal: Daddy, I’m a green ninja.
Look, I understand if your perception of our home is one of violence. We’ve tried reading, puzzles, water color painting and movie night. I asked Cal what movie he’d like to watch recently, and I promise I’m not making this up: “Let’s eat some biscuits,” he said.
At some point, we just have to let our boys learn on their own, and that point, apparently, is now. It gave me great pride to see my sons sitting on the couch together last week having an earnest conversation.
Cal: Hank, if you keep kicking me, I’ll punch you in the face.
Hank: You said it opposite.
Cal: No I didn’t.
Hank: You’re supposed to say, “If you keep kicking me, I’ll… Wait.”
Hank: You’re supposed to say, “If you don’t stop kicking me, I’ll punch you in the face.”
Me: Good talk, boys.
If the New York publishing houses want a real COVID children’s book, they should give me a call. Enough of the mini-heroes flying around on dragons in search of hand sanitizer and safe spaces.
What we need is a one-on-one with my middle son, Cal, who will teach children how to talk themselves out of getting the ever living bacteria knocked out of them by big brother.
The title of the book seems ready-made: “My Hero is the Green Ninja! How to fight COVID with wooden spoons.”