A User’s Guide to a Pandemic

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Various authors, A User’s Guide to a Pandemic, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, December 2020, 256 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780648205333

As a teacher during the ongoing global pandemic, at times it has been difficult to know how best to broach the state of the world with my students. The best approach I found was to simply check in with them and let them explain how they were experiencing it – the good, the bad, the hilarious, the sad. In this collaboration between Story Factory, 100 Story Building, Storyboard and The Story Island Project, 83 young writers were given the opportunity to write about how they have experienced 2020 and the global pandemic.

There’s fiction, poetry, isolation statements and a wonderful section titled ‘Museum of COVID’ – a reminder of the truly historic time we are living in. The isolation statements point to the lasting impact the year has had on the perspective of young people, from ‘I realised how lucky I am,’ to ‘the world is really a confusing place’ and even ‘I have spent so much time alone that I’ve remembered who I am.’ The poetry eloquently captures many of the contradictory feelings brought on by being at home during this time. Writing fiction about and through these times has allowed these writers to speculate how we might view this time in the future and how others have been experiencing this time (especially pets!). My favourite section is the ‘Museum of COVID’ where the writers took on the challenge of presenting items for a future exhibition – the obvious items appear, hand sanitiser, face masks – but also those used for coping: PlayStations, books, chocolate and even a teddy bear.

I urge you to read this collection, to take in these perspectives, and share them with your children and your students. Teachers and librarians could encourage students to reflect in similar ways on their own experiences – not just of COVID-19 and 2020, but of being young people in our world. 

Reviewed by Madeleine Crofts

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