Pandemic by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

cover image

Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781760976088.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Reflecting the year we have had it is fitting that a book be presented for younger readers to learn of a pandemic that happened in the past. Children can read and learn of the Spanish Flu which circled the world in much the same way as COVID19 has, but with bitter consequences because of the paucity of scientific knowledge and care.
Whatley's pen and wash illustrations show us a different time, with men returning to Australia from The Great War, bringing home this deadly virus. In quarantine himself Whatley resorted to a quick and available medium for his images: a ball point pen. Overlaid with sparse colour washes of mainly browns and greens, the images he developed have an appealing freshness, with sepia tones communicating times past.
Children will readily notice the similarities and differences in government and public responses to the virus. Seeing families remain behind closed doors, shutting their curtains to warn others not to approach, noting the widespread use of masks, closed shops and homes but equally noting the vastly different medical responses. They will be intrigued with the ambulance, the transport used by the children to ferry the food to their neighbours, the lack of plastic tubs and containers, and equally delighted with images of how children looked one hundred years ago. In French's story she draws on the efforts of her great grandmother, galvanising the children to supply food to those in need in their community. They picked the food from neglected gardens and trees, fed the lambs, collected eggs from chook houses, taking it back to her to cook into soups and food parcels, ready to be cycled out and left on front porches for those in quarantine.
Readers will marvel at the self sacrifice of these families one hundred years ago and be equally impressed with communities' responses to COVID 19, able to share stories of what happened in their neighbourhoods.
This beautiful book, extolling the positive community acton which happened during the Spanish Flu, will ignite readers' interest in keeping alive the neighbourliness which occurs during COVID 19, so reviving the feeling of friendliness needed when a whole country is in quarantine.
To learn more of the Spanish Flu in Australia see the National Museum of Australia's site.
Themes: Pandemic, Virus, World War One, Community, Neighbours, Sharing, COVID 19, Kindness.
Fran Knight