‘The book is more timely than ever:’ Educators & student team-up to write kids’ book about pandemic

Connecticut Families

FAIRFIELD – “One day, we both agreed that we’d like to write a children’s book.”

That’s what Cathleen Hamill, a teacher at Fairfield Woods Middle School, told us over Zoom in December 2020, in the heart of the shutdown.

Hamill, another educator and a former student had just released their first book: “Grin and Bear It: The Forest of Inclusion.

“There was a great reaction to the first book because it was a very prominent and current theme,” says Kris Kelso, Dean of Students at Fairfield Woods Middle School.

Now, in person, the writing trio tells us about the newly released follow-up.

“The new book is about the pandemic and trying to explain it to children,” says Hamill.

“Same characters but big improvement in details and stuff because I’ve gotten better over the year, I guess,” says 17-year-old Layla Aziz, the illustrator who uses a tablet to draw. “So easy to use, you can erase as much as you want, and it doesn’t use as much paper so it’s better.”

In the story, animals seek advice from a wise elder who has lived through a different pandemic.

“She brings out these masks that are really cute – Layla created them to look like leaves from the forest,” says Hamill.

“Wearing your mask, washing your hands and staying apart as a means of celebrating each other and taking care of each other until we can get through this,” says Kelso, noting the message of the book called “Grin and Bear It: Grin Learns to Wear It.”

The authors hope the book sparks discussions in homes and classrooms.

They’re proud of their common bond, a unique take on teacher-student collaboration.

“This speaks to the relationship, how important it is for teachers to have a relationship with kids and to empower kids,” says Kelso.

“It just seems there can be friendships between that,” adds Aziz.

Yes, there are plans for more books!

Follow the trio on Instagram: @forestofinclusion

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