New storybook to help children stay hopeful, manage mental health fallout of COVID-19

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A newly-released storybook aims to help children stay hopeful and positive during the COVID-19 pandemic, amid concerns that millions of youth around the world continue to experience anxiety and fear in the wake of the pandemic.

The story is a sequel to ‘My Hero is You: how kids can fight COVID-19!’, published in April 2020.

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Both books have been released by a collaboration of 60 organizations working in the humanitarian sector, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the MHPSS Collaborative for Children & Families in Adversity.

‘My Hero is You 2021: how kids can hope with COVID-19!’ draws on the daily realities of millions of children since the beginning of the pandemic. For many, the pandemic continues to disrupt their education, recreation, and time with friends, family and teachers.

The story – aimed primarily at children aged 6-11 years – sees the return of Ario, a fantasy creature who travels the world helping children to find hope in the future and joy in simple pleasures. Together with old and new friends, Ario addresses the fears, frustrations and concerns children are facing in the current phase of the pandemic, and explores the various coping mechanisms that they can use when faced with difficult emotions like fear, grief, anger and sadness.

The new story drew from responses to a survey of more than 5000 children, parents, caregivers and teachers from around the world who described the challenges they continue to face in the second year of the pandemic.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations: said: “Addressing the consequences of the pandemic on the mental health of young people is crucial to help them recover faster from the COVID-19 crisis. This new storybook is one of the tools to help them do so.”

Reaching children everywhere

The book is currently available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili. Its predecessor is now available in more than 140 languages, including sign language and Braille, and in more than 50 adaptations, in animated video, read-aloud, theater, activity books and audio formats. Examples include an adaptation for Native Americans, a coloring book for children in Syria, and an animation developed by a team led by Stanford Medicine in the USA.

Since April 2020, governments, universities, nongovernmental organizations, media outlets and celebrities have joined forces with the United Nations to facilitate a truly global distribution of the first book in the series. Initiatives include the roll-out of audio versions and workshops relating to the book among refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; the broadcasting of an animated version on Mongolian national television; and the inclusion of the book as a free supplement with a national newspaper in Greece.

The new storybook can be used by parents and teachers in conjunction with a guide entitled ‘Actions for Heroes’, released by the same group in February 2021. Already available in more than a dozen languages, the guide advises parents, caregivers and teachers on how to create the right conditions for children to openly share their feelings and worries related to the pandemic and includes activities based on the books in the series.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said: “As we collectively weather the COVID-19 crisis and find our own ways to cope, we must strive to safeguard the mental health and well-being of children who continue to grapple with disrupted childhoods.”

“The ‘My Hero is You’ storybooks help us to do just that. I encourage parents, teachers and caregivers everywhere to share the sequel to the immensely popular original to help the children in their care build resilience and hang on to a sense of hope for the future.”

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, said, almost two years into the pandemic, millions of children are still seeing their lives and routines disrupted.

“The ‘My Hero is You’ series is an essential and wonderful tool for parents and teachers to help children understand today’s new world and cope with their changing emotions,” she said.

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Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO director-general, said COVID-19 has separated millions of children from friends, teachers and schools, with devastating socio-emotional consequences.

“UNESCO fully supports the My Hero is You initiative, which uses the universal magic of storytelling and reading to open children’s hearts to hope – a top priority in the educational recovery.”

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