By Shari Goldstein Stern
How do we, as grownups wrap our brain around a worldwide pandemic, millions stricken and deceased, and how it alters all our daily lives? That has got to be really challenging for younger children who, at the end of the day, have to process the changes around them, too, starting with wearing a mask. Masks are usually cool, but this is just not the same.
One insightful young mother of two boys, 2-year-old Josiah Nielsen and 5-year-old Andrew Nielsen, was inspired to create a clever way to bring her boys into the fold. Author Kayla Nielsen explained, “I had the hardest time getting them to wear masks or understand social distancing,” she said.
Nielsen’s impetus to pen a book for her own family started when her boys did not want to wear their masks in the grocery store. “They would just take them off after 20 minutes. Then five minutes. Then they wouldn’t wear them at all. They also learned if they fake coughed everyone would look at them. They loved the attention. I did not,” their mom admitted. She tried to make the masks cool, and a friend suggested that she have capes made so they can be superheroes.
She regrets that while the capes were a hit, the masks were not. The boys enjoyed the book and liked sharing it with their friends, mainly on social media. “I geared the book toward empowering children to take COVID-19 precautions,” said Nielsen. She explained that the book is about a kid who uses his special abilities to confront Pandemic to save the world.
“Pandemic” is treated as a character, helping teach young readers how to practice basic and practical measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask, using gloves, social distancing, hand washing, avoiding touching your face and all the rest.
That’s when she got the idea of Superhero Kid. “I figured I wasn’t the only mom struggling to teach my young ones to wear a mask in stores, so I decided to self-publish “Superhero Kid vs. Pandemic.” Nielsen calls her cover artist and illustrator, Meredith Basto, an amazing talent and great sister.
Besides being a new author who home-schools her 5-year-old in kindergarten, Nielson is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for the non-profit Go To Every Nation (GoTEN). GoTEN is a Christian organization that assists refugees who have recently been resettled through the United Nations refugee resettlement program. The refugees represent all countries.
GoTEN has its own English Center in Lake Highlands from which the agency reaches out to refugee communities in the area and then teaches ESL to adults. “The English Center is a meeting place for refugees and volunteers. We use computers to teach English so volunteers can come in with little or no teaching experience,” Nielsen said. “We always welcome volunteers who would like to meet and encourage their refugee neighbors.”
Some of Nielsen’s current students speak native languages of Pashto, Dari, Persian, Swahili and Spanish. “There are so many different languages in the Lake Highlands area. I once taught a class of 17 students and they spoke 17 different languages,” Nielsen added.
It is well established that Andrew and Josiah know how cool their mom, the author, is. The boys undoubtedly also know how cool it is for their dad, Jared, to be a Dallas Police officer. What’s cooler is that his beat is patrolling White Rock Lake. They know he especially rocks when he has shifts on a bike around the lake.
According to the author, the target audience for Superhero Kid and Pandemic is ages 1 to 6, Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade. “It’s been a great tool for families and teachers.”
Nielsen added: “This book was well worth the work. My initial goal was to help teach my boys how to be peacekeepers during these uncertain times. It makes me so happy to hear other people’s stories of how this book helped them. This pandemic has been rough for everyone. I hope that the book brings a joy that overcomes fear for both children and adults.”
Saturdays, Oct. 4 and 11, weather permitting, Nielsen will host an outdoor reading and book signing of “Superhero Kid vs. Pandemic” at the Dreyfuss Club at White Rock Lake, 600 E. Lawther Dr., at 5 p.m.
Since it will be outdoors families can socially distance. A playground is nearby where children can play afterward. Nielsen said, “I will have a limited number of books available for sale or they can be purchased in advance from Amazon.com.”
For additional information, visit Superherokidbook.com.