If you were to ask Whitby, Ont. resident Terry O’Brien, he would say that the most difficult part of the COVID-19 pandemic for him has been being away from his grandchildren.
“It’s a bit of a struggle, for sure,” he tells CTV News Toronto. “Social distancing wears a little thin after a couple of weeks. But we’re doing what we have to do and staying home and avoiding any sort of personal contact.”
While keeping connected over phone calls and video chats, O’Brien had an idea – a project his grandchildren could work on as they continued to spend time out of school.
“I asked them to think about how living in the coronavirus pandemic had affected them, and to draw me one or two pictures each day, and just describe how they were living in these times,” he explains. “Really, as an attempt to get them to focus on something positive, and get their energies moving in a positive way.”
So six-year-old year old Harper, her four-year-old brother Asher, and their five-year-old cousin Hayden got to work – drawing, colouring and painting pictures of their experience of staying home during COVID-19.
“Harper’s the oldest, she’s in Grade 1 now, so I gave her an additional task and asked her if she would write me one or two sentences each day that basically described life in the pandemic,” says O’Brien. “And I said if they did a really good job, I’d take their work and I’d make it into a book that they could keep.”
O’Brien stayed true to his word, and printed a book for the grandchildren, entitled “What I learned from the Coronavirus.”
“I drew pictures and wrote about the coronavirus,” says Harper Flanigan, from her home in Brooklin, Ont.. “My brother Asher and my cousin Hayden were doing some pictures, but I did most of them.”
In a video conversation with CTV News Toronto, Harper shared her favourite pages of the book, from drawings of people in the homes to doctors finding a cure.
“So I did a soap bottle and like a tap and like water dripping out of it and a hands. For washing our hands all the time,” she explains. “And I also liked this one where I was calling my family and friends on my phone. When I was calling Papa.”
Harper’s Papa, O’Brien, says he was pleased with how the book came together.
“Beyond the art work itself, I was impressed that they were learning some very important messages,” he says. “About connection, about reverence, about humility, and hope. And those are particularly powerful lessons to learn at any age.”
After friends and family started showing interest in the book, O’Brien thought it could be used as a fundraising initiative.
“I suggested we could offer to send a free (PDF) copy by email to anyone who could contribute to their local charity, and we were encouraging the United Way,” he says. “Everyone started to post about it on different forms of social media and we’re very pleased with the response we’ve been getting.”
Harper, who dedicated the book to health-care workers, is also pleased that her book is being shared to raise funds.
“Because people will give money to the doctors and then the doctors find a cure,” she says.
Now that the book is finished, and stay-at-home measures are still in place, O’Brien says he’ll continue to find ways to connect with his grandchildren virtually. He encourages other families to do a project like this, as well.
“This exchange of art work and their messages and keeping up working together on this sort of joint project has been good to keep us connected,” he says. “You know, I’ve always said that I think we learn our greatest lessons during times of greatest challenge. And I believe that applies to kids, as well.
As for Harper, what she learned from the coronavirus is that she has courage.
“I was scared, and now I feel brave,” she says.
When asked if other kids might be feeling scared, too, Harper exclaims, “Yeah, but I think once they read the book they’ll be less scared!”
To get a copy of the book, e-mail the family at OneWorldHarper@gmail.com.