0922 GMT April 17, 2021
While it easily could be about the COVID-19 pandemic, the new children's book, ‘An Unusual Situation,’ is an open-ended tale that can apply to any dilemma that puts a child and parents in distress.
The book, a collaboration by SUNY New Paltz's Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) and the School of Fine & Performing Arts, is a timely entry that helps children and families cope with unfamiliar and upsetting circumstances.
"We're mostly distributing it to our partners that we've already been working with," said Andrew O'Meara, an IDMH graduate assistant involved in setting up the printing of the book and other behind-the-scenes work. "We are looking to distribute it to UNICEF USA, who we've been working with, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico, possibly the Girl Scouts of America, the American Red Cross. We are planning to release some hard copies to them to get them to the public, into the hands that need them."
"We're hoping it can be used locally and globally," said IDMH Director Amy Nitza, who has a friend reading it to her class in Oneonta next week.
"We definitely wanted the book to be a way to bring parents and children around the notion of how to cope during times of stress, during times of different disasters, and that's also why it's called 'An Unusual Situation,'" O'Meara said, "so that the kids and families can kind of project whatever they're currently experiencing onto the main character of the book. "
Milo is a nondescript bird living with a sister and parents. The stress of the unknown situation is making him physically ill and unable to sleep. His parents are stressed, too, and Milo worries that he is at fault. You never see him outside of the house which, viewed through a pandemic prism, reminds us of spending most of the past year isolated at home.
The book was written by former Special Programs Manager Cassandre Surinon, who is now a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist. Illustrators and designers from the School of Fine & Performing Arts were responsible for the look. David Folk did the illustrations and Max Zurlini, a New Paltz High student taking courses at the college, was the designer.
"We went through a process of trying to figure out which animal we should use as the character," Nitza said of Milo's origin. An early idea was a little crocodile, "We wanted to make it something really that was accessible. Most places have birds. The idea was we make this as globally applicable as possible."
"We had been working with (UNICEF) pre-pandemic on supporting children in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria (fall 2017) and the series of earthquakes they had a couple of years ago," O'Meara said. UNICEF inquired about a book specifically for children.
Surinon started writing after the pandemic had begun, and finished last May.
"Under normal circumstance, normal meaning pre-COVID times, those were two sort of distinct populations that we worked with," Nitza said. "In the current situation, everybody's a survivor and everybody is a responder."
"The pandemic has kind of thrown the world of disaster psychology for a loop as well," O'Meara said. "This is a different type of disaster than a lot of us has experienced. In some ways, the experience of COVID has also been one of rewriting some of how we do the work of disaster mental health."
"Our scope of how we work has really had to expand accordingly," Nitza said. "This book was sort of one of the ways in which we were trying to get resources to people to help them support the people around them."
The institute has applied for a grant through SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) to continue its efforts through the Boys and Girls Club.
"(It's) along the same lines of the work we have been doing with UNICEF USA," O'Meara said, "targeting it toward interventions for kids and caregivers, so we're looking to run some training stuff down in Puerto Rico in the next couple of years, hopefully. That's kind of our next thing on our plate."