“I wanted to reassure families and help their kids make sense of what we’re all going through,” says author Melissa Gratias

By Morgan Smith
April 06, 2020 04:55 PM
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Credit: Illustrations by InkyBrittany

Among the many challenges surrounding the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: What is the best way to explain the current crisis to children?

Teachers, parents, doctors and more have struggled to answer this question as shelter-in-place orders stretch into late April and the number of infected people continues to rise in the U.S. Melissa Gratias, a productivity coach in Savannah, Georgia, has written a new children’s book, Captain Corona & The 19 Covid Warriors, which aims to provide children comfort in uncertain times.

“I wanted to reassure families and help their kids make sense of what we’re all going through,” says Gratias, 46, who previously authored the 2019 children’s book Seraphina Does Everything!

Author Melissa Gratias and Dobby

The story, which is illustrated by Brittany Curry, follows superhero Captain Corona as he explains what germs are, teaches his group of young friends how to properly wash their hands and introduces them to the 19 “COVID warriors,” a group that includes teachers, healthcare workers, delivery people and more.

Captain Corona is inspired by Gratias’ husband, Dr. Eric Gratias, who, as the chief medical officer for eviCore Healthcare, has been closely following the virus’s development for months.

Captain Corona
| Credit: Illustrations by InkyBrittany

“It started as a nickname, because he always had a coronavirus update for us every night when we gathered around the dinner table, and that’s how the character was born,” says Gratias.

But an interaction with a retail worker at her local Walmart inspired Gratias to highlight the many helpers fighting to curb the spread of coronavirus, too.

“She was so pleasant in the midst of this collective stress and chaos,” Gratias recalls. “And as I was leaving, she called out, ‘Be well!’ ”

She continues: “Her words stuck with me. She gave me the idea to write about all of the other incredible helpers in this crisis.”

An illustration from Captain Corona
| Credit: Illustrations by InkyBrittany

Gratias wrote the book in just 10 days following a strict writing ritual: fill up her Yeti tumbler with ice water, slip on a pair of fuzzy socks and write in her home office with her coworker, Dobby, the family’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She worked remotely with a team of about 20 people, including an editor, illustrator and web developer.

Captain Corona & The 19 Covid Warriors is free to download on Gratias’s website, along with a video of her reading the book and other resources. Although the book is free, she is encouraging donations to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

“I just want to remind children to look at all these people who are on the frontlines fighting for them, that they are warriors, too, who can help, and also to express their feelings, because it’s okay to be scared right now,” Gratias says. “If that’s what they get out of this, that’s more than I could ever hope for.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.