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Storytelling survival strategies during the era of Covid-19

Researchers from Queen Mary’s Centre for Childhood Cultures are exploring children’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the first key outputs of the research, a collaboration with children’s magazine, Storytime, has just been published.

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Heightened anxiety levels among UK children have been reported in the wake of the pandemic.
Heightened anxiety levels among UK children have been reported in the wake of the pandemic.

The project, Childhood heroes: storytelling survival strategies and role models of resilience to Covid-19 in the UK, will lead to the creation of an archive of pandemic responses which will be used for future research.

Alongside reports of heightened anxiety among UK children, fears for widened attainment gaps and exacerbation of inequalities have all impacted on children’s wellbeing.

Funded by the British Academy, one of the project’s major outputs is the development of a series of magazine supplements using (ancient) heroic narratives to explore key issues raised by the pandemic, the first of which has been recently published.

Blog: Childhood responses to the pandemic

A project blog has also been launched. Aimed at academics, researchers, practitioners and other interested parties such as parents and librarians, the blog documents the growing number of children’s books, and other texts for children, produced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It draws out some of the key issues and themes emerging from Covid-19 children’s literature for future research, including individual and collective heroism, time and temporality and storytelling.

A growing number of children’s books, and other texts for children have been produced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They aim to inform and educate children about the virus as well as help with its social and emotional impacts using storytelling.

With the first examples appearing in March 2020, these texts are being created rapidly, and reacting and evolving to advice and policy. As such, they offer snapshots of particular moments in a quickly evolving situation and valuable insights into contemporary ideas about childhood.

Mini-magazine: We are Heroes

The new six-part series, a collaboration between Queen Mary and Storytime, promotes resilience through ancient myths and fables. These issues will be freely available online and print copies are also set to be distributed to vulnerable children via selected school partners. The Storytime team have also made copies available to all primary schools in the UK to use and discuss with children in class, with a new edition being sent every month from October 2020 to March 2021.

Each of the issues is themed around particular challenges that children have experienced during the pandemic including isolation and anxiety in response to the first lockdown. Other themes include connections to others, social cohesion, protection and hygiene. Each issue features two stories from Greek and Roman myths as well as interactive activities including puzzles, quizzes and craft ideas, all reinforcing mental health and wellbeing messages.

Dr Rachel Bryant Davies, Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary, said: "It is really exciting to see the first printed magazine copies, which have been beautifully produced by Storytime, and to have received positive feedback from children and parents who have read it so far. We’re also looking forward to working further with primary schools, who have now been able to sign up to receive PDF versions of each by email as they are published."

Leslie Coathup, publisher of Storytime, added: "The response to ‘We Are Heroes’ from schools has been completely overwhelming. It’s been gratefully received by teachers who have told us how difficult it is to find high quality resources to gently explore experiences of lockdown. ‘We Are Heroes’ will be invaluable in supporting their wellbeing work, in what is such a difficult time for children. We’re honoured to be part of such an important project."

Professor Kiera Vaclavik said: "It is brilliant to see this materialise already and for the team and our wonderful partner to have mobilised so rapidly in order to ensure maximum relevance and responsiveness."

The funding from the British Academy was the first Covid-19 research grant awarded to Queen Mary’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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