When Brenna Phillips ’19 found herself sheltering in place in Germany while visiting some friends, she decided to make the most of the COVID-19 crisis. A week and a half later, she had written and illustrated a children’s book to teach young readers about social distancing.
The book, titled Little B Learns About Social Distancing, features a young girl whose field trip gets canceled as a result of an infectious disease. When she learns that she can help slow the spread of the virus by washing her hands and staying home, Little B and her family recreate the field trip she would have taken and wave to friends from across neighborhood streets.
Phillips, who is in Europe this year as a Fulbright award recipient, based Little B’s character and experiences on those from her own childhood as a biracial child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After being diagnosed at age 9, Phillips vividly remembers how the disorder affected her experiences in the classroom.
“My ADHD has always been something that shaped my education,” she says. “Some teachers were really great with me and others struggled. When I got older, I learned that many of my teachers didn’t have the resources to help them understand students with ADHD. It really highlighted the lack of resources that parents and teachers have when it comes to understanding and helping kids who are different.”
Even the illustrations that accompany the story, which Phillips says were the biggest challenge in producing the book, resemble the environment she grew up in as a Redlands native. There are glimpses of orange trees and an R on the mountains in the distance.
Phillips hopes that Little B’s story, which she plans on building into a series of books, will help parents answer the big questions that their children pose and introduce young readers to a diverse community of characters—something she says was sorely absent from her own childhood.
“I don’t have a strong recollection of reading books that included characters of color or biracial couples,” she says. “Illustrating the book even felt weird to me because so many of the books I read growing up featured white characters. I think it’s important for kids to be able to identify with characters in books, and in all media.”
The Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival, which takes place annually in Redlands, gave Phillips the chance to expand her thinking on this topic. While volunteering for the event, she attended a session about diversity in children’s books and listened to the conversations in the room. That experience, she says, showed her the books she wanted to write were necessary.
The family that Phillips is sheltering with in Germany includes two children, ages 7 and 11, who have read the book and offered their feedback. Phillips looks forward to expanding the Little B series to help families have important conversations. “I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks,” she says. “Writing a children’s book during a global health crisis definitely taught me to appreciate the possibilities that exist in a single day.”