“What does COVID-19 look like?”

“So we can’t fight it because we can’t see it?”

UTRGV School of Medicine professor Dr. Marsha Griffin (Courtesy photo)

These are the questions Sara asks her mother in the children’s book, “My Hero is You” — questions that are similar to what many parents have probably received from their own curious and worried children since the pandemic changed many of the routines they were used to.

The authors of the book, which was released earlier this year, are mental health and psychosocial support experts of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a humanitarian coordination forum of the United Nations. The message of the story — which is about a girl who travels across the world to share comfort and knowledge about how to fight the virus to other children — teaches young readers about the power of following safety measures.

To share the message of the book with more children, after three months of work, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine, in collaboration with Stanford Medicine and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released a short film adaptation of the book on Aug. 20.

UTRGV School of Medicine professor Dr. Marsha Griffin who teaches in the department of pediatrics, was the content advisor of the production, and advised the team on how to make the visuals best appeal to children.

“It was all about making sure we were depicting it in a child friendly way — in a way children see the world.”

In the animated film, vibrant colors appear when children decide to trust Sara, and follow her around the world to teach other children about how they can defend themselves from the virus.

The sky is a bright purple. The flying creature who flies Sara and her friends to different countries is orange.

“We want children across the world to know how to manage the whole idea of COVID-19 and encourage them that we can be part of the solution,” Griffin said, who is also the director of the Division of Child and Family Health and Humanitarian Care Respite Clinic Medical. “That they can be

making sure things are clean and washing their hands and social distancing… that that’s how they can be superheroes during this time.”

The production was based on about 1,700 surveys distributed worldwide in English, Arabic, Italian, French and Spanish to assess children’s mental health and psychosocial needs during the pandemic. The project was led by Stanford Medicine’s Dr. Maya Adams, and was overseen by the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization.

The story begins with Sara feeling discouraged by the sights of empty parks, and people staying distant from each other. Sara wants to fight the virus, and her mother explains to her that being safe and staying away from others is the way to do that.

The most important part of the film though, Griffin said, is that children understand that though it can be difficult to not see their friends in person, and scary to see people in masks, isolation and facial coverings are powerful ways to combat COVID-19.

“(Children should know that) they have the power, and that they are superheroes,” she said. “That they can be superheroes in their small world, in their families. They can wear masks, they can wash their hands, they can clean doorknobs,. They can social distance and remind their families, and remind their friends that they can be part of the solution to save lives.”

The book has been translated into 125 languages, and the short film was made without text or dialogue so that any child can interpret the story.

“Children will understand that the virus is something that is scary, but we have the tools to keep ourselves safe,” Griffin said. “We have those tools, but those tools only work if we use them.”

In the book, Ario, the creature that takes the children around the globe, tells them: “Sometimes the most important thing we can do as friends is protect each other, even if that means staying away from each other for a while.”

The film can be watched below (and here) and the book can be read and downloaded here.