June 02, 2020

Don't Stand So Close to Me

Written by Eric Walters
Orca Book Publishers
978-1-4598-2788-2 (pdf)
978-1-4598-2789-9 (epub)
116 pp.
Ages 9-16
June 2, 2020

978-1-4598-2787-5 (pb) 
Available September 22, 2020

In a novel for right now, Eric Walters has found a way to reassure, inform, educate and entertain about life during the COVID-19 pandemic, and all within the safety of a new digital book for middle grade readers.

Thirteen-year-old Quinn along with her neighbour and best friend Isaac and their classmates in Grade 8 are anticipating their spring break and planning their spring dance when the COVID-19 pandemic hits North America. The young teens show a variety of responses to the news that spring break will start a little early and last for three weeks: ambivalence, concern, joy and anxiety. Not unlike most young people, their responses are varied and often contingent about what they hear from family and on the news. Because Quinn’s dad is a doctor and Isaac’s mom is a police chief, these two friends get a very different perspective on staying out of school. 

As the kids begin to accept their new reality which includes online schooling and social distancing, all the COVID-19 related issues are touched upon in a meaningful and authentic way in Eric Walters's story. We read about Dad’s need for PPE and consequent skin reactions, his long working hours and the need to isolate from Mom and Quinn. The very social Isaac must deal with the loneliness of staying at home by himself and find safe ways to connect with others. Their friend Reese is unable to visit with her grandmother in a long-term care facility but the kids find a way to reach out after learning how to make masks. The young people learn of the positives of social distancing and strategies for keeping spirits up and bodies healthy. They are exposed to misinformation and those who disregard protocols and protesters who want to reopen businesses.

When the rest of the school year is cancelled except online, the kids decide to stage a spring dance on their street that abides by the rules of social distancing (chalk drawn boxes on road, with kids bringing their own phones, ear buds, water and snacks), and made possible with a little help from parent chaperones, police, and a neighbourhood that gets on board with making it special. With a highly appropriate playlist including the titular "Don't Stand So Close to Me," Isaac DJ’s the night away, saving one final dance with Quinn.

I loved this story. It covers everything middle graders might be experiencing right now, especially the confusion with different perspectives about the COVID-19 pandemic, from parents, peers, news, social media, etc. and their anxiety for their new routines. Their concerns are very real though they are so different from those of the adults in their lives. Still the kids find a way to do the right thing time and time again and I applaud these fictional characters for their responsibility and humanity. I wondered how the story would end, knowing that we don’t really know how this pandemic will ultimately play out. But Eric Walters's ending was more sweet than bitter and I even cried when Quinn’s dad tells her:
...Don’t underestimate what you did. It was much more than a dance. Tonight, wasn’t normal, but somehow you made it work, and for a few hours, you gave hundreds of people some happiness.  You gave them joy.  You helped them to forget for a little while. And, not just your classmates, but hundreds and hundreds of people on our street.  You gave them hope. You gave me hope.  (pg. 114)
Don't Stand So Close to Me is a positive story about a very negative event. It will take middle grade readers into the pandemic of their experiences, offering them reassurance and hope while educating them about helping everyone survive this pandemic. (The discussion about what flattening the curve means is especially brilliant.) I suggest parents and teachers help bring this novel to the young readers in their lives to offer them the hope and wisdom we all need to get through this.


Look for my interview with author Eric Walters next here on CanLit for LittleCanadians and learn more about Don't Stand So Close to Me and getting this relevant book written and to press with remarkable efficiency.


Information for teachers and schools:
Orca Book Publishers is offering classroom and school licenses to accompany the ebooks. A teacher who wants to use this book in their Google Classroom platform or enable their whole class to access it from home can buy one copy of the book with a classroom license for $29.99. A school license (so multiple classes in one school would have access to the book) is available for $59.99.  See details at the publisher's website at https://www.orcabook.com

1 comment:

  1. Perfect! I am amazed that Eric Walters was able to write and publish this very timely book in such a short amount of time. Well done!