Fears and Feeling
Helping kids cope with the creepy Corona monster
By Debra R. Messick | Photos by Pamela L. Cowart-Rickman
Stacey Anderson, a resident of Oxford, used her background as a retired Talbot County elementary school guidance counselor to guide her writing.
A few years before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Stacey Anderson retired from a rewarding career as a Talbot County elementary school guidance counselor. But as 2020 unfolded, she found that she wanted to use the sense of caring that fueled her career to help kids cope with their changing and challenging realities.
Anderson knew how scared she felt just going to the market during the pandemic. She sensed that children, who don’t always have the words to express their feelings, must be dealing with similar anxieties, compounded by their isolation from teachers and friends and by living with parents struggling themselves to manage their instantly changed lives. She channeled her need to help into writing Cyrus the Virus, a book that would help alleviate many of these fears.
During Anderson’s childhood in Oxford, traumatic health issues among her siblings kept her family of nine in a constant state of worry. Three of her four brothers suffered from a chronic autoimmune illness that required frequent trips to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; two died.
Influenced in part by that experience, but also by immense gratitude to the doctors and health care workers who had worked so hard to make life better for her family during those traumatic times, Anderson was galvanized to put her feelings down on paper. A lover of words from an early age, she wrote in journals and found sanctuary in poetry throughout her life.
Around the time she retired, Anderson began writing pamphlets with pictures to empower the children of friends and family who struggled with their own fears and anxieties. Her pamphlet, Bugs Be Gone, helped her 4-year-old nephew learn simple strategies for coping with dreaded insects. The No-Good Noodle modeled positive self-talk and self-esteem building for a student struggling with his physical appearance.
When Anderson decided to write about the coronavirus, she recalls that she first thought of the book’s title. Sketching kid-friendly pictures and jotting down rhyming verses, she found that the story of the dastardly bully Cyrus, who spread the illness without regard for where it landed. In the book, Cyrus’ friend Corona, aka “Rona, goes along with Cyrus’s behavior until she hears about a heroic helper named Fauci. She rightly fears him because he knows how to foil the bully’s plans by giving people the tools to stay safe. Fauci also reminds readers of the advice from Fred Rogers of the TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to focus on the love of helpers instead of the fear generated by uncertainty.
After some editing to reflect updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cyrus the Virus was published by Page Publishing in May 2021. Anderson says her first published book honors her late mother, who remained a consistent beacon radiating positivity. It also includes an acknowledgment of Dr. Fauci’s consultations years before with her mother about her brothers’ illness that reads: “This book was written in honor of Dr. Anthony Fauci and all the health care workers who dedicate their lives to educating, saving, and comforting each and every one of us.”
Despite the hardships her parents endured, Anderson says they managed to be helpers worth emulating. “My mom and dad, Phil and Sally Greenhawk, volunteered time to assist in the founding of the Immune Deficiency Foundation in Towson, Maryland,” she shares. The organization is dedicated to improving the diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life of people affected by primary immunodeficiency.
With schools reopening this fall, Anderson hopes Cyrus the Virus will help kids and their caregivers address the ongoing concerns raised by the pandemic and help alleviate lingering trepidation by bringing its consequences out into the open. Anderson believes the book is most appropriate for children in elementary school and that its overall message transcends the specific circumstances generated by the health crisis.