Mother-daughter team writes COVID-19 children’s book

With help from her mom and a magical teddy bear, Roxy learns about COVID-19 and how to protect herself and those she loves.

Who’s Roxy? She’s the main character in a children’s book that a Ridgefield doctor and her daughter recently wrote (in two weeks) for a competition with 262 entries.

The finished product, Walls of Protection: Roxy Learns About the COVID-19 Pandemic, is available at several locations in Ridgefield. All proceeds benefit three area charities.

“We wrote it with the intention of having parents and teachers read it with their children,” said Dr. Amy Agoglia, a pediatrician at Doctors’ Pediatric, which has offices in Ridgefield and Wilton. “It is more geared towards the elementary school age group, but a teacher or parent can certainly read it and show the pictures to younger children. Older children might find it fun and may even enjoy reading it to younger children.”

Agoglia’s daughter, Becca Cohen, heard about the contest (the Emory Global Health Institute COVID-19 Children’s eBook Competition) after returning home in March from her freshman year at Emory University — when the school switched to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We started in mid-April and had about two weeks to finish ... ” Agoglia said. “It was a quite a tight deadline.

“Becca started by writing the story and the main theme,” Agoglia continued. “I contributed and edited a bit. Becca was in the midst of college finals, and I was still working as a pediatrician. We were limited on time, and we were new at writing. We realized that we had quite a long story, which needed more editing to make it appeal to children.”

Neither Agoglia nor Cohen had previous experience writing fiction.

“For me, the toughest part was trying to minimize the amount of words to keep the interest of young children,” Agoglia said. “I actually originally added some info that we ended up completely editing out later.

“Most authors hire editors to review their books prior to publishing,” Agoglia added. “We didn’t have that luxury, so we asked friends to read and comment on our book. We received awesome feedback and advice.”

Most children’s authors also work with professional illustrators — another area of expertise in which Agoglia and Cohen were lacking.

“With only having two weeks to finish the book, and wanting to put pictures on every page, we had to come up with something,” Agoglia said. “We found a way to use some of our own photos, taken over past years, and turn them into our own artwork (using Photoshop’s draw tool). We learned a tremendous amount in a short time.”

One of Cohen’s friends, Sarah de Lange (a freshman at Lehigh University), also contributed.

“Even though Sarah was also in the midst of college final exams, she graciously offered to sketch a picture of hands washing,” Agoglia said. “She really has talent.”

Agoglia and Cohen didn’t win the contest — which included professional authors and illustrators and had a first-place prize of $10,000 — but they felt confident enough about the story to keep revising and editing after the competition ended.

They subsequently self-published the book and have print versions available at Books on the Common, Tiger Sports, Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe, and Bissell Pharmacy.

Money raised through sales goes to three charities: Families Network of Western CT, the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, and the Ridgefield ABC (A Better Chance) program.

“We wanted to choose charities that benefited women, children and young families,” Agoglia said. “We had a hard time choosing one, so we decided on three. We hope we can raise a nice amount for all three charities.”

Agoglia has another wish, too.

“I hope that parents and teachers use this book as a way to talk about COVID-19,” she said. “Young children often have questions that come forth when reading a book. A teacher or parent might even use the book as a way to see where a child is at emotionally during these uncertain times.

“The tough questions adults have been trying to answer also affect children: Should we visit grandparents? Will schools be open? Will children need to wear masks at school?” Agoglia added. “We hope we can help make wearing a mask seem fun, and help children understand why we all need to make a new routine in our day-to-day lives.”