Sherry Lottero and Tori Schoen, author and illustrator of “Why can’t I play with my friends?” Take a look at the finished product. COURTESY TORI SCHOEN
Why can’t I play with my friends?
Written by Sherry Lottero, illustrated by Tori Schoen
Available at whycantIplaywithmyfriends.com
The proceeds will go to the Feed My Children’s Fund, Feedmychildrendsfund.org.
Tori Schön’s art can be seen on her Instagram page @bytorschoen.
BY GWEN OREL
Why can not I?
Parents know these questions.
But since March, when the country took steps to contain COVID-19, the questions have been difficult to answer.
The lockdown is over now – although some fear that thanks to the increasing number of cases, we’re headed for another – but that makes the questions harder, not easier.
If some stores are open for child reasons, why can’t I play with my friends?
“Why can’t I play with my friends?” Is the title of a new children’s picture book by New Jersey author Sherry Lottero, illustrated by Montclair’s Tori Schoen, Montclair High School Class of 2016.
The book, subtitled “A Pandemic Playbook for Children”, features bold, colorful illustrations and a little boy named Alex who asks, “Why can’t I go to the playground? Do sports? “And wonders why” Mom doesn’t go to the office? Dad isn’t out for work? “
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Alex’s parents sit him down and explain, and that is accompanied by an illustration of the coronavirus orbiting the globe.
One doesn’t want to say that the germ looks cozy, but one can safely say that it looks less scary in Schön’s illustration.
All earnings from the book are available individually website, go to the Feed My Children’s Fund, A non-profit working to eradicate child hunger worldwide, working with organizations to save and distribute food, and medical institutions to receive and distribute excess medical care.
WHAT DO CHILDREN THINK?
Schoen is a 2020 graduate of Lafayette College; She finished her senior year online. She was at home in Montclair in late May when she received a text from her former tutor, Sherry Lottero. Lottero from Fort Lee had taught Schoen, who is dyslexic, from second through eighth grades, and the two had stayed in contact.
“Why can’t I play with my friends?” Is Schön’s first book illustration project, and it’s a departure for her: She usually works in analogue or hand-drawn, but she knew this book should be very colorful, so they decided to work digitally .
She wanted the illustrations to be explanatory so that even if a child was too young to read, they could look at the illustrations and get a general idea of what was happening.
So she used Photoshop to create colorful illustrations with her index finger on her trackpad.
The figures have a flatness that represents a departure even for Schön, who normally works with a lot of detail.
“Simple was the point I had,” she said. Lottero wanted that too.
When Schön got on board, the manuscript was ready.
Lottero wrote it quickly and wanted it to come out while the questions were fresh, so she published it herself through Barnes & Noble.
“I didn’t do this to become a rich and famous writer,” she said. “I had to bring this out when it was most valuable to children.” She also wanted to raise money for the Feed My Children’s Fund. “This is a crisis,” she said.
She got the idea last spring when she was sitting at her desk wondering what was going on.
She thought, “If I can’t figure this out, what are the children thinking? Your whole life changes. They can’t see their friends or go to school. Your families need to get an explanation and know the facts about what is going on. “
The book is designed to help children understand how this landscape affects their lives and give them the facts.
Lottero worked as an educator, specializing in literacy, and often worked with young children. She worked on a team to open Hope School, a preschool in Machakos, Kenya, in 2010 and continues to be involved in it.
Since she worked in kindergarten for 16 years, she immediately thought of picture books.
The age range of 3 to 8 may seem large, but according to Lottero, an 8-year-old will have different questions than a 3-year-old.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know how to discuss [the pandemic]”Said Lottero.
The book is intended to be a starting point for educators and carers.
Sherry Lottero and Tori Schoen are holding their book. COURTESY SHERRY LOTTERO
MEET THE CHALLENGE
Creating digital, bright illustrations is a learning curve, Schön said. Some of the pictures would take hours, others days.
“One of those who I thought was the most challenging turned out to be the least challenging and the most entertaining,” she said. The illustration of the grocery store has many shapes and different images: Alex’s mother pushes a cart into an aisle, shelves have boxes of different colors, a sign reads “Social Distancing / Stay 6 Feet Apart”.
“This is the picture in which I really hit my groove,” said Schön. It was through this illustration that she had drawn every character in the book.
Some illustrations were scrapped along the way: the first page, a simple page of a little boy looking out the window, has been rephrased three times, she said.
Schön thought of how Lottero, when she was little, gave her stickers with little children’s faces if she did well. She loved these simple drawings and kept them in mind.
Self-publishing was “absolutely exhausting,” said Lottero. “I did it – it’s like a win for me.” She doesn’t expect to get her money back, and that’s fine: her goal was to help children and contribute to a worthwhile cause.
Marketing the book has been a challenge, Lottero said. Although she knows many educators who would have taken her to a book fair, COVID-19, the very subject of the book, has also made it difficult to get the word out.
She can do some readings on Zoom.
A spotlight on Fox5 television has drawn attention to the work. The Lafayette Student News also reported, “Why can’t I play with my friends?”
Lottero has also received positive reviews on their website, including one from Cathy Vitone, a retired headmistress from Bradford Elementary School, who describes the illustrations as “sensitive”. Vitone writes that the book addresses “BIG QUESTIONS!”
For Schön, it’s exciting to see the book go on sale.
Both women know that people have COVID fatigue. Some of the moments in this book may be less relevant now, such as the page where mom explains how to wipe food.
But when the numbers rise, children will still have questions, said Schön. “Children still ask, ‘Why can’t I see my friends?’, Especially when it gets colder and we’re going into a scary winter.”