Cartoon creators aim to teach children to protect themselves from Covid-19
E-leng Keng Kong and his friends Ngao and Fong are required to stay home, wash their hands, wear protective masks and avoid shared eating utensils during the Covid-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, in the South, best friends Anis and Golf are prohibited to play with each other. They are, however, reluctant to maintain physical distance.
All these are characters in two children books — E-leng Keng Kong Stay Home … (Fight Covid-19) created by Cheewan Wisasa and Anis And Golf Fight Covid-19created by Rapeephan Pattanavech. The books were launched by the Reading Culture Promotion Programme under the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (Thai Health) in order to educate children about Covid-19. Some 70,000 copies were published and given away to village health volunteers and Thai Health’s community networks nationwide.
As the novel coronavirus has frozen the lives of people across the globe and brought businesses to a halt in the past months, the respiratory disease — which has infected over 8.1 million and killed more than 438,000 people worldwide so far — still continues to wreak havoc in many parts of the world. While the country’s economy, tourism and many industries are severely damaged, the impact the disease has on children should never be underestimated.
Content and information to raise understanding and awareness regarding the novel coronavirus are designed mainly to educate and communicate with adults. The two children books are therefore released with an aim to inform young ones about what’s going on amid the pandemic.
“Children should be informed about any situations that affect to them. However, communicating with children must be different from adults. That’s why the cartoon was created. A cartoon is a visual language in which children can connect their experiences to cartoon images,” said Cheewan, author of E-leng Keng Kong Stay Home … (Fight Covid-19).
“They should know as much as they can understand about the disease and protect themselves by wearing masks and washing hands often. We have to explain about the disease with images. In Anis And Golf Fight Covid-19, a character Aunt Wi spreads the disease to others. The disease is portrayed as thorns. When someone is infected, they are pierced by thorns,” said Rapeephan, editor of Anis And Golf Fight Covid-19.
E-leng Keng Kong is a famous duck cartoon character that provides information in many circumstances such as organic farming, drought and flood. E-leng Keng Kong Stay Home … (Fight Covid-19) was developed from eight sheets in black and white.
“I designed many leaflets for village health volunteers to lecture about health and they worked well. In February, I was in Yasothon and the health volunteers asked me to design a medium for kids to learn about the pandemic. I wrote a song about Covid-19 for them. When the situation was getting worse, no one created a medium for kids. I decided to use the character E-leng Keng Kong to inform them. However, after the country’s lockdown, I couldn’t go out. I designed eight sheets in A4 size of the E-leng Keng Kong story and provided a link for a free download so that village health volunteers could use them. The Thai Health’s Reading Culture Promotion Programme later discussed with me content for children about the pandemic. The content was developed and turned into books,” Cheewan said.
The buddies Anis and Golf were originally created by doctors from the Faculty of Medicine at Prince of Songkla University to educate parents in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces. The current characters of Anis and Golf were developed by a professional illustrator.
“We chose Anis and Golf to talk about Covid-19 because they are best friends who are the same age as kindergarten children. They used to play together and got measles, but in this book, they have to stay apart although they want to be together,” said Rapeephan.
While E-leng Keng Kong talks in four-syllable poems, Anis and Golf use rhyming to communicate with readers.
“When words rhyme, they are catchy and interesting to hear,” Cheewan said.
“Rhymes are easy to remember and easy to communicate with kids. One of my books, Nu Ja Ja Pai Nai Ja (Where Are You Going?) is rhyming. Children can learn words in the book by heart. They can’t read, but pretend to read the book and say the words aloud. When they are complimented by their parents, they feel reading isn’t difficult. They are encouraged to get close to books and are inspired to love reading,” said Rapeephan.
The books were designed to communicate with children, but their target audiences are too young to read books by themselves. The books require adults to deliver messages to their children. Cheewan gave credit to village health volunteers who read books to kids in communities.
“In Yasothon, 3,000 copies of E-leng Keng Kong were read by village health volunteers who went to communicate with both adult and kids. After measuring the temperatures and blood pressure of villagers, health volunteers read the book to kids.
“If no one reads the book to children, they will never hear rhythms of poems and understand the content. The success of this book is up to adults,” Cheewan said.
E-leng Keng Kong is a black-and-white cartoon book allowing children to colour in. Cheewan explained that colouring pages let children participate with the book.
“After reading, village health volunteers give coloured pencils and crayons to kids, so they can colour pictures in the books. Colouring is a learning process that allows children to concentrate on each page in the book and review the story that a village health volunteer just read to them,” said Cheewan.
Apart from educating children, these two books aim to change children’s behaviours. Characters in books can have a strong influence on kids. Some books successfully change the behaviour of children. One of the most successful children’s book is Khun Fong Nak Praeng Fun, authored by Cheewan.
“This book is used at home as part of childcare and at kindergarten. Khun Fong brings positive aspects about brushing teeth to children. He sings a song on how to brush teeth while he brushes his friends’ teeth. When teachers told kids to brush their teeth before nap time, children loudly sang the song that Khun Fong sang to his friends,” Cheewan said.
“Everyone knew that Khun Fong Nak Prang Fun encourages children to brush their teeth. Cheewan makes children feel that brushing teeth is fun. After reading this book, a niece of my former co-worker let her aunt brush her teeth, but she had to wear a hat like Khun Fong,” added Rapeephan.
Will these two books change children’ behaviours like Khun Fong did? Both creators are positive as to the consequences.
“It isn’t difficult [to have children imitate the characters]. Before the book reached children, parents had already taught their kids. They told children to wear masks and wash hands often,” said Cheewan.
“I don’t dare to have high expectations, but I believe children will be happy to follow how Anis and Golf behave. They will stay at home, maintain social distancing and wash their hands often. They will believe in the characters and want to do the same,” said Rapeephan.
E-leng Keng Kong Stay Home … (Fight Covid-19) and Anis And Golf Fight Covid-19 are available for download via happyreading.in.th.
Writer : SUWITCHA CHAIYONG – BANGKOK POST