Natasha Vizcarra—Spikeys, Prickles & Prongies: A Coronavirus Discovery Story




Natasha Vizcarra (NASW Member). Illustrated by Jamie Bauza
Tahanan Books for Young Readers, Oct. 15, 2021, $10.95
ISBN: 9786214220427
For readers aged 9 and up.

Vizcarra reports:

Before I moved to the US in 2004, I authored several books and edited a news magazine for Filipino children. In April 2020, I received an email from the editor of a children’s publishing house in Manila. Would I be interested in writing a children’s book about the COVID-19 pandemic? I spoke with the editor of Tahanan Books for Young Readers by phone a few days later.

Natasha Vizcarra

Natasha Vizcarra

I don’t have an agent. I agreed to work with Tahanan because I was familiar with the quality of their books. By that time, Manila was in lockdown and the virus was spreading in US coastal cities. I developed a proposal featuring a narrative nonfiction story for kids with generous backmatter for parents. I planned to aim the book at Filipino children, but also engage readers from other countries and cultures.

The pandemic’s timeline in Manila drives the story arc in the narrative section. I used news reports and journal articles to make decisions on the story’s setting, main characters and plot. For example, since most severe Covid-19 infections were happening to people 40 years and older, my main character is a middle-aged Filipino aunty.

The backmatter consists of a glossary, FAQs for kids and parents, a bibliography, and a list of further readings. My first drafts were full of annotations for fact-checkers.

My biggest challenge was how to present the uncertain nature of the pandemic to young readers. Scientists didn’t know much about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 when I began writing the book. I tracked all the findings I had reported and updated my text regularly, from first draft to the last proofread. I’m proud of how we explained how knowledge evolved on this pandemic and how uncertainty works in science.

My advice for aspiring children’s book writers: ask about the time and work commitment for a project. Work on this book came in unpredictable sprints—understandable because of the pandemic. I negotiated book deadlines because I also had time-sensitive freelance journalism work. Having authored several children’s books before, I knew these projects benefit from a lot of mulling. Factor that in.

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Hero image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Dec. 1, 2021

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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