By Janis Fontaine
When COVID-19 became a part of our lives last spring, Delray Beach mom Shannon Q. McDonald reasoned that mask-wearing likely would be required of children at some point.
She knew her daughter Sloane, 6, would adapt easily but that Sean, then 2, likely wouldn’t.
She was right on both counts.
The first thing McDonald, an in-house corporate attorney for a global tech company, did was research masks and kids. She knew the key to a smooth transition was in the presentation, and she was disappointed when she couldn’t find much to help her explain wearing masks to her kids.
McDonald had recently read a funny book on potty training, called Vegetables in Underwear, by Jared Chapman. McDonald decided to write her own children’s book about masks.
McDonald wrote the text and tested it on her daughter (her best and most honest critic), licensed beautiful illustrations from Etsy (yes, you can do that), self-published the book, printed 600 copies and hired a national publicist to help promote it.
Remember to Smile is 20 pages of bouncy rhymes, a little bit like Dr. Seuss, and colorful illustrations featuring mermaids, superheroes and astronauts, plus kids visiting ice cream trucks and swinging in trees, all while wearing masks. But the star of the book may be Rudy, the McDonalds’ 8-year-old dachshund who is featured throughout.
McDonald, a Michigan native, brings a positive Midwestern perspective to everything she does, and credits her husband, Chris, for his support. “We thought, let’s make the best of it. Germs can be scary, so I focused on the fun of wearing a mask. I kept away from the words ‘should’ and ‘must.’ Although I did mention why we wear masks, it’s at the end on purpose. I didn’t want to make it at all political.”
McDonald has also put together mask-decorating kits for sale, including a Rudolph kit and a snowman kit for the holidays. Kids take pride in their creations and showing them off, so they want to wear their masks, McDonald said.
One reason McDonald suspected Sean wouldn’t like wearing a mask is sensory processing disorder, a neurological condition “in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses,” according to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing (see www.spdstar.org).
This means Sean may overreact to certain stimuli. Noise, lights, clothing, smells, touch, certain foods, and other things that seem innocuous or tolerable to most others can cause anxiety, irritability and discomfort to people with SPD. Being asked to wear a piece of cloth over your mouth and elastic bands around your ears seems tailor-made to upset someone with SPD.
Sean is adjusting — he prefers a plastic shield decorated with car stickers — and the book has made the family local celebrities. McDonald has appeared on television and in newspapers, but when her daughter told her, “Mom, I’m a cool kid because you wrote a book,” that was the highlight of her newfound fame.
Of course, with fame comes a dark side.
“I did have a couple of haters,” she said. “They argued COVID isn’t real. One said masks cause a build-up of CO2 in the body and that’s child abuse.”
McDonald is using proceeds from the book to help kids through the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Teachers and Students, a program of the nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org. The money will help cover budget shortfalls that rising expenses for technology and PPE are creating during the pandemic.
Sloane McDonald attends St. Vincent Ferrer School in Delray Beach and has seen the challenges faced firsthand. She’s happy to be part of the COVID-19 solution.
Shannon McDonald says having a creative outlet was a blessing as she coped with her own fears and stress about COVID-19, and that seeing her book at Barnes & Noble fulfilled a dream.
McDonald continues to share her message through virtual visits and outdoor readings for small groups. To schedule an event, which can include a mask-making craft, or to buy the book or mask kits online, visit www.remembertosmile.org.
Books are $14 in hardcover at remembertosmile.org.
At amazon.com, the hardcover is $17, plus there’s a paperback ($12) and Kindle version ($7.99).