Flu in Fairy Land: Using storytelling to relate the pandemic to children

Nov 13, 2022

Children across the world, including our island nation, Sri Lanka, have probably had it the worst in recent years. With the outbreak of the pandemic, which brought on the prolonged cancellation of schools, social distancing, mask-wearing, staying at home, online classes, sneezing into elbows and what-have-you – the list of things to do and do not for children just amplified! And many kids, having to very quickly adapt to a very different lifestyle, have found an escape from the harshness of reality in the joy of books.

That is not to say that our youth do not, or have not come to realise the magnitude of a pandemic and how much more severe it could have been, but it helps to find literature such as Erandathie Damunupola’s story, ‘Flue in Fairy Land’, which serves as a remarkable tool to help youngsters fully understand how serious the virus is, and the things we can do to prevent transmission of the disease, as well as the many different types of people you encounter, their attitudes and points of views of how serious (or not serious) the pandemic is!

In speaking with Erandathie and about how her story came to be, she says she usually does not have enough hours in the day – or the energy! – to dabble in creative activities as much as she would like to, but during the initial lockdown in early 2020, she suddenly had so much time on her hands, as universities were closed and online teaching had not started. With all the extra free time to sit around and chat with the kids, to paint with them and to do all kinds of fun things with them, they also faced the typical problems all Sri Lankans faced at that time. If there was a birthday or another special occasion, gifts became hand-made as getting things store-bought was now a challenge. This story started out that way… in trying to come up with a birthday gift for her husband, her kids suggested they get together and write a story. This was not the first time they all pooled in on funny or farfetched ideas to write a story, but this was the first time it was published, thanks to the encouragement from Erandathie’s friend Chathurika.

In this story, Nuka the elf is always experimenting and creating new viruses. That was his job, you see, for viruses are a part of life and they also play their part, but sometimes, some viruses can get a little out of hand. See what happens when one of Nuka’s over-active viruses start spreading a terrible viral flu among all the creatures of the earth. It affects not just you and me, but fairies, elves, goblins and even the animals catch the flu. The flora and fauna fairies, together with the elves, try to stop the spread and save the earth from this terrible spiky flu. Will they succeed? You will have to read the book to find out!

Says Erandathie, “Flu in Fairy Land” is story based on real-life experiences of living through the Covid-19 Pandemic. There seemed to be no end to it and no cure in sight at the time of writing the story. All our daily discussions at home, the news we watched, read and listened to and the speculations about how and when this would end, formed the backbone of the story. We brought in the fairies and elves to help with something that seemed like an impossible situation, where a solution could only seem magical. The story contains information blended in with imagination and a hope for a better tomorrow. The message I want to leave with the reader is that, if we work together (like how the elves, fairies, goblins and animals did) we can achieve anything.”

Erandathie goes on to say that getting her kids involved, listening to them share their ideas and speculations and putting it together, was the best thing about this book. “As a mother that’s something I am proud of. Writing with them helped me to step into their world for a while and forget about the problems at hand. And later on, the kids went on to make YouTube videos about the story,” she says with pride. “My youngest daughter has hope that it would one day be made into an animated film!!!”

Erandathie Damunupola studied at Methodist College Colombo 3 and hold a MA in English Literature. By profession, she is a lecturer in English Language at the DELT, University of Colombo. She is also an artist in her free time, dabbling in many creative including sketching, painting, writing poetry and writing and illustrating children’s stories. She is a mother of three, and is always looking for ways to inspire children to be more creative. Her daughters Menuki, Chenuli and son Thenuka have also contributed to the story in their own unique ways.

Erandathie has also produced two other books – Liyawela and Liyapatha – which are colouring books featuring traditional Sri Lankan motifs.