Photos, bios, and links to the websites of all the contributors to the book: Contributors.
Freeman’s email address: contact@AuthorFreeman.com.
Freeman and the illustrators are available for interviews.
Text and audio clips by author Freeman Ng
Reading the poems
Discussing the book
Why did you write this book?
Early in the pandemic lockdowns, when parents and teachers were looking for resources for their homebound kids, I wrote a poem, using the structure of the old English rhyme “The House That Jack Built”, about the sheltering in place experience and decided to turn it into a kind of mini picture book (a picture booklet?) they could print out and assemble at home. I used my own computer generated art for the project because I wanted to get it out there quickly, while the need was still great.
The poem was a celebration of sheltering in place, which was something I particularly wanted to offer to kids and the grownups in their lives. The lockdowns tended to be thought about in entirely negative terms, and I wanted to suggest that we might also find some unexpected good in them.
As the pandemic wore on, showing no signs of ending, I began to feel the same need around our responses to masking, distancing, and vaccination. We heard a lot of talk about the inconvenience, the disruptions, and the risks, but very little about this incredible effort that was being made by so many for the common good. So I wrote a second poem, a sequel in the same style, about the measures we took, and are still taking, to combat the virus, and put it together with the first poem into a picture book that, this time, would be illustrated by real artists.
How did you find the illustrators?
By emailing them cold turkey! I contacted over 200 illustrators that I found in the SCBWI portfolio gallery, the Women Who Draw directory, the Childrens Illustrators website, and a few other places. Of the 200+ I contacted, maybe 30 replied, and of those 30, 14 eventually signed on.
I really appreciate the work those 14 have done, especially because I wasn’t able to offer them any advance payment. They did the work entirely on spec, because they either believed that the book would sell well enough to make it worth their while or because they believed in the value and importance of the book itself.
How long did the book take to produce?
The book took almost two years to produce, if you start the clock with my first email pitch to an illustrator.
According to my records, it was sent on June 6, 2021. The first email I sent to an illustrator who eventually joined the project was dated July 31, 2021. The first illustration was turned in November 3, 2021.
During the course of the work, I continued to recruit more illustrators. The last illustrator to join the project joined on October 14, 2022. The final illustration was turned in on March 3rd, 2023.
Why are you releasing the book when Covid is still an issue?
When I started this project, I honestly thought the day would come when Covid would be entirely defeated. The poems were written in the past tense: the house we sheltered in, the masks we wore. Now, it looks like Covid will always be with us. However, the measures we’ve taken have had a big enough impact that I think it’s still worth celebrating them. People are much less likely to get seriously sick with it, and in May (2023), the U.S. will be ending its state of Covid-19 emergency.
So the book is a mix of past and present tense. The poems are still in the past tense, to honor the effectiveness of all that we did, but the end matter, the pages at the end of each story explaining the background science, are now in the present tense.
How did you get the idea to publish the two poems as a “flippable” dual book?
The flippable dual structure of the book seemed a natural expression of its yin-yang nature. The first poem, The House We Sheltered In, is inward-looking. It’s about comfort and security. The second poem, The Masks We Wore, is outward-looking, about the actions we took in the world to combat the virus.