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Take Note: The author and publisher of 'The Extraordinary Pause' talk about creating a children's book on COVID-19

Photo of the book cover of "The Extraordinary Pause" featuring a masked girl holding her grandfather's hand.
Eifrig Publishing
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"The Extraordinary Pause," written by Sara Sadik and illustrated by Karine Jaber, was published by Penny Eifrig, of Lemont, Pennsylvania.

In the children’s book “The Extraordinary Pause,” life during the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a standstill. Parties are postponed and playgrounds are abandoned. But slowly, other moments of happiness start to emerge in the book, shown in illustrations by Karine Jaber. WPSU's Anne Danahy talked with the book’s author, Sara Sadik, and publisher, Penny Eifrig, of Centre County, about the book and what they hope children and families take from it.

Here is their conversation:

Anne Danahy 
Welcome to Take Note on WPSU. I'm Anne Danahy. Sara Sadik is a blogger and author who writes and talks about the challenges and rewards of being a mother. Her recent work includes The Extraordinary Pause, an illustrated children's book about the timeout many people experience as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and changed everyday life. Sadik is Lebanese Palestinian and lives in Dubai. The publisher of The Extraordinary Pause is Penny Eifrig, who lives in Lemont in Centre County. Sara Sadik and Penny Eifrig, thank you both for talking with us.

Sara Sadik 
Thank you so much for having us.

Head and shoulders shot of Sara Sadik
Sara Sadik is the author of the illustrated children's book "The Extraordinary Pause," which was published by Penny Eifrig, of Lemont, Pennsylvania.

Anne Danahy 
Sara, I thought it might be nice to start by just reading a few lines from the book to give us an idea of what it's like. Are there a few lines you want to read?

Sara Sadik 
Yeah, I would love that. Obviously, I'm in love with the book in its entirety. But I feel like the very beginning is maybe my favorite. So I'll go ahead and start off. "Not long ago in a land we all know...things were moving fast. So fast, that everyone stopped noticing the smell of fresh pancakes, and the color green, and even each other." So that's a little snippet.

Anne Danahy 
Yeah, thank you. So it's a children's book. But I think a lot of the ideas in it are one’s adults can relate to as well. Where did the idea for it come from?

Sara Sadik 
I mean, obviously we were — that's 100% correct. Because we were under lockdown. And (the illustrator) Karine has two little boys. And I have three kids. And we were just in this whirlwind of like, "what is happening, we can't even go grocery shopping." We're just kind of homeschooling and I'm not a teacher and I have my own work. This whole tornado. And then we I mean, we obviously work together, but we're also very good friends. From the days of nursery, our kids were in the same nursery, I came up with this idea and bounced it off her. And either because we've worked together before, obviously either says, "I love it," or "there's nothing there." And she said, "I feel like there's something there. Let's explore it. Let's figure out a draft." And so I did.

Anne Danahy 
Do you remember how long into the pandemic were you when you started thinking about it?

Sara Sadik 
Honestly, it was August. August. I think even yeah, maybe right after my birthday. I thought, "This isn't normal, how long is this gonna last? We're all losing our minds." I mean, my husband usually travels so much for work. He works in finance. And they're like, "Wait, Daddy's having lunch with us again?" I'm like, "Yep, again." Like I'm about to pull my hair out. And they're like, "Yay" and I'm like, "Oh, my God. Gonna have a breakdown." And so these phone calls between Karine and I, because we are good friends, were just hilarious. I mean, if you catch any of those conversations, it was just like, "I'm gonna lose my mind. No, I'm gonna lose my mind. What's happening," this sort of thing. So yeah, I think we wrote it maybe at the start the start of everything.

Anne Danahy 
And Karine, so she's the illustrator and have you two work together before you were friends?

Sara Sadik 
Yeah, so we were friends, our kids were in the same nurseries. Her eldest, Chad, and my eldest, Adrianna, were in the same nursery. And so we always kind of had a good relationship. And she actually did the cover of my first book, my nonfiction memoir, and we just, you know, we just like jibed really well. Just got each other. She gives me such honesty, such honest feedback. If I am really adamant about something, she's like, "Listen, no, it's not gonna work." I'm like, "No, the rabbit and blah blah," like another story. And she's like, "No, we're killing it. I'm not illustrating the story." And so I really value her opinion, then and now and honestly, at every point, because she's picky with what she wants to work on. So it's obviously, it's a two-way relationship and yeah, she's she believed in the story.

Anne Danahy 
Yeah, it is really beautifully illustrated. Penny, when you first saw the illustrations and read the story, what was your reaction?

Penny Eifrig 
I thought it was incredibly timely. I thought, actually, that I got the manuscript, I believe in about January, almost a year ago. I thought, "Oh, my goodness, we have to get this out quick. It's so important, and the virus is going to be gone soon. We need to get this book out."

Sara Sadik 
Don't say that, and that makes me cry, because it's still relevant.

Penny Eifrig 
It's still so relevant. And I honestly feel like we're still a little early with the book because the book is kind of looking, in retrospect at the virus. And we're not there yet. We're still very much in the middle of it. And the reactions in the book to how what we're doing have changed in the last couple months as well just because things just keep spiraling out of control. But when I saw it, the illustrations are remarkable. And the story is really important. I think what caught me was that often when you're in the middle of something, you're so wrapped up in the day to day that you don't step back at all to see what’s happening. How are your kids actually doing? How are they coping with all of this? Have you ever spoken to them about, "how do you feel about being home with Mamma all day long." We don't often stop in the midst of a crisis to reflect on the crisis. But this crisis now is two years plus, in the making, and we need to check in on our kids and see how they're doing. So the book provides a tool for that in the middle of it, to reflect and look back and look forward. What's changed, what's going to be changing in the future. But it also, at some point, I hope, I joke now this is the pandemic of 2020 to 2028. But at some point that we that we can look back and be like, "Wow, this was a really significant part of my children's development of my own development of my thinking about what's important in life, what I'm doing, what I'm working, how I'm interacting with people."

And so I think from that aspect, it really is more than a children's book, it really is a book to just hold onto this moment in the future. And look back and see how did we make positive change? Obviously, there's a lot of negative change. But what also could we have learned from the experience?

Anne Danahy 
So Sara, was that the idea of what you were thinking when you were writing the book, what Penny was talking about?

Sara Sadik 
Definitely. I think it was super important for us to kind of hone in on what message we were telling our kids and trying to explain why we were home. Why was daddy home? What is Corona? I mean, my youngest was three at the time. We kept saying "Corona, Corona," and then I was trying to get them to draw pictures. And it's just I think that's something that maybe a lot of the other books have kind of brushed past, which is the emotional impact that this entire pandemic has had and is still having on kids. It's incredible, just unbelievable. Kids going to school with masks, not knowing how to, you know, express themselves. They're scared of COVID. My kids used to have nightmares. That's kind of why Karine depicted the image of the virus to be, you know, monstrous. Honestly, because they didn't understand it. They didn't understand where it was. They didn't understand. Was it tangible? I think this is also a very important point as well, that that affected and is affecting everybody from all races, all economic backgrounds, every single corner of the earth, and that we wrote that line. And it was in that moment that a virus arrived. It visited every corner. It arrived; we didn't invite it. That was another huge point that I touched on with my kids.

Anne Danahy 
Right, the virus is this kind of scary monster in it. But there's other parts of the illustrations that are very kind of whimsical, and as you said,

Sara Sadik 
Whimsical.

Anne Danahy 
Yeah. There's also the international feeling to it as well. Was that the illustrator? Just her work? Or how did that come to be?

Sara Sadik 
I think, again, because Karine and I work really well together. And we're lucky that some of the images that she had, she would sketch I would say, "You know, I don't think it should be so Dubai-centric," or "I don't think it should be so, you know, stereotypical." And again, this is where Penny played a huge role in telling us, guys, the lines, whatever the line I was working on is not tight enough. You're making I mean, this is a kids book and the drawings are too stereotypical or to whatever the case may have been. So having, I guess these two referees for each one of us just bouncing ideas back and then having Penny makes the final call, obviously.

Anne Danahy 
Penny, how did you come to be the publisher?

Penny Eifrig 
I'm not quite sure how Sara found me. I did discover when I was looking for an email of hers at one point that years ago, she had sent me a manuscript.

Sara Sadik 
So strange. … That's, that's hopefully the next book.

Penny Eifrig 
Right? So we're working on the book that she had sent to me, pitched to me, I don't know, maybe in 2018 or so. That was in the midst of just my own personal chaos. And I never responded, and I was like, "Wow, I really like that book too." Same illustrators, same author, really great book. But she reached out to me, and it was the right time. We thought we'd get it out in two months. It takes a lot longer, but it was just absolutely — it was the right book at the right time.

Anne Danahy 
Is it different than the typical books that you published with your company?

Penny Eifrig 
Um, my books are all about being good for our communities. Being good for our kids. So it fit in very well. Our books are inclusive and diverse and talk about issues of social justice and personal health and well-being. So I think it fit in very well. It's just right down the line for my books.

Anne Danahy 
On the illustrations, the lead characters is this girl, she's got this crazy curly hair. And then we see her with her siblings and other children and her grandfather. How did you land on her as your character, Sara?

Sara Sadik 
I think we again went back and forth a few times. And we wanted to depict a character that was not the typical boy with brown hair, short hair, and that sort of thing. And I'm biased because I have a daughter with OK, not orange, but really curly, long hair. I feel like it was a fusion of our kids. Honestly, our kids are kind of, you know, not messy, but a bit like patched together. A bit of this curly hair. I really fought, I think, to have it be a girl. Just for obvious reasons.

Anne Danahy 
Why, what reasons?

Sara Sadik 
I think for me, because my daughter was really, surprisingly, so supportive throughout this whole thing. She's the eldest of three. I had three in three years — hence the lovely eyebags. But I feel like she just was the one like, "It's OK, we got this, don't worry, we'll figure it out. We'll do a schedule; we'll do that sort of thing." I mean, I know she had a lot of inner turmoil to get through this, and to try and understand it. But at the surface, I was shocked at how well she handled it. Like a lot of times kids surprise us. And that's also why we didn't want to write a book about, "Yeah, you know, COVID's around, let's wash our hands, keep your noses clean, the end." That sort of thing, like a rhyming story. We wanted it to be a lot more poetic and hopefully impactful in every single line. Like, "we forgot about the smell of pancakes." I mean, it doesn't really mean we forgot about the smell the pancakes, obviously. But we just were like, running, running, running, running and doing and going around that we forgot the littlest things.

Anne Danahy 
Right? It captures that feeling of time standing still. And then everything moving quickly. And things become kind of dreary and mundane and every day. But then at the end it also, as you talk about, it starts to open up new windows. Can you talk a little bit about that, and how you do that in your own family, instead of kind of getting caught up in the dreariness or the sadness of it? You were able to find some good too.

Sara Sadik 
Yeah, I think my style of parenting, which I touched on in the first book. I talk about everybody having a coping mechanism, just kind of like a tool or a handbag that a mom digs into and, you know, gets out a few tools in order to deal with whatever situation she's in. For me, it's definitely humor, and not toxic positivity. But kind of you know what, "it's OK, this is what we're in. Everything has a solution." And ultimately, I fell heavily back on one of my favorite quotes, which is by Rumi, and it goes that, "there is no, there is no light without darkness." And that ultimately is how I mean, that's how I live my life. It's how I try to raise my kids. Not "Oh, yeah, let's be — it's OK, let's be positive." No, there is no light without darkness. And yes, we're passing through this. But hopefully, it's temporary. And hopefully, we'll appreciate the little things a lot more when we come out of it.

Anne Danahy 
So you're in the United Arab Emirates. Penny, you're in the other part, another part of the world here in central Pennsylvania. So different parts of the world, but there are ideas that are kind of universal. Penny is that part of what appealed to you?

Penny Eifrig 
Well, the universality of this experience is definitely, it's unique, I think, in the history of mankind. Because at no previous time, where people were traveling as much as they do now, it wasn't spreading as rapidly. You know, even the other pandemics that hit the world, they didn't hit every single corner, and they really did this time. So that universality of the experience from COVID existing, but then also, there's a completely different experience on the personal level. So while my life may not have changed dramatically because I worked from home previously. And I was pretty much isolated on my own. For others who, whose kids whose parents are working around the clock now who are impacted by unemployment, and by illness and by death, their lives have that universality is not identical. It's just, it's everywhere, but it's completely different experience for different groups. We did try to touch on that a little bit. We didn't want us to be a down book. But we did address the fact that for some people, life slowed down for others became faster than ever before. And I think that's a really important part to remember, as we look at the experience. That even though COVID is universal, how our lives changed is, is not. That they change, is probably universal, but the extent to which they changed. It's, for some people, it will be very hard to come out of this and think, "Wow, that was a really positive experience," because they've lost loved ones and lost work and have been hungry and have fallen behind in school and all the things that are negative about the COVID epidemic. The idea behind the book is it's still, there are some things that we can look at and see where we can find some growth.

Anne Danahy 
Yeah, Sara, talk about that, why you decided, you said you have the light and the dark side, but you didn't want to go into the fact that there are people dying. There are people becoming very ill, why that part wasn't included in the book.

Sara Sadik 
We didn't really want to touch on that because it was a children's book. And it's kind of insinuated if you're a parent reading this to a child, you know what you're talking about. Hopefully, you haven't had, you haven't lost a loved one, maybe you have, but we didn't want it to be so spoon fed. And say: "And then the hospitals were full," and then this sort of thing. So we kind of almost intentionally avoided telling that.

Anne Danahy 
And you do have discussion points, topics at the end of the book. Questions that parents, or whomever, could talk about with their kids. How did you do that?

Penny Eifrig 
That was one thing that I thought was really important as we were finishing up the book, and, and realizing at the time, when we were finishing up that we're still in the midst of this, and it's still a very tragic experience. That everybody who reads it can go through it. And then even though the page may not express what's happening to you, you can have that discussion. So there's actually a QR code at the back that you can scan. And then it goes through the book, page by page, of discussion questions you could have in your classroom, at your home, with a therapist. Things you can talk about that will just kind of...so this is what happened in this situation, How did it feel for you? Were your parents home helping you with homework? Or was it your older brother? Or were you the one helping out your little sister? How did things change for you during this time? Were you now in charge of much more? Were you on your own more? So I think it's a good way of, without having the book force the same information on everybody. It gives it an opportunity for everybody reading it to go through the book again and talk about how did it personally impact my life.

Anne Danahy 
If it's OK, if I bring this up and tell me if it isn't, but so you just got tested for COVID? Is that right? And you're concerned that you and your family may have it?

Sara Sadik 
Right. Yes, hence the raspy voice. So apparently laryngitis is not a direct, you know, direct symptom of COVID. But so we've been testing. We're testing negative, but I find it a little bit hard to believe that we're all feeling a bit rundown, exhausted. Just you know, especially when everybody that you know has it, and is quarantining for 10 days. So we've been isolating. we've been quarantining and not seeing any anybody, that sort of thing.

Anne Danahy 
If you're just joining us this is Take Note on WPSU. I'm Anne Danahy. Sarah Sadik is a blogger and author who writes about and talks about the challenges and rewards of being a mother. Her recent work includes The Extraordinary Pause, an illustrated children's book about the timeout, many people experienced as the COVID-19 pandemic spread. We're joined by Sadik and the publisher Penny Eifrig, who lives in Lemont in Centre County. So we are entering the third year of the pandemic and you both have children. We're talking a little bit about this from a personal perspective, is it getting more difficult, less difficult with all the logistical challenges for you? Not to mention all the health concerns. How does it feel for both of you as parents?

Sara Sadik 
I think honestly for me if I can just jump in — it's not becoming easier. But you know, don't forget your mask. Hold out your hand, sanitization. That whole routine that we have to force our kids to go through is kind of, you know, it's a given for them. I don't even say I mean, the first three months, four months, six months, I was grabbing their hands, putting the sanitizer, or any sanitizer, wiping their hands. Go wash your hands, that sort of thing. And I feel like now it's just voluntarily done because they get it and they're going to school with masks. And you know, there's nobody has these big birthday bashes anymore. And if they do, then somebody comes down with COVID. And then everybody, you know, it's that whole routine that they're so familiar with now. So it's less of a resistance which is sad as well in and of itself, but I feel like that's where I am.

Anne Danahy 
And Penny, your children are older, college age?

Penny Eifrig 
So I have an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old. So they were both seniors in high school in and college when this hit. And I definitely saw how impacted they were, emotionally mentally. My younger one was home, I enjoyed the extra time I had with her. That was a benefit for me. But I know she missed seeing friends. She didn't ever go back to high school after March of her junior year. And then my other daughter was in college and was masked up pretty much 24/7. And I see, I see for her this underlying, just constant threat that she feels. And the masking to an extreme. And I know how much it wears down on her. And it's so hard to find that balance between, "how do I live a happy life and not go crazy? And how do I stay safe and keep my family safe."

And I made the mistake in the fall of going to play pickleball and didn't mask up on the way home. And I got COVID and potentially endangered both my children. And it was one of the most horrific things I've ever done. Where I felt like the worst mother in the world. And how could I have been so — when they're being so responsible and so careful and missing out on so many things. How could I be so frivolous and come home with COVID? Luckily, they didn't get it, it was back when that was one of the first breakthrough cases. And I hadn't really heard about it happening. It was just the very beginning, I guess, when Delta was just about start developing. It was, it was really traumatic for all of us. For me to have it for my younger daughter to be the one taking care of me, which is a role reversal, you don't want your kids to have to do. Luckily, I didn't get very sick. But the emotional impact of that was really, really horrible. I feel terrible that I did it to my kids. And that's something that I will, I will regret forever that I made this frivolous decision to ride with somebody in a car without putting a mask on. It was stupid. And I understand that now.

Sara Sadik 
But also you're human.

Penny Eifrig 
So yes, finding forgiveness is one of those things. We maybe should have emphasized that more in the book. But my kids I think have been remarkable how much they've learned and grown and become leaders in their own ways in their communities. I'm super proud of my kids. My silver lining, when I look at the pandemic is when my daughter went to college, my older daughter, Sadie, her little sister was 13. And that's a big age difference. And they really weren't going to have any more time together. As you know, they're out of the house and doing their own thing. And suddenly my daughter was in Jordan when the pandemic hit, and she came home and she was suddenly home for four months. And so for four months, my now two adult daughters got to become best friends. And that is for me, my treasure from the pandemic, is that they got to be so close and spend this time I turned my garage into a gym. They worked out together, they took the dog for walks together, they just really enjoyed the time that they had. This extra bonding time that they would not have had otherwise. So that's my little pandemic silver lining.

Sara Sadik 
I feel like it was almost harder for, not almost, I mean, 100% harder for older kids. Because now if I touch, if I do a check-in with my kids like "Oh, do you remember lockdown? Are we gonna have another one?" We don't know. And I ask, "what are your memories of when we I mean, what do you remember." We were in an apartment. It was all of us. We were locked in. We couldn't leave. We couldn't go grocery shopping. And they're like, "It was the best." They literally say it was the best. They're like, "We had doughnuts almost every day and you put the tent in the TV room, and it was crazy." And like that sort of thing. So I feel like it was easier for younger kids maybe.

Anne Danahy 
Oh, and what's it like in Dubai as far as going to school? We know in the experience in the United States, it varies a lot depending on where you are.

Sara Sadik 
Yeah, well, I feel here it's a lot of confusion because my daughter's in a different school. So the boys are hopefully going to be joining that school next year. Her school closed, so we didn't even go back after Christmas break wearing a mask. So she's distanced learning. The boys are going, but you know every so often you hear of an outbreak and then you backtrack and you're like, "When did you see him? Did you go to basketball? Was he in basketball? Did you wash your hands? Did you touch it? Do you share..." These, you know, barrage of questions. And like Penny said, you don't want to stress them out. You don't want to fret, but it's innate. You're their mom. And so it has to be this fine balance between, OK, let's stay safe. But also, let's not give them an anxiety about this entire situation, more than you know, is necessary.

Anne Danahy 
Sara, you've written another book about being a mother, "Finding the Magic in Mommyhood: How to Creeate the Illusion of Sanity Amid Raging Hormones, Sleep Deprivation, and Diaper Rash." And one of the themes that comes up in it is a lot of the pressure that mothers feel to be perfect parents. Do you think, do you see that as translating over to what's happening now too in the pandemic?

Sara Sadik 
Right, oh, yeah, I think there's a huge stigma, especially in Dubai about "Oh, your kid got COVID?" Oh, like that sort of thing. Where were they? What birthday were they? Oh, kind of a lot of judgment was placed on the mom and on the family in the very beginning. And we actually got COVID. And we were one of the first families in school. So we had to quarantine for maybe it was two and a half weeks at the time. And we, I mean, imagine they had just started like second grade, first grade, whatever grades they were in, at the time. And we entered school like celebrities. Honestly, everything I mean, just not touching us. But everybody was shouting questions. How did you get it? What happened? How did you feel? How many days? just a barrage of questions because, yeah, we were one of the first ones.

Anne Danahy 
So your family, you already had it when this was first starting?

Sara Sadik 
Uh-huh. Yeah, very early on.

Anne Danahy 
Oh, gosh. What was that like? And what were you thinking when you were writing the book? Did that influence what you were thinking?

Sara Sadik 
I was thinking this is bigger than a lot of people are, you know, are thinking that it's going to be. It's just it's unbelievable. And I think the point that hit me the hardest was my brother lives in New York, my sister lives in Lebanon, my parents are between Lebanon, and New York and France. And just the fact that everybody was affected and like Penny said, to a different degree. By a different name and a different language, different religion, different everything. But the one thread of commonality was we were all, you know, I don't want to say touched by this pandemic. But we were all somehow, you know, tormented by it or affected by it.

Anne Danahy 
That anxiety that you've tapped into in the book, but then also offer some respite as well. Well, Sara Sadik and Penny Eifrig. Thank you both so much for talking with us.

Sara Sadik 
Thank you so much for having me.

Penny Eifrig 
Thank you so much.

Anne Danahy 
We've been talking with Sarah Sadik, Author of The Extraordinary Pause, an illustrated children's book about the timeout many people experienced as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and changed everyday life. And Penny Eifrig, the book's publisher who lives in Lemont in Centre County. To listen to this and other episodes of Take Note, go to wpsu.org/takenote. I'm Anne Danahy, WPSU.

Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU. She was a reporter for nearly 12 years at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, where she earned a number of awards for her coverage of issues including the impact of natural gas development on communities.