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Drawing on pandemic experience

Schools

A St Mary’s College old scholar has used her artistic talents – and hours of spare time during lockdown – to illustrate a new book that explains the COVID-19 pandemic to young children.

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Moving to Geelong last year, graphic designer Caroline Russo (nee Ienari) has kept busy in recent months creating the images to bring Panda Mick to life.

The book was written by Caroline’s sister-in-law Catherine Aguilar while she was home-schooling her children and coping with Melbourne’s stage four lockdown. Catherine was trying to explain the pandemic to her youngest child and the idea of producing a book featuring Panda Mick was born.

Targeted at three to six-year-olds, the rhyming text explains how following the rules of social distancing, hand (or paw) washing, mask wearing, and just staying at home are designed to keep everyone safe.

When Panda Mick realises there are a lot of things out of his control, he comes up with activities to keep himself active and busy at home. Fortunately, the book ends on a positive note, looking towards the discovery of a treatment for the virus.

Thrilled to be asked to provide the images for the book, Caroline described her illustrations as “very vibrant”.

“While I love drawing and doing sketches, that is very time consuming and obviously we wanted to get the book out while it is really relevant to everyone,” she said.

“So instead I chose to do vector illustrations using mixed media with a water colour background.”

Graduating from St Mary’s in 2008, Caroline – whose mother Grace Ienari works at the Catholic Education Office in Thebarton – said she had always wanted to pursue a career in art and after finishing school, completed a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) at UniSA.

In addition to producing a book about the pandemic, the 29 year old said COVID-19 had impacted her in several ways earlier this year.

She and husband Michael were married in St Laurence’s Church on March 14, only a week before the government introduced restrictions on the number of people attending weddings.

When the couple left for their honeymoon in the Maldives talk of COVID was “amping up” but Caroline said they followed all the government advice and “it still looked like it was going to be fine”.

However, soon after they arrived, they discovered borders around the world had started closing and they had to cut their holiday short, paying an exorbitant amount to secure a flight home.

Fortunately, they made it back safely and were able to quarantine at home and were not required to enter a medi-hotel.

Currently freelancing and hoping to secure a permanent job when things settle down, Caroline said her involvement with the book project had lightened the monotony of lockdown.

In true COVID style, Panda Mick was launched via a virtual celebration in September and sales have been steady ever since. Part proceeds are being donated to Foodbank, with sales already providing more than 300 meals to those in need.

For more information about the book and to purchase a copy go to www.pandamick.com.au

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