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A Bradley University professor seeks to explain masking to children in his new book

Paul Gullifor

Two years into the pandemic, it’s safe to say that COVID-19 has become part of everyone’s daily lives. It’s second nature to look around and see co-workers, family members, and people in public wearing masks.

However, while adults have grown used to often only seeing half of people’s faces, what must children think as they navigate something as confusing and unfamiliar as a pandemic at such a young age?

Author and Bradley University professor Dr. Paul Gullifor
Jody Holtz
Author and Bradley University professor Dr. Paul Gullifor

That is the subject of Bradley University communication professor Paul Gullifor’s new children's book entitled "Where Have all the Smiles Gone?" The book was inspired by his three granddaughters.

“I had been visiting them, and I went there for one of their birthday parties. Everybody was masked up. I remember driving home from there thinking that was one of the strangest birthday parties I’d ever been to, and the more I thought about it, I thought it was strange for me, imagine how strange it is for a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 6-year-old,” explained Gullifor.
He began toying around with the idea of writing a children’s book on the topic, though he had never written one before. After some research, he discovered one of the most important elements of a book for children is the illustrations.

From there he teamed up with colleague Paige Dean, who teaches advertising at Bradley University in addition to having a graphic design company. Her sister Amy Warner is an illustrator, and the three quickly hit the ground running. Within three months, the book was ready to be submitted to a publisher.

“They shared the urgency you know … we didn’t know how long the pandemic was going to last. We thought what happens if nobody wears masks in three months and this book suddenly becomes irrelevant? So, we kind of hurried the process along, and I think all three of us are very pleased with the product,” said Gullifor.

The book follows the story of a little girl who wonders if anybody smiles anymore, because everyone who has grown familiar to her is now wearing a mask. Through her belief that smiles really do exist, she embarks on a journey to find the smiles in a pandemic-ridden world.

Gullifor hopes that his book will help parents have a conversation with their children about how masks keep us safe and offer some clarity into navigating a difficult topic.

“I hope that’s one of the outputs of this book, is that maybe it might help parents talk to their children about masking and why they’re doing it, and hopefully it shows little children that they’re not the only ones thinking this way,” Gullifor said.

While Gullifor did not personally conduct any research when writing this book, he doesn’t doubt that masking for children could potentially have some detrimental behavioral and social consequences. However, his primary concerns lie elsewhere.

“I think it has to have consequences on everybody, adults and children. My greatest fear is the psychological damage from this virus is probably worse than any of the physical illnesses we all experience, and I think we’re just now learning about the impact of that, and I think it’s going to be felt for a long time.”

While there’s no simple solution to this problem, Gullifor says the best thing to do right now is talk about it and try to foster understanding around why masks are necessary. He’s hopeful his book can be a launchpad for that conversation and teach children a very important thing to remember.

“They’re not alone. Every child is going through this. Every parent is going through this … and maybe by seeing other kids in a book, the little children might think, you know, maybe I’m not the only one thinking this way, and we’re all going through this together. So, if that comes out of it, then that’s really rewarding too. I love that thought,” Gullifor said.

While Gullifor has had many suggestions and requests for another children’s book, potentially about vaccines and shots, he says nothing is in the works as of yet. However, it is on his bucket list.

"Where Have all the Smiles Gone?" by Paul Gullifor is available online viaAmazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.