10 Minutes With Stefanie Trilling, “Viral” Creator of Children’s Books for Pandemics Parody Book Covers

Stefanie Trilling didn’t intend to “go viral.” But that’s exactly what happened when this NYC-based lawyer by training and mom of two young children started painting children’s book covers as a way to distract her children – and herself – during the early days of Manhattan’s stay-at-home orders. What resulted was a “happy accident” – a project that not only served as a way to communicate with her children about the pandemic, but which has brought joy to millions across the globe, including many in Ridgefield. We spent time with her to learn more about her journey.  

What was the sequence of events that moved you to draw your first Children’s Books for Pandemics cover? 

My family lives in Manhattan and we live very close to a number of major hospitals. In the early days of the stay at home orders we’d hear lots of sirens and watch many ambulances pass by. My five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son would say “does the person in the ambulance have coronavirus?” and “will they be OK?” It was apparent they had lots of stress and anxiety about the whole situation. To help my kids, I tried to distract them as much as possible. I began saying “yes” to all the projects I sometimes said “no” to because of the mess. One day we were painting on our dining room table, and I started painting the characters in Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie Biggie, which was on the table nearby. I started painting the characters but I also started painting the coronavirus, too. My daughter asked what I was painting and I said “Oh, I think this is the coronavirus.” It paved way for a discussion about COVID, in a totally serendipitous fashion.   

Were you surprised with the initial intrigue?  

Yes, the initial intrigue was a little bit surprising to me. I don’t have an art background, art isn’t something I’ve done before. I started posting my paintings on Facebook, and my friends were interested in what I was doing. They wanted to share them, and then their friends wanted to share them… I didn’t mean to start a viral art project, I didn’t even intend to use it as a communication tool for my kids. It really was a happy accident. 

At what point did you realize you were – for lack of a better phrase – going viral? 

Before I went to bed on April 25th, I took a screenshot of the amount of “likes” my Facebook page had, because the number was so surprising to see. The next morning, it had increased by 600%. Over the course of less than 10 hours, it had gone viral. That was the moment I knew. I was a little panic stricken at first – like “what have I gotten myself into” – but I quickly realized that it was just the beginning of an amazing opportunity.  

Can you put your finger on what has made Children’s Books for Pandemics so wildly popular? 

I think I’ve tapped into a shared experience. People across the globe are going through this pandemic together. Everyone is living under a similar framework right now, and I’ve created a common thread by using a method of communication that almost everyone connects with: children’s books. With so many people practicing social distancing, meaning we’re not together physically, I think people are looking for human connections. Being able to unite over something that builds humor and empathy is what, I think, has made it so wildly popular. 

It must be amazing knowing you’re bringing joy to so many people across the world.  

It is, I feel so proud. I get messages all the time from people who tell me what these paintings mean to them, and that it gives them something to look forward to. It really is incredible to think about what I call the “before time.” In the “before time” we could look forward to getting our nails done, taking a trip, going out to dinner – even giving my parents a hug. These are things I can’t even look forward to at this point because we don’t know when they’re going to happen again. But people are looking forward to seeing what I’m going to post next, and that makes me proud.  

Have your kids shown any interest in the process? 

My five-year-old daughter has become very involved in the process. It’s given her a crash course in parody! She’s learned about using language, writing stories, thinking about what words mean and what words sound like. She’s painted some of her own covers and she’s given me some ideas, too. It has really brought us closer together.  

Without diminishing the enormity of this pandemic, have there been any positive takeaways from your time at home?  

This situation has given my family an opportunity to re-center and learn about each other in ways we never would have had the opportunity to do. It’s allowed me to break down what’s really important and what really is essential. It’s almost surreal to think about the “rituals” we relied on before the pandemic. The kids would wake up and go to school. I would wake up and commute to work. We really depended on these rituals as the foundation of our everyday life. In a post-pandemic society, everyone’s story is forever changed, and everyone has an opportunity to re-write their story. 

What’s next for Children’s Books for Pandemics? 

I see Children’s Books for Pandemics as just the first step in building something greater. This has given me a platform to do good. I want to show my work, and I want to donate a percentage of it to charity. I definitely want to publish a book, and I’m really excited to see some plans come to fruition.  

Words by Amanda Duff | Illustrations by Stefanie Trilling