Coping with Covid-19: Just Get Messy!

An interview with children’s author Rita Meade

The impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.  Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma.

Covid-19 has changed our lives forever; in fact, it could be devastating. But Rita Meade’s prescient message in her 2016 award-winning book Edward Gets Messy offers a way for us to cope with the stress and confusion of social distancing by delving into our artistic souls to discover a stronger, self-confident version of our selves.

Without giving a spoiler alert, the story features Edward the pig who never EVER gets messy.  But what happens when a big tub of paint falls on Edward’s perfectly neat little head?  Getting messy has its upsides, too. Here’s how this metaphorical spin of spilled paint can offer us some perspective during this pandemic…

The Arts helps you do well academically Over the course of Rita’s educational K-12 journey, she participated in numerous art-related programs from elementary school enrichment activities to singing in the choir, learning to play musical instruments, to performing in high school children’s theatre productions.  All of this accumulated academic knowledge coalesced to help her to see the importance of children’s literature and how it could impact people’s lives. 

Despite her passion for pursuing acting as a career, she always loved telling stories. By “taking all the experiences from high school and beyond” she channeled her performance skills to be a children’s librarian and picture book author.  One of her favorite parts of being a children’s book author was visiting schools and interacting with children. The “impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.” 

Photo credit M. Bialaszewski

Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma:  “Well, he can take a bath!” They insightfully perceive the situation as temporary and that this, too, will pass.  Ah, a lesson we can all embrace during this viral pandemic. Perhaps, we can all take stock of where we are academically in our lives and how we can use this time to reassess where our talents lie and weigh-in on where life will take us after the “paint has been spilled” ? Look to the future. You might just be surprised at the possibilities of seeking new career paths? New alternatives to adapting skill sets you might have otherwise shelved? After earning her Masters in teaching English Rita believed that this was the logical career path; to her dismay it was not.  And why . . .

The Arts strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills.  For an A-Type personality demanding perfection, Rita, as you can imagine, was absolutely distraught. Resisting her mother’s earlier suggestion to become a public librarian Rita decided to give it a try.  She attended Queen’s College to earn a Master’s degree in Library Science.  “This is it!” eventually leading her to her current employment at Brooklyn Public Library. There were many “ups and downs,” along the way but Rita “learned a lot [through her failures and successes].”  Having to close the library due to the coronavirus was a paradox for her:  continue to comply with her conviction that libraries serve as centers of communities or close for the safety and well-being of its patrons?  Similarly, this juxtaposed Edward’s challenging crossroad to either wallow in the inevitable or rise to the occasion? When all programs had been cancelled, on the day before the library closed, Rita brought her guitar for children to strum, sing, and savor the joys of music.  During the session one little boy remarked how it was “the first time [he] ever played a guitar!”  By adjusting inevitable outcomes of separation from her prodigies, Rita realized how “the Arts change people’s brains in good way; it inspires hope, really. What else are we trying to do, you know?”  So, use this time of separation to shift gears:  think about taking out that guitar, the recorder you had in first grade, playing the piano.  Listen to your favorite tunes that got you to think about the world in a way that moved you to dance and celebrate life! Music will not only soothe your soul and ease your troubled thoughts, but also wipe away some of those cobwebs:  reading music, listening, BEING.   Memorize lines from a favorite poem. Read a play.  Sort through your bookshelf.  Re-read some of your favorite texts.  Remind yourself of what you once knew and valued.  Revisit that file of shelved things to do…

The Arts helps you to express your emotions.  Publishing a book is an arduous process. It requires trust, perseverance and humility.  Despite having a clear vision for the book, Rita learned to express her emotions through her art:   “It’s a lot of vulnerability . . . and you have to grow a thick skin.”  Besides trusting her editor with revisions, she had to learn to let go of some of her ideas.  For example, Rita had initially wanted the story to take place in a library, but after an exchange with the professionals, Rita decided to trust their judgement.   Kristin [her editor] gave her “a lot of great changes; a lot of great editing that [she] wouldn’t have thought of [herself]. Ultimately, it made the story better.”  Coping with criticism is another challenge. “People are going to read the book and will have opinions,” she said, “and you can’t control that.  Once the book goes out into the world it doesn’t belong to the writer; it belongs to the reader now.”   This was a challenge for Rita since she “sometimes just wants people to like [her].”  Trying to please others has always been part of her nature, but she knew it was something she needed to overcome.  And she did! “I can’t take it all personally . .  . [I’ll] just try to absorb all the good stuff and not the negative stuff.”  Good advice to heed during our solitary quarantine.  Sometimes, being alone allows us to be still, be patient, and listen.  Take a personal inventory of where you are at this stage of your life.  How much have you grown emotionally? What regrets can be amended? Introspection can offer time to examine our behaviors and what motivates us to be who we are. Make a list. What do you like about yourself? What do you need to change? What are some of your fears? Anxieties that keep you from taking a leap to a new job? Starting a new relationship?  Carpe Diem! Seize the day like Edward and Rita, to “[be] distraught and unsure of what to do…But Wait . . . “

The Arts gives you confidence.  Visiting schools has served to instill and inspire young audiences.  “If I can do it, “she says to her young charges, “you can do it. “ By being “live” Rita de-mystifies the persona of the author:  “Authors aren’t these mystical creatures; we’re people just like YOU!”  It is instilling this kind of confidence that made one child exclaim, “Now I want to write a book because I know that you did!”  To offer some sustainability once she has left the classroom, Rita provides her contact information to encourage her young prodigies to keep in touch.  For this teacher of Rita Meade, there is nothing more satisfying than to have a former student acknowledge how I might have played a part in the pursuit of her career. And why, during the corona virus we can look back on those teachers whose lessons have long ago shaped who we are and are grateful for their tutelage.  Write a note to that teacher.  Look them up on social media.  Thank them for their “art” of molding you into the human being you are today.  And why…

The Arts are an investmentNikki Haley former UN Ambassador recently shot off a tweet denouncing the emergency funding given to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Kennedy Center as irresponsible and queried:  “How many more people could have been helped with this money?”  Rita would definitively tell her how “lucky she [Rita] is to see every day the difference that the arts make in children’s lives. . . if I’m doing story time or we’re doing an arts and crafts class you can see how it stimulates the children’s creativity and their thought processes and learning and just their emotional happiness.”  There is no doubt that the arts are fun for kids. Diving into those finger paints and making a beautiful picture to hang on the fridge is awesome. Acting in a play is exhilarating.  Ensure that they continue to shape and inspire our souls.  Use this time to donate to your favorite art institution, be it the playful Paperbag Players or Lincoln Center.  It’s what makes us humane. It is what will be our legacy.  We will survive this pandemic. With the Arts, anything is possible; because after all,   “Edward knows that it’s okay even for particular pigs to get messy. . . . “

Coda:  Frances McGarry, Ph.D. is a dedicated arts advocate committed to raising awareness of how The Arts Rejuvenate. The Arts Restore. The Arts are our Supernatural Gift.  It is the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.  She created a blog and podcast First Online With Fran to raise awareness of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the Arts like Rita Meade and so many others. What will YOU do during this pandemic to make our world a richer, better place to be?

Rita Meade is a public librarian who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She has a background in youth services, has professionally reviewed children’s books for “School Library Journal,” and has written for literary sites including Book Riot and Reading Rainbow. Her debut picture book Edward Gets Messy was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and in 2017, it won the first ever Anna Dewdney Read-Together Award which recognizes a picture book that is “both a superb read aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.”

Email: RitaMeadeAuthor@gmail.com

Twitter: @ScrewyDecimal

Instagram: @ScrewyDecimal

Edward Gets Messy

Winner of The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

School Library Journal ‘Popular Pick’ 

Atlanta Parent ‘Best Book’

References & Resources…

10 Reasons Why Arts in Education Is so Important for Kids

Is your student looking to become more involved in the arts? Not only do K12 online public schools offer their students art and music courses, K12 has individual art classes for purchase. For more information on K12  and our programs that encourage student involvement in the arts, you can contact our enrollment team at 877.895.1754 or request to receive more information online.

Americans For The Arts

Comments

  1. Very informative, Fran. Your entire website is stellar.
    I love all of your interviews and podcasts.
    You put your heart and soul into these and it shows. I appreciate all you do for the arts.
    Sincerely,
    Judie Tallman-Deitchman
    Hair, makeup and wig Designer
    imdb.com/name/nm0848189
    judietallman@gmail.com
    http://www.instagram.com/judietallman

  2. Jay Falzone says:

    Nikki Haley is shortsighted in her comments. The arts are where people turn when we hit these kind of tragedies. During the aftermath of 9/11 I had the amazing opportunity to see THE PRODUCERS on Broadway in their first performance since the attack. The entire audience needed that release and that community in order to recharge and go back to the world with the strength to push forward. Right now, it’s the arts (albeit streaming) that everyone is turning to to keep them sane during the lockdown. And once we can return to theaters, people are going to need that community again more than ever because they have been denied it for so long. So using relief money on the arts is not a mistake, it’s an investment.

  3. Elizabeth Sophia Strauss says:

    Ms. Meade is an incredible artist, educator and woman. Thrilled to know she is out there molding young minds. As an artist, I believe all art, whether writing, acting, opera, painting, music, etc is pivotal in any person’s lives, especially young persons. It makes us well-rounded. I personally cannot go a day without writing poetry or listening to music. I can’t even workout without music. Art is healing. Art rejuvenates the soul and brain. We must continue to support it and push past the toxic Trump administration.

    Growing up all genres of music were played in my house. Growing up on Long Island, a lot of Billy Joel as well as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and classical; my mother loves to listen to Classical music on NPR when driving. Being exposed to rich, diverse music, not only helped expand my cerebral palate, but has certainly shaped me into the artist and woman I am today.

    Let us all continue to make all kinds of diverse art together even in these weathering times. There are days where free-hand writing is all get can out of myself, but at least I did.

  4. Katrina Michalewski says:

    This was wonderful to read, especially in light of current times.
    There are moments when we struggle due to stress or anxiety-ridden times, but it is key to stay connected to our creative selves to help us navigate through.
    The arts give us perspective and an outlet for emotions that can otherwise build in an unhealthy way.
    This article was a great reminder to me and everyone to stay grounded in creative pursuits even when there could be chaos all around. Thank you for publishing this and reminding the world how important the arts are.

    Katrina Michalewski
    Actor, Singer, Voice Over
    Katrina.Michalewski@gmail.com
    KatrinaMichalewski.com

  5. lionofgod7 says:

    We love Edward Gets Messy! Thank you for highlighting this author and her book. We will continue to find ways to embrace the mess of life.
    -Ariel McGarry (mom to a 1 yo)

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