by Kathleen Dolan
Robert DeFinis ’06, Ed.D., was playing with his son in March when he dubbed COVID-19 “The Corona Monster,” a moniker he uttered spontaneously that inspired him to write a children’s book that has now caught the attention of readers the world over.
For the next nine days, DeFinis barely slept as he wrote and illustrated “How to Defeat the Icky, Filthy, Creepy, Slimy Corona Monster,” which he self-published as an eBook in May. It has received more than 16,000 downloads since it was made available.
DeFinis, a father of two, hopes the book will help children and parents as they confront an increasingly uncertain time. When the pandemic first began to alter daily life in the U.S., his children asked him when they would be able to return to their classrooms and the grocery store as well as why they have to wear a mask — questions he knew he had to answer honestly.
“Messaging is important. This book is about messaging,” he said. “My son — school was canceled. My daughter — school was canceled.
“Usually, as parents, we pride ourselves on being able to answer their questions. But I think for a lot of parents during thing this whole thing, it was ‘I’m not sure,’ ‘I don’t know,’ and ‘I can’t answer.’”
DeFinis, a longtime fan of Shel Silverstein, admires how children’s books distill and simplify messages. His book rhymes and repeats the importance of washing hands, wearing a mask, and maintaining social distancing guidelines to defeat the coronavirus. It conveys a sense of urgency and seriousness with colorful illustrations and memorable phrases.
“We overly explain, we complicate things,” said DeFinis, who believes some of the best information is geared toward children. “Give me a kid-friendly definition of your understanding of X, Y, or Z. You would get right to it. It would be simplistic.”
DeFinis is receiving positive feedback about the book from readers around the globe. The National Library of South Africa has made it available for digital download; he even received a video from a woman in South Africa that showed her child dancing to the book. Giant Leaper Learning Solutions, which was founded in the U.K. and spotlights children’s mental health through eBooks, is featuring the book as well. He has also shared it with Books in Homes Australia, a foundation that provides books to children living under socioeconomic restraints.
In the U.S., the eBook was recently selected for inclusion in the June edition of Kidliophile, a free virtual children’s magazine featuring new books, reviews, and activities. In Philadelphia, a virtual book tour conducted via Zoom is currently being planned, with the first events scheduled for the end of May and the beginning of June. Puppets are being made for read-aloud sessions, DeFinis said, and people can also subscribe and view the book on YouTube.
“How to Defeat the Icky, Filthy, Creepy, Slimy Corona Monster” is available for download on Amazon, Apple, Smashwords, and Kobo. It’s the first children’s book DeFinis has published, but it’s not the first one he’s sat down to write. He currently has two book projects underway, which he started writing before the now-published eBook until the pandemic caused him to shift his focus.
“This needs to be made now,” DeFinis recalled thinking as he observed how life was being upended all around him and questions without clear answers began to mount.
Since earning a master’s degree in elementary education from Chestnut Hill College in 2006, DeFinis has served in several educator roles, including working as a middle school teacher and as the executive director of Philadelphia Reads, an organization that seeks, according to its website, “to foster a love of reading and increase literacy in Philadelphia.” He is currently the women’s and men’s soccer coach at Cecil College, in Maryland, and he owns Total Optimal Performance Solutions, a consultant business that assists coaches, athletes, and organizations in enhancing athletic performance by using mental well-being and team-building strategies.
Subscribers and downloaders have asked for a physical copy, and DeFinis said there is nothing like holding a copy in hand. The first order of 500 physical books — for sale for $5 — sold out immediately, but because of delays resulting from the pandemic, he said the next order is a month out.
For more information on how to download the eBook, obtain a copy, or learn about upcoming events, please visit DeFinis’s website at www.drdefinis.com/rdf-books--projects.html. You can download “How to Defeat the Icky, Filthy, Creepy, Slimy Corona Monster” at www.amazon.com/Defeat-Filthy-Creepy-CORONA-MONSTER-ebook/dp/B088NFNFTM.