How A Veteran Teacher is Using a Storybook to Explain Vaccines – and the Value of Protecting Others - to Children

As a preschool and kindergarten teacher, Hannah Bloom-Hirschberg spent many years nurturing small souls and soothing worries.

As a provider of professional development to Jewish early childhood educators, she teaches others how to find Jewish values in everyday life.

And as a parent, she uses those proficiencies daily, along with everything else that parenting young children entails.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the recently approved vaccine for children have tested those skills as well as opened up opportunities for many conversations with children.

When Bloom-Hirschberg’s 6-year-old son expressed some anxiety about his impending vaccine appointment, the Chicago mom and educator turned to story books as a way to explain complicated ideas.

Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor is literally the most perfect, timely, resonant book for right now,” she says. 

Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor, by Ann D. Koffsky, tells the story of a boy who balks at getting a routine shot, convinced his toy shield can protect him from germs.

When his father explains that his baby sister is too young to receive vaccines, the boy agrees to get his shot so that he won't pass diseases to her.

The boy's name is Judah and feels proud to learn that his namesake, Judah Maccabee, was also a brave and strong warrior on behalf of his family and other Jews.

“The notion of forming a protective bubble around little ones really resonates with my son, who has a baby sister,” says Bloom-Hirschberg. “As parents and educators, it’s our job to reduce anxiety and explain what’s happening in a way that makes sense to them.”

Donning her Jewish educator hat, Bloom-Hirschberg also appreciates how Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor connects to several Jewish values, such as taking care of our bodies and keeping ourselves healthy, and protecting others around us who need protection.

The book is also a favorite of Blima Marcus, an oncology nurse who has attracted national attention for her efforts around vaccine education, particularly in ultra-Orthodox communities. She recently spoke about her work as a public health educator to the Association of Jewish Libraries, where she highlighted the book as "wise, creative, and empathic." 

Marcus noted that her own children love the book for its depiction of the sibling relationship, particularly where the baby sister knocks down Judah's block tower. Read the full interview about vaccines with Blima Marcus here.

Many parents and doctors have noticed an increase in anxiety among children since the pandemic began, which doesn’t surprise Bloom-Hirschberg.

“In general, we adults try really hard to help kids prepare for big changes. We give advance notice, we role play, we anticipate their concerns and proactively work to avoid surprises that can be disorienting to kids,” she says. “And then Covid and the shutdown came along and we upended their world without any warning. Changes came suddenly. And now they hear adults around them talking about it a lot. So it’s not surprising they’re feeling more anxious these days.”

Another book she’s found to help children through anxiety is Mommy, Can You Stop the Rain?  by psychologist Rona Novick.

This quietly powerful story shows parents how to both comfort children and help them face their fears with the warmth and support they need. No, parents cannot take away every discomfort--but they have large roles to play in helping children work through their discomforts. 

Mommy, Can You Stop the Rain? makes it easy for children to understand this idea that grownups can’t just make scary things, like Covid, go away, but that I can help you deal with it,” says Bloom-Hirschberg. “And we can talk when you’re feeling scared or anxious and we can be in that together. Stories are a way to draw parallels to things going on in our children’s everyday lives.”

Her 6-year-old son just got his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and “he was pretty chill about it. The anxiety was gone. The hardest part for him was waiting in line.”


Read a Q&A with child psychologist and author of Mommy, Can You Stop the Rain, Rona Novick, about how to talk with children about scary topics. 


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