With a passion for education that began as a child, 30-year Chicago Public Schools educator and Principal Vanessa Johnson, recently authored the children’s book, No Hugs, No Bugs, to help children adjust to the new normal when returning to school.
A first-time author, Vanessa says that she did not start the year out wanting to write a book; however, due to her newly found downtime, courtesy of COVID, she decided to make the best use of it by doing something creative. She began working on a memoir following a six-week writing course, but after encountering a student who wanted to hug her, quickly changed her mind and began writing No Hugs, No Bugs. When searching for an illustrator, Vanessa didn’t have to look far, as her niece, who is an art major, was the perfect fit for the job. She also consulted fellow educators to ensure that the content was written in a way that will attract the right audience.
After only being published for a month, Vanessa describes the response as positive, saying, “We have readers in Canada and the United States, and so far, we have sold 400 units. And that’s only in one month.” She also says that the most positive responses have been from children. “I’ve seen YouTube videos and Facebook posts of children and their parents reading the book. It has been helpful for them, as some have anxiety about returning. But I feel that knowing they have principals who are thinking about what the upcoming academic year will look like makes things easier. And that’s what I’m hoping this book will do,” said Vanessa.
As far as the benefits of No Hugs, No Bugs for students, parents, and educators, Vanessa says, “One of the benefits is the social distance piece, as well as washing hands and wearing masks. The book centers around puppies and their teacher, who is a poodle, that has a way of explaining each why each one of those components is important. The idea is that when students finish reading, they will understand why they can’t touch or hug their classmates.” She also said that while they are currently doing remote learning, there is still an opportunity for parents and teachers to use this book as a way to explain to children what to expect when they return to the classrooms.
Looking towards the future, Vanessa has said that she’s received messages from students and parents asking for more. Teachers have also been reaching out, requesting activity pages and coloring books for their students, and discussion starters. “It’s a growing project, and I’m going to figure out a way to oblige them,” she says.
Since being back in school, Vanessa has noticed that students are eager to see their classmates and resume face to face interaction. “I think we are in a better position to educate students on following the rules,” Vanessa said. She then added, “The message we want to send home is that because they love socializing and being with their classmates, there is a way that we can get back to each other quickly.”
For more information and to purchase No Hugs, No Bugs, click here.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.