The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) and the School of Fine & Performing Arts at SUNY New Paltz have collaborated on a new children’s book, available now in both English and Spanish as a free digital download, designed to help kids and families deal with unfamiliar and upsetting circumstances.
“An Unusual Situation” follows Milo, a young bird experiencing an unnamed event that leaves him feeling helpless, confused, and angry.
While the plot resonates with children’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is left open-ended, with lessons that apply to nearly any scenario in which a child and their parents are in distress.
“The book is designed intentionally so that children can project a range of situations they may be experiencing onto Milo and learn vicariously through how he reacts and copes,” said IDMH Director Amy Nitza.
Milo’s story emphasizes some key themes to help kids get through hard times: understanding that they are not at fault; communicating with trusted adults about their feelings; and remembering that they do not have to go it alone.
“Children often blame themselves for bad things that happen around them, particularly when there is a lack of clear information or when they are aware that their parents are struggling as well,” Nitza said. “By relating to Milo and his struggles, we hope children can gain a sense of universality and hope for the future.”
The IDMH has been working through the pandemic to support children and families with strategies for enduring. The idea for a book grew out of their collaboration with UNICEF USA on a YouTube video series starring LeVar Burton, and came to life with help from illustrators and designers from New Paltz’s School of Fine & Performing Arts.
“When IDMH approached us about this project, we were immediately excited to collaborate,” said School of Fine & Performing Arts Dean Jeni Mokren. “It is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talent of our students, and we wanted to be a part of the potential good that a project of this type would do in the world.”
“An Unusual Situation” was written by former IDMH Special Programs Manager Cassandre Surinon, who now works as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, with illustration by David Folk ’21 (Contract) and design by Max Zurlini, a high school student who took courses at SUNY New Paltz during its development.
The book is available as a free PDF download online, and will also be distributed through several agencies that work directly with children—including UNICEF USA, the Puerto Rico Department of Education, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico, and Girl Scouts of America—as well as disaster response and recovery agencies like the American Red Cross.
Visit the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz and the School of Fine & Performing Arts online to learn more about their work and their programs for students and community members.