12 Picture Books & Middle Grade Titles Set During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Children often turn to stories to make sense of the world, so books addressing COVID-19 can help them better understand their own experiences. Not only are these 12 titles relevant to contemporary readers, they paint a valuable picture of this historic event for future generations and will stand the test of time.

From Love Was Inside, written and illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Random House Studio).
©2021 by Andrew Joyner


In the three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, books on the topic are still few and far between. Perhaps many fiction creators would prefer to bypass the endless anxiety of the pandemic entirely, but children often turn to stories to make sense of the world; books addressing COVID-19 can help them better understand their own experiences. Reading and talking about what they went through can reassure readers of any age that this particular trauma happened to everyone. No one endured it alone.

Picture books often take a gentle approach, avoiding specific mention of COVID-19. This enables kids to provide their own interpretation, whether they discuss the pandemic specifically or apply the story’s themes to any other kind of childhood difficulty. Middle grade books are more direct in tackling the challenges of isolation, helping today’s children to work through their own experiences and providing a way for future readers to get a sense of what it was like to be a kid in 2020.

Not only are these titles relevant to contemporary readers, they also paint a valuable picture of this historic event for future generations and will stand the test of time.


Picture Books

Floca, Brian. Keeping the City Going. illus. by author. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. 2021. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534493773.
PreS-Gr 2–Capturing a very specific time and place in exquisitely detailed watercolor, Caldecott Medal winner Floca honors frontline workers who continued to provide essential services to New Yorkers during the first months of the pandemic. This tribute, which includes a wide range of workers, provides a poignant snapshot of early 2020 and encourages readers to cultivate gratitude for community helpers long after the pandemic has ended.

Guest, Patrick. Windows. illus. by Jonathan Bentley. Little Hero. 2021. 36p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781946000644.
PreS-Gr 2–Opening with images of children around the globe gazing out of their windows, this quiet book reads like a meditation on the strength of human connection despite separation. Though the imagery is specific to the pandemic, with illustrations of community helpers and windows decorated with teddy bears and rainbows, the messaging resonates in any circumstance where loved ones are separated.

Joyner, Andrew. Love Was Inside. illus. by author. Random House Studio. 2021. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593375181.
PreS-Gr 2–The ups and downs of quarantine are sensitively portrayed through the experiences of a young girl sheltering at home with her parents, attending Zoom school, missing her grandmother, and finding ways to stay resilient while coping with big feelings. The book concludes by inviting readers to tell their own pandemic story with thoughtful discussion prompts, asking, “Remember when you were inside?”

Pham, LeUyen. Outside, Inside. illus. by author. Roaring Brook. 2021. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250798350.
PreS-Gr 2–There is a strong sense of togetherness despite adversity in this snapshot of the pandemic’s early days. Gently rounded illustrations show the varying experiences of families who stayed inside for safety, and of the essential workers who kept society functioning on the outside. Uplifting and reassuring, this book affirms the importance of individuals acting in the interest of the community.

Trinder, Theresa. There Is a Rainbow. illus. by Grant Snider. Chronicle. 2021. 52p. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781797211664.
PreS-Gr 2–Straightforward prose and vibrant, childlike illustrations come together beautifully to tell the story of two friends coping with separation and finding comfort in phone calls, letters, and outdoor activities. Visual cues like Zoom school and chalk drawings thanking essential workers place this book squarely in 2020, but the overarching themes of optimism and hope are relevant to any hardship.

Share Your Rainbow: 18 Artists Draw Their Hope for the Future. illus. by various. Random. 2020. 40p. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780593375211.
PreS-Gr 2–In this slim volume, acclaimed children’s book illustrators share the things they long for in post-pandemic times. Depictions of riding the bus with strangers, celebrating a birthday with friends, and the simple act of hugging will remind children of life’s small pleasures and vital human connections. A poignant look at the moments we missed and those we can savor now.

Yaccarino, Dan. The Longest Storm. illus. by author. minedition. 2021. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781662650475.
PreS-Gr 2–With a raging storm as an apt pandemic metaphor, this book captures all the uncertainty, fear, and frustration of 2020 when a family suddenly finds themselves sheltering inside for an unpredictable length of time. Whether readers connect this story to the pandemic or interpret it as a literal storm, themes of resilience and familial love are sure to resonate on multiple levels.


Middle Grade

Adderson, Caroline. Sunny Days Inside and Other Stories. Groundwood. 2021. 176p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781773065724.
Gr 4-7–This short story collection follows the young residents of an apartment building during the early stages of the pandemic. By turns poignant, funny, and heartrending, each story carries a distinct voice, and the diverse cast represents a range of backgrounds and abilities. Bolstering themes of connectedness and community, the stories initially stand alone but are satisfyingly intertwined by the end.

Bruchac, Joseph. Rez Dogs. Dial. 2021. 192p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593326213.
Gr 3-6–When a young girl’s visit to her grandparents’ home on their reservation turns into an unexpected shelter-in-place, she has the opportunity to hear their stories and learn about her culture and traditions. This gentle novel in verse offers a valuable Native American perspective on the pandemic experience, with strong themes of protecting the community’s elders.

Ibura, K. When the World Turned Upside Down. Scholastic. 2022. 288p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338746266.
Gr 4-7–How can a kid figure out the world around them when nothing makes sense? Told through the alternating perspectives of the diverse young residents of an apartment building, this novel explores the tumultuous early days of the pandemic, as well as the social justice movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. Empowering and uplifting, this novel emphasizes community activism.

Torres, Jennifer. The Do-Over. Scholastic. 2022. 256p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338754193.
Gr 3-6–The Parent Trap meets a global pandemic when twin sisters are sent to isolate in safety at their dad’s ranch and they hatch a scheme to reconcile their divorced parents. This energetic novel features relatable characters and positive Latinx cultural representation. Pandemic anxiety is balanced with humor, making for a thoroughly engaging read.

Yang, Kelly. New From Here. S. & S. 2022. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534488304.
Gr 3-6–Knowing what’s ahead, readers’ hearts will sink when a biracial Hong Kong–based family relocates to California in early 2020 to escape the rising pandemic in Asia. Lively prose keeps the tone upbeat even as 10-year-old Knox struggles with undiagnosed ADHD, his parents experience job instability, and the family faces anti-Asian hate. An engaging and affirming read centering an Asian American family's pandemic experience.

Allison Tran is a library and cultural services supervisor with the City of Mission Viejo in California.

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