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Story Monsters Ink: Q&A with MaryLou Quillen

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

Hello Everyone! I'm excited to share my interview with Story Monsters Ink Magazine featured in the August 2020 Issue. Julianne Black DiBlasi highlights my book, Perry and Steve's New Normal: Life During COVID-19, which explores how life has changed for children since the onset of the coronavirus and promotes healthy habits for prevention. Hope you enjoy!


Written by Julianne Black DiBlasi

Is everyone ready to know what the heck “New Normal” means? While I’ve never really been a fan of “normal” anyway, I really am starting to miss it. And being an artsy-hermit just isn’t quite as cool when everyone is doing it. Seriously, I’ve been honing my mad social distancing skills since high school, but when you have to do it, it’s kind of a downer. So now that we’ve all become Jedi masters at ordering groceries online, bathing in hand sanitizer, and arm wrestling for toilet paper, we now have to leave the cocoon and embark into this new normal world that kind of feels like peering around corners with spy mirrors and accusing everyone in public of having cooties. For the last three months, my Q&A article has been focusing on books that help translate these outside experiences to children in fun and informative presentations. When I found a book that included the phrase “New Normal,” I bought it for myself. Yes, I shared it afterwards, plus I reached out to MaryLou Quillen for more info on the book so I could tell our story monsters! Enter Perry & Steve, the most adorable and health-conscious penguins you could ever meet.

Q: Can you give us a bit of an overview on Perry & Steve’s New Normal: Life During COVID-19 and how its presentation will help navigate our current uncertain experiences while living in tandem with the virus?

A: The concept was created from the desire to reassure little ones that everything IS all right, but that we will be practicing some new lifestyle modifications for now. Because the coronavirus is novel, there are daily discoveries in the health community that continue to provide us with new recommendations for personal safety. As adults, these sudden changes in daily living can be taken in stride, but for children, they can be very unsettling. The dialogue between Perry and Steve is a representation of countless similar conversations that are occurring every day around the world. Important facts about handwashing and personal hygiene during an outbreak are addressed as well as explanations of masks and the need for social distancing. The storyline opens the door for conversations about feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as any questions a little one may have about Covid-19. But the most important aspect of this “New Normal” is the reassurance that our kids will be SAFE and LOVED, no matter what else may be going on during the pandemic.

Q: At what point in the COVID-19 onset did you feel like you needed to approach the topic? Was there a particular experience that triggered the idea to write the book?

A: I am blessed to have very special children in my life. Even better, they live in close proximity to me. We’ve enjoyed many adventures, barbecues, and holidays together, plus the added bonus of weekly visits. And then, we couldn’t. It happened so abruptly that I had a difficult time processing it. We did Facetime visits and that helped ease the shock of the sudden separation. As the weather warmed, we moved on to “porch visits” through the window panes and that’s when it happened. My 4-year-old nephew asked, “Aunt Moo, why can’t you come in? Is it because of the virus?” As I tried to explain why I needed to remain on the other side of the glass, I realized that he probably wasn’t the only one wondering why this separation was necessary. So that evening, Perry & Steve’s New Normal was born.

Q: I love that the title includes the phrase “New Normal” because kids are hearing this looming description but without a lot of definition. As adults themselves struggle to define what “New Normal” actually means, what are your tips on explaining it to children?

A: Because we are in an ever-changing environment at the moment, I would encourage an open dialogue policy. No question is off-limits or it can be asked as often as it needs to be to help foster a sense of security. Stay informed about the outbreaks in your area. As the virus slows, we will be allowed to add more normalcy back into our lives. If you follow the recommendations of your local health department, it will be much easier to break down the information for your children as to what they can safely do and what may have to wait for a little while longer. The CDC updates its site often and you can find a lot of pertinent information there. Try to be patient and provide extra hugs while looking for the bright side of the situation. I actually think some lessons of the “new normal” are improvements from the “other normal.” For instance, the targeted focus on handwashing and coughing into the elbow will prevent the spread of seasonal flu as well as Covid-19. We are all learning how to stay safe while protecting ourselves and others and that’s a good thing.

Q: Perry and Steve open some wonderful doors to discussion, especially for the book’s target age range of 3-6-year-olds. What were you using as benchmarks for education at that level? What were the key takeaways you wanted to convey specifically to that age group?

A: Preschoolers and kindergarteners are inquisitive by nature. This natural curiosity provided an opportunity to convey information about the novel coronavirus through the character of Steve. His curious nature opens the door for discussion about the why’s of Covid-19. I wanted to help them understand the basics of healthy hygiene and how important their actions are in preventing the transmission of the virus. I hoped to help them make sense of the world’s changes without dashing their dreams for the future. And finally, I wanted to emphasize that they will be SAFE and LOVED, while minimizing the fear of the pandemic.

Q: How have the responses been so far? Have you been able to get a lot of child and parent responses?

A: This book is a recent release, so there hasn’t been a lot of feedback just yet, but from those who have reached out, it has been a very positive reading experience for their children. I look forward to hearing from others as they have time to read it. And I’m happy to note that the hardcover version will be available in July.

Q: Perry & Steve’s New Normal: Life During COVID-19 is part of a very adorable (and wonderfully healthy) Penguin Adventure series that includes other titles like Perry & Steve Get in Shape, Perry & Steve’s Summer Staycation,” and more—where did the penguin adventure ideas come from? How did penguins resonate as a character choice?

A: I’m lucky enough to live near a beautiful aquarium, and the penguin exhibit is one of my nephew’s favorites. We especially enjoy the blue penguins. While visiting the gift shop there, he picked out a couple of penguin figurines to take home for some penguin adventures. Voila! The Penguin Adventure series began.

Q: What’s next for Perry and Steve?

A: Thank you for asking! Perry and Steve will be hosting a “Family Holiday Extravaganza” this year, with relatives from New Zealand (the BLUE penguins). When Steve opens the door, he’s face to face with a cousin who is “different.” Steve learns a valuable life lesson that we shouldn’t focus on our differences, but rather learn to revel in our similarities. It’s what the season of peace and love is all about!

For more information about MaryLou Quillen and her books, visit, Instagram: @marylouquillen5, Facebook: @marylouquillen1, Twitter: @marylouquillen1, or LinkedIn: @marylouquillen.

- Julianne Black DiBlasi • Mom, indie author, illustrator, fine artist, graphic designer, SCBWI member •


Perry and Steve's New Normal: Life During COVID-19 is available in ebook and hardcover format.



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