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Educating Children and Families about Vaccination through Storytelling

Lily the Llama Helps Her Herd, written by Stanford student Emma Rashes, is a digital public good and available to download in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Lily the Llama Helps Her Herd, written by Emma Rashes and illustrated by Theresa Jahn, is a children’s book that explains the importance of vaccination through the experiences of Lily, a young llama who goes to the doctor for her yearly checkup and is due for a shot. 

Engaging education materials that explain relevant medical concepts are critical during any public health initiative, especially now as public health officials promote mass COVID-19 vaccination while trying to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

Emma Rashes is a Stanford University student studying biology and hopes to pursue a career in medicine. We are proud to host Lily the Llama Helps Her Herd as part of our extended COVID-19 resource library

"My hope is that the message of the book will move parents who were vaccine-hesitant to a position of curiosity, if not vaccine compliance, and grow a generation of children who are vaccine-compliant."

- Emma Rashes, author

Read along in English with actor Peri Gilpin

Read along in Portuguese with Flávia Calina

Emma Rashes: I recently released my first scientific children’s book, Lily the Llama Helps Her Herd. The book teaches children about herd immunity, explaining the importance of vaccination for their own health and for protecting their loved ones and communities.

This project emerged out of my passion for early childhood literacy and commitment to science education. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and over the past year, I noticed the casual use of medical and public health terms without definitions or explanations. Social media and news outlets were rife with people openly expounding their mistrust in vaccination and the newly developed COVID-19 vaccine. I wondered how I could help move the conversation about vaccination in a positive direction and combat vaccine hesitancy in anticipation of an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

After some research, I decided to create a children’s book. I have been working with mentors from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford University Department of Biology, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, and the Stanford Center for Health Education on this project. My goal was to create a scientific picture book geared toward children ages five to ten that defines scientific terms, like immunity and herd immunity, in an age-appropriate manner and captures the attention and interest of the adults reading the book with their children. My hope is that the message of the book will move parents who were vaccine-hesitant to a position of curiosity, if not vaccine compliance, and grow a generation of children who are vaccine compliant.

I incorporated best practices for addressing vaccine hesitancy in a child-friendly educational tool using strategies discussed in education and public health research. According to The World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.” Addressing vaccine-hesitant parents is regarded as a more effective method of achieving vaccine compliance than addressing anti-vaxxers who are unlikely to change their minds. While parents who are anti-vaccination are likely to refuse vaccination altogether, vaccine-hesitant parents do not refuse all vaccines but tend to under-immunize their children. Many vaccine-hesitant parents are more concerned about the potential harm the vaccine could cause than their child becoming ill from a vaccine-preventable disease. It is especially important to combat vaccine hesitancy in minority, under-resourced, and under-vaccinated communities.

Teaching science through picture books has proven successful in the past. Picture books are more memorable and engaging than traditional science textbooks or chapter books (Ansberry and Morgan). I chose to use animals as the characters in my book to make the message of the story more relatable and universal. Anthropomorphism can be a useful tool in teaching children lessons through stories that have “powerful or painful” messages (Burke and Copenhaver). Fu et al. found that pro-vaccination messaging is received most willingly when the messenger is “perceived to share a similar value system for society” such as the same race or background (Fu et al.). As I want this project to appeal to people of all backgrounds and cultures, I am using anthropomorphism to distance the story from any specific group or type of person and create a message that will resonate with a broader audience. Additionally, anthropomorphism allows for the book to be translated across languages and cultures. As parents read to children they can also learn about the importance of vaccination and herd immunity. The book includes a glossary of scientific terms and discussion questions and is designed to be an educational resource. Spanish and Portuguese versions of the book will be available in the next month, and I am hoping to have the book available in many other languages as well.

While it is always important to emphasize the importance of vaccination to children and families, it is particularly crucial at this time. Children may be the key players in lifting our communities out of the pandemic when it is their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, we have seen a decline in routine childhood vaccination since very early in the pandemic. Many communities across the country are at risk of outbreaks of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases once children return to in-person school. Encouraging parents and children to be invested in public health conversations and excited about getting vaccinated, for their own health and for the health of their loved ones and communities, is essential to ending the pandemic and preventing future outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease.

The goal of my project is to reach as many families as possible across the nation and combat vaccine hesitancy. Please commit to being a positive voice in the conversation about vaccination and share Lily the Llama Helps Her Herd with children and families you know who would benefit from the message!

For those interested in purchasing a physical copy of Lily the Llama Helps Her Herd, please order through Amazon.

Works Cited

  • Ansberry, Karen Rohrich, and Emily Rachel Morgan. Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry. NSTA Press, 2010. Web.
  • Burke, Carolyn L., and Joby G. Copenhaver. “Animals as People in Children’s Literature.” National Council of Teachers of English (2004) Web.
  • Fu, Linda Y., Rachel Haimowitz, and Danielle Thompson. “Community Members Trusted by African American Parents for Vaccine Advice.” Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics 15.7-8 (2019): 1715-22. Web.

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