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'First hero of the pandemic': Kids book tells story of doctor who sounded COVID-19 alarm

The book 'Dr Li and the crown wearing virus' tells the story of Dr Li Wenliang. Source: Twitter

New children's book 'Dr Li and the crown-wearing virus' tells the story of Li Wenliang, the doctor who first sounded the alarm on the coronavirus in China and later died, contracting the same virus.

"Dr Wenliang is the first hero of the pandemic,” says best-selling children's author Francesca Cavallo who, in her latest book, tells the 34-year-old doctor's story. 

Dr Li Wenliang, who worked at Wuhan Central Hospital, started raising the alarm on the spread of a "SARs-like" virus in December 2019. But he was accused of rumor-mongering, just a few weeks before he died of the same virus on 7 February.

“Heroes have always played a reassuring, inspiring role since the very beginning of storytelling. Especially at times of uncertainty or when we face challenges, looking at heroes can help us cope with the situation and inspires us,” Ms Cavallo told SBS Italian

Internationally acclaimed for co-authoring the best-selling book 'Good night stories for rebel girls', Ms Cavallo says the purpose of her latest book is to tell the children what has been happening since the spread of COVID-19; how and why their lives have changed so drastically - but at the same time to give them hope.

“One of the aims of the book was to make children feel united and stronger. The story speaks to all children, in every country, who are all experiencing the pandemic at the same time. They are not alone. Too many stories around COVID-19 were spread to divide, to bring forward xenophobic messages that can be dangerous,” she says.

Once upon a time, there was a very good doctor in China. His name was Doctor Li Wenliang and he was an eye doctor. […] One day, however, he noticed something strange, He observed that instead of having many different problems, his patients all seemed to be suffering from the same illness: it appeared to be a terrible cold, like the flu, but was unlike any other flu that Doctor Li had treated in the past.

The book also emphasises at the importance of science.

“Science has been so often under attack during the pandemic because so many things are still unclear and so many questions still need an answer. But isn’t this the beauty of science?" she quips.

"The power to quest for answers, to study and research our present, I really hope these are the aspirations that every boy and every girl has the right to have.”

The illustrated book which is downloadable for free was originally launched in four languages - English, Italian, Spanish, and German - but soon many translators offered to translate it in a number of other languages, including Arabic, Cantonese, Estonian, Portuguese, among others.

The book has become also viral in China, especially among activists who see in Dr Wenliang a hero.

“I believe children’s books should build bridges between the little ones and the reality they live in. A good intention and simplicity are the keys to delivering the little ones messages of empowerment,” says Ms Cavallo.

“The center of all I have ever written and my conscious intention is to make boys and girls feel included in the society, they are not only the citizens of the future but inhabit the present and they have to be part of it.”

China, earlier this month, declared Dr Wenliang a 'martyr', which is the highest honour the Communist Party of China can bestow on a citizen killed working to serve the country.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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