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Author Q&A: Kristina Bondurant ’97 Co-Writes Children’s Book on Battling Pandemic

Bondurant_MiraDoesHerPart cover_web.jpgLITTLE ROCK, Ark. (April 24, 2020) — Kristina Bondurant ’97 puts her Hendrix education, her Ph.D., and her Master of Public Health to good use in multiple arenas: as a microbiologist for a food safety lab, an epidemiologist for a local non-profit that focuses on healthcare, and in bringing hands-on science lessons to a local elementary school. 

Now, she has added children’s literature to her repertoire with Mira Does Her Part: How One Girl Vanquished a Virus with Healthy Habits, available from Amazon in print and as an ebook. The collaborative effort with co-author Jen Holman and illustrator Cary Smith is a product of shared interests, friendship, and a desire to help parents and children navigate a difficult time for which there is no instruction manual. 

Bondurant spoke recently with Amy Forbus ’96 of the Hendrix Office of Marketing Communications. An edited version of their conversation appears below.

Congratulations on this book! Your career makes it obvious that caring for others is high on your list, and with this project you’re using your expertise to do that in yet another way.

Absolutely!  I’m passionate about work that will help our community — whether that is in a lab, related to policy, or in a classroom.

Did you have “children’s book author” on your list of life goals before the coronavirus pandemic?

Yes. It has been my goal for a long time. I have quite a large collection of picture books that I’ve built throughout the years. When I talk to children about science, I love starting with a picture book. It’s a great jumping off point and leads to interesting discussions. I have a wide range of children’s books in my collection.

You’re a co-author on this project, and of course you have an illustrator on the team, too. How did this collaborative effort come about?

We met through our children’s elementary school. We each knew we had an interest in children’s books. Jen Holman is an award-winning young adult book series author. Cary Smith is an award-winning artist. I truly enjoy sharing my love of science with children. We started talking in early March and got to work. Each of us brought our expertise — Jen’s amazing writing style, Cary’s breathtaking art, and my science background.

An interesting fact about the process: Illustrator Cary Smith’s husband was commander of the C-130 squad at Little Rock Air Force Base until June of last year. They’re now stationed in Germany, so we’ve done all of this work across the world that’s so evenly affected.

Oh, that’s great that you were able to maintain the connection and pull this together so quickly.

Yes — and we had to juggle writing with everyone’s kids at home and other work.

Obviously, this was a passion-driven project!

Yes! We were just three moms at home social distancing during the current pandemic. All three of us are professionals in our field — with our children at home due to school closures we juggled and adjusted to a “new norm” just like everyone else. And our kids had A LOT of questions, which was part of the reason we pushed forward with it. I think we all wanted to feel like we could contribute to response efforts in some way, as well.

How did you decide on the central character, Mira?

That was Jen Holman’s vision. She created Mira as an adventurer on a quest. And I think it worked well, as we are asked to fight a virus. The battle metaphor really fits.

Mira is like most children right now. She is questioning why do we have to do all of these hard things. I think most adults actually have the same questions — how is staying home helpful? Especially when we miss our normal, everyday life? Mira’s imagination takes her on a quest to vanquish this virus. Her mother — who happens to be a scientist — helps her understand why we are asked to do this. 

I noticed her mom’s lab coat in the illustrations! 

Yes. It was a nice touch from Cary! In the story, Mira is fighting what I’ve called a “dreamy dragon,” which represents the coronavirus. Cary made this beautiful dragon imagery that is absolutely breathtaking. The story includes questions, imagination, facts, and a really important message that it takes all of us to fight a new virus. It’s up to us to do our part.

I often think back to how what I learned as a student prepared me for what I do now. Were there pieces of your time at Hendrix that came to mind as you worked on this book?

Oh, that is a great question! My Hendrix science professors obviously helped me build a great foundation. I think my Hendrix experience overall gave me the insight to see opportunities to combine work I’m passionate about doing. Sharing my love of science with children while working as a microbiologist and epidemiologist. Adding science facts to an illustrated children’s book so that parents have a resource to explain what we are going through as a society with their children. It does go along with the Hendrix motto “unto the whole person,” I think!

I love that there’s a glossary and timeline included in the book.

Yes, I love having more to the story with the facts/glossary/timeline. The combination of a child’s imagination and bringing in additional facts helps with understanding. Working with Jen and Cary and each of us bringing our unique backgrounds was an amazing experience.

Anything else you’d like to share about the experience? 

I do think it was quite comical at times how we had to work from home on this project. I would set up my “office” on the back porch as much as I could, just to find space to work. Timing was always an issue with kids at home attempting distance learning for the first time. My children are middle school age, but my collaborators also have younger children, which presented some additional challenges! We shared stories about the chaos of attempting to find space and time. Truthfully, that was helpful as well — to support each other when plans would just fall apart.

We hope that the book is a resource for parents and a comfort to children. All of us have been asked to change our daily lives to help fight the spread of a virus. That can be quite disruptive to a child’s daily life. But when we all do our part, together we can make a difference.