THE GERM ACADEMY
written and illustrated by
Rea Malhotra Mukhtyar and Shahena Zaveri
HarperCollins Children’s Books
Review: Anjana Basu
Mukhtyar spent the early days of lockdown wondering whether young children would be able to relate to the concept of a world dominating virus and mulling over ways to teach them to stay safe through personal hygiene. She and Zaveri looked over the illustrations of coronavirus that were available and dismissed them as far too medical. Something was required that would both engage and teach in a manner that was simple. Mukhtyar then came up with the idea of a Germ Academy where germs and viruses were instructed in being bad, in being as germy as they could get, through workouts and exams. There are lists of them – dengue, polio, smallpox, cholera , Sars and, of course the star of them all, the World’s Current Number 1 germ baddie, Covie.
On the other side is the Soap Squad that is pitted against the wicked Covie and which joins forces with foam and loofahs to trap the insidious badness and wash it out of everyone’s hair. Bold and colourful with entertaining rhymes, Germ Academy also has references that are likely to intrigue adults – like the well known quote from Mission Impossible, ‘Your mission, should you choose to accept’…which the Headmaster of the Germ Academy assigns to Covie. The cocky germ also sits on top of a hamburger wearing sunglasses borrowed from Elton John. Touches like these will have adults in the know giggling as they read out the book to children at hand – and yes children will not get these nuances till they are slightly older, but that is hardly important.
As far as medical information is concerned, The Germ Academy drives the message of cleanliness of home in a way that children can relate to, though adults might not find it medically accurate – hair etc have been disproved over the year of lockdown. The authors are also clear that there may not be a happily ever after to the story with the germy Covie being washed away forever. The story returns to the germiest corner of the earth where another germ is getting into shape to declare war on human kind. While the Soap Squad is, of course, keeping its eyes peeled for further attacks on the people they love. Readiness is all it takes, the authors imply – children and the adults responsible, be prepared.