‘Accidental author’ uses children’s books to help kids during the pandemic

Chicago's Very Own
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CHICAGO Just months after dusting off a children’s book she had written for her son years ago, Jenifer Donatelli Ihm has written three children’s books, inspired by her children to help them and other children stay positive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I call myself an accidental author, I never ever intended to be an author,” Ihm said.

Ihm was a health and fitness educator who had never dreamed of writing a book, much less three.

“My executive director asked if I would co-author a book with her and it ended up into another book and then the floodgates just kind of opened for me,” Ihm said.

Ihms’ previous collaborations were health education books geared toward teenage girls. After the birth of her son Charlie in 2010, she shifted her focus to children with special needs.

“I actually wrote Superhero Smiles when my son was a baby. He was born with a cleft lip and palate and several other medical complications,” Ihm said.

When the pandemic changed life as we know it in the spring, Ihm remembered her work from a decade ago.

“A lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, ‘well I have this little book that I wrote, maybe I could do something with it for the pandemic and make my kids and other kids smile,'” Ihm said.

With a touch of tweaking and revising, Ihm released an updated version of ‘Superhero Smiles’ in May, celebrating the heroes of the pandemic. The book explains the important work health care and essential workers are doing while stressing the importance of a smile.

“Even though we have masks on, you always know when someone is smiling from their eyes,” Ihm said.

The book may have been written by Ihm, but she says it was a collaboration with just about everyone she knows. From friends to teachers and family, everyone in her life helped to capture and explain these unusual moments unfolding before our eyes.

Ihm said she’s hoping ‘Superhero Smiles’ gives her little readers a glimmer of hope during this pandemic. She is donating all proceeds to UNICEF’s COVID-19 relief fund.

“For my kids, I think it does bring them joy, knowing that this is doing something good during a time that hasn’t been easy for us,” Ihm said.

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