While stuck in quarantine, parents Ashley and Eyal Podell created a children’s book to help other parents explain the pandemic to their young kids.
The idea of working together while quarantining together would send most couples running for the hills, but not Ashley and Eyal Podell. When lockdown first went into effect, the couple, who’ve been married for 17 years, quarantined at home with their two children, a daughter in high school and a son in the seventh grade, and their cat, Sugar. The couple both worked in creative fields— Ashley is a designer and Eyal is an actor and writer— so the pandemic took a toll on both of their careers. Instead of letting the stress break them apart, they decided to use the time they now had to work together on a children’s book: The Little Cat That Zoomed.
The book follows their family cat, Sugar, as she adjusts to the shock of no longer having the house to herself all day. Although she’s a bit grumpy at first, she begins to love spending more time with her family, and even starts attending Zoom school with one of the kids. We spoke with Ashley and Eyal about what inspired the book, how they handled parenting a pre-teen and teenager during the pandemic, and what they hope both parents and kids take away from their book.
KCM: What sparked the idea to write a children’s book?
Ashley: Our son’s class had show-and-tell over Zoom, and he decided to introduce our cat, Sugar. She loved looking at everyone on the screen, and after that, she sat on his desk every day when he was in class. Even if nobody was at the computer, she’d come and look at the screen almost like she was looking for the class. I started taking pictures of it on my phone and sending them to our parents, and my mother said, “This is hilarious, you should write a children’s book about this.” Something just clicked, and so I sat down and wrote a first draft, and then I asked Eyal, who is a professional writer, to come in and edit it with me.
Eyal: Once we had the story, we needed an illustrator. One of my friends is a very talented artist, and was going a little bit stir crazy during lockdown, so she jumped at the opportunity to work on something creative.
Do you think the pandemic brought your family closer together?
Ashley: Well, we’d certainly never spent this much time together. It was difficult: There was such a sense of loss for both of our kids, especially our teenager, who was missing out on milestone moments in her life. So there were a lot of tears, a lot of anger and frustration, but I do think ultimately our level of communication went up a notch.
Eyal: Our son lost out on his fifth grade graduation, and our daughter had just gotten to the age where she was old enough to start doing things like go to the mall with her friends by herself, and suddenly she couldn’t go anywhere. So we had to find a way to talk about it with them, and we tried to show them how proud we were of their resilience. That’s really the underlying message of the book — that we all grew as a result of this.
Do you think quarantine brought your kids closer together as siblings?
Ashley: I think they found a commonality in ganging up on us!
Eyal: Yes, we were the common enemy. The age difference between them was tough— she was a mature 13-year-old, who is now turning 15, and then he was an immature ten-year-old turning 11. Like any brother and sister, they had their moments of frustration with one another, but I think they’ll look back on this time together fondly.
How did cellphones and screen time play a role in their lives during quarantine?
Eyal: They were able to FaceTime their friends, and do online classes, and play games together. But now that they’re able to see friends again, we’re going to restrict screen time again. As parents, we were very conscious that we were the last generation that grew up with one foot in total analog and one foot in digital. In that sense, I equate a FaceTime with a friend to the nights when I would take the family phone with the long cord and stay up talking on the phone all night. What we don’t like is what I call “zombie scrolling”: just sitting alone, scrolling through TikTok or YouTube. But I do think it’s great when they use the internet to learn new skills: Our daughter learned to cook during the pandemic by watching videos online.
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
Ashley: Sugar in the book is sort of an “every man,” or “every cat,” if you will. We want kids to know that no matter who you are, when life throws you a curveball, there’s always something to learn from it. Keep an open mind. I think what’s kind of nice about this story is that we all experienced this change together in real time — parents and kids alike. What we hope is that both parents and kids can say to each other, “This was hard for me, but we came out of it, and we’re still here.”