Here’s a children’s book that adults would enjoy just as much. It’s no wonder then that The Germ Academy, written and illustrated by Rea Malhotra Mukhtyar and Shahena Zaveri, is targeted at people, ranging from 4-year-olds to adults. The book takes us to the grimiest place on earth where tiny germs learn how to impart the most monstrous of diseases. They hustle for muscle, workout with a vengeance and get trained in the art of war against hygiene. And it is only once they have become the germiest germs ever, are they unleashed on to the world. And it comes as no surprise that the germ to top the 2020 batch is Covie. The story takes one through on a roller coaster ride through Covie’s mission of getting as many people sick as possible, following his journey with the surfaces he clambers onto, the nostrils he navigates, and more.
But if there is a villain, there has to be a hero as well. And indeed, the book comes with its own set of superheroes—the Soap Squad. The narrative has been crafted in such a gripping manner, that you feel you are following a thriller of sorts, as the Soap Squad and Covie collide. The book, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, is packed with vibrant, detailed and engaging illustrations. It’s interesting to note that The Germ Academy was put together with the two authors-illustrators never having met physically. Instead they got to know each other through mutual friends, and once the idea of the book took hold, the duo engaged in long video calls, often spanning eight hours, finally meeting only in December once the book was ready.
The book was conceptualised in the early days of the lockdown, with Mukhtyar wondering whether young children were able to understand the details of the virus and ways to keep safe, and the challenges that parents might be facing in explaining the situation. Illustrations shared by doctors were too academic, and there had to be a more engaging way of discussing this topic. “That’s when I thought of an academy, where the germs are taught to be the baddest of the bad,” says Mukhtyar.
What makes this book engaging for the adults are the nuances embedded in the illustrations. One of the blackboards in the academy features infinite multiplication, which parents will be able to get. There are references to pop culture, such as Elton John’s sunglasses worn by Covie as he sits atop a burger. “When the headmaster of the academy tells Covie, ‘Your mission, should you choose to accept’, is an allusion to Mission Impossible, the best action film ever,” the authors say. “There are also things that both parents and kids can relate to from their school days such as tiffin bulletin boards.” The Germ Academy ends exactly how it had started—in the dirtiest, smelliest, grimiest corner of the earth, with the next germiest germ getting ready to get out in the world. “We were very clear from the beginning that we didn’t want the story with a happily ever after sort of ending. We don’t know whether covid-19 will ever go away. And if it goes away, will something else come up in its place. The idea is to be ready to face it,” they say.