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Is there a place where no one gets sick? Yes, inside children’s minds

Adult and child co-authors’ story stirs students’ imaginations

Godfrey-Lee — After a year of virus-related ups and downs, Godfrey Elementary third-graders recently had the opportunity to meet an author who knows just how they’re feeling. 

Artist, musician and co-author of “The Sick-Proof Tunnel,” Miriam Speyer, met with the students over Zoom to read them the book and answer questions. Speyer co-wrote the pandemic-themed book during the past year with her friend and former neighbor, 8-year-old Alice Cleland. 

As the book explains, the Sick-Proof Tunnel is “a place where no kid can ever get sick. Even if you are sick, you can come in and you’ll feel better. It’s a place where everyone is welcome. There are lots of rooms in the Sick-Proof Tunnel.” 

The book then goes on to describe each room as Alice imagined them, with vibrant illustrations done by Speyer. 

“When COVID hit and we couldn’t do anything, and (Alice) couldn’t go to school, we decided to take walks in the park together, because that was one thing we were allowed to do,” Speyer told the Godfrey students from her home in Nashville. 

“And one time (Alice) was missing her school friends – I’m sure you guys know how she felt. She said to me, ‘I wish there was a sick-proof tunnel where I could hang out with my friends.’ I asked her what would be in the sick-proof tunnel, and that’s when we started making up this whole idea of a book.”

Some of the rooms in the Sick-Proof Tunnel include “Animal Heaven,” where kids can play with dangerous animals and not get hurt, a mountain-climbing room with a special prize for those who reach the top, and a room where robots do your homework for you. 

A Patient Collaboration 

Speyer, who grew up in Grand Rapids, explained how she worked with Alice to illustrate each room and then work through all the steps of self-publishing the book. From start to finish, the process took about a year, she said. 

“Sometimes the projects that you want to work on are really exciting, but all the steps can take quite some time to finish, so you have to be patient,” she told the students. 

Library Media Specialist Harry Coffill, who coordinated the event between all in-person and virtual third-graders, said he hoped the story of Alice and Speyer’s collaboration would be an inspiration to the Godfrey students. 

“The idea that an 8-year-old can do this — that the text of the book is written by a kid who shook hands with a grown-up and put together something like this — I really like that message,” said Coffill. “Like, not only can you have a neat idea, you can get it published and put it out there and let others see what you’ve done. 

“I think any time we send that message to kids about both reading and writing, that’s exciting. You can use your imagination and make something happen.”

As part of the author’s virtual visit, Speyer gave each student his or her own copy of “The Sick-Proof Tunnel” to keep. 

“It’s a good story about how kids get their own rooms in their imagination so that no one is sick, and I think that is a pretty nice idea,” said third-grader Marina Mardoniz. “I loved the book, and I’m glad I get to keep it so I can read it as a bedtime story.”

Speyer also invited the kids at Godfrey to dream up their own rooms, if they were able to add spaces to the Sick-Proof Tunnel. She told Coffill that she’d love to hear or see their ideas, in case there’s ever a sequel to the book. 

“I hope at least some of them follow up with that invitation, because I think it’s a really cool idea,” said Coffill.

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Cedar Springs, Godfrey-Lee, Grandville and Lowell. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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