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This local grad’s unique combination of skills helps kids understand and cope with the coronavirus

For children, “coronavirus” may be an especially confusing and anxiety-producing word, because kids often don’t fully understand what it means.

Enter Jodi Slade, a medical animator and illustrator who is using her combined talents in art and science to make the overwhelming topic of a pandemic easier for youngsters to comprehend.

Jodi, who grew up in Oviedo and now lives in Colorado, recently illustrated a coloring and activity e-book titled, The Germ that Wears A Crown: A Story About the Coronavirus. The children’s book, about life during the COVID-19 crisis, was published by the Florida State University Center for Child Stress & Health.

Written by Dr. Javier Rosado and Tatiana Fernandez, the book explains the coronavirus from the viewpoints of two bee kids named Jelly and Gabriel. The young bees are dismayed when their school is closed, prompting explanations from the adults in their lives about what the virus is and how the youngsters can cope.

Jodi hopes the book – which is free to download, print, color, and share – encourages communication between children and their parents.

“It’s kind of an introduction to talk about something that kids might find annoying or scary or sad,” Jodi says. “They might be anxious about not being able to go back to school and about having all these germs around.”

The book can also be used as a current-events activity for frazzled parents who are faced with the daunting task of homeschooling their children, Jodi says. Or, kids and their parents might simply enjoy spending a few quiet moments coloring the pages.

Jodi, 34, has been interested in both art and science since childhood. She excelled in biology and spent her free time drawing countless pictures of dolphins and the popular video-game character Sonic the Hedgehog. A huge Disney animation fan, Jodi also loved to explore the theme parks with her family.

Born in Winter Park, Jodi moved to Oviedo when she was in first grade. She attended Lawton Elementary and Jackson Heights Middle schools and graduated in 2004 from Oviedo High School, where she played flute in the band and was a drum major. Her parents, Tom and Betty Westhelle, still live in Oviedo.

Throughout high school and into college, Jodi waffled between art and science and figured she’d eventually have to choose between the two for a career. That is, until a college professor suggested she become a medical illustrator. It was the perfect solution for Jodi, who double majored in studio art and biological science at FSU and earned a master’s degree in medical and biological illustration at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Jodi then worked as a medical illustrator and animator at FSU for several years before moving to Colorado.

Now, she is a medical animator, illustrator, and interactive developer at Children’s Hospital Colorado. As such, she works with doctors and surgeons to help them communicate scientific information to the young patients and their parents.

“We figure out the best way to translate technical or scary medical information so that people can process, absorb, and understand it, and hopefully feel less anxious about it,” Jodi says.

In addition to her work at the hospital, Jodi is a freelance illustrator, which enables her to take on projects such as the coronavirus-themed coloring book. The Germ that Wears a Crown is the second book she has illustrated for the Center for Child Stress & Health in Immokalee, Florida. The first was After The Harvest: A Story About Saying Goodbye, which deals with the stress kids face when their parents’ jobs require them to move.

“Jodi is an amazing illustrator who has an incredible ability to bring a story to life with pictures,” says Dr. Rosado, who cowrote both books. “This is a special gift with tremendous value, particularly when trying to convey a sensitive message – as is the case with The Germ that Wears a Crown."

To read and download both books that Jodi illustrated, go to FSUStress.org/ebook.html.

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