Boulder 13-year-old helps pen children’s book about coronavirus, quarantining

“Squeakestered" follows the tale of animals trapped inside a home

Noni Murdock, 12, wrote a book with her grandmother, who lives in Maryland, during the stay-at-home order. They are donating half of the proceeds to EFAA as well as an organization in Maryland. (CLIFF GRASSMICK/ STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Centennial Middle School student Noni Murdock, 13, and her grandmother Patsy Helmetag were looking for a way to keep in touch while under the stay-at-home orders. So they decided to write “Squeakestered,” an illustrated book about a family of mice and a rabbit stuck inside because of a lurking cat.

“I wanted to keep in touch with Noni; she is always full of ideas,” Helmetag said. “It seemed like an inspiring time to do something like this.”

Helmetag said the book is an allegory for the COVID-19 pandemic and the boredom that comes from staying at home for so long.

The two originally started the book in March when the pandemic began, and took inspiration from isolation and feelings they had about not being able to see each other.

Helmetag lives in Maryland and was going to visit Murdock in Boulder but could not due to the pandemic. Murdock came up with the first sentence of the book and after that, the ideas started rolling.

“One of the important parts of the book is to teach really little kids about the pandemic, how you entertain yourself and how you work through it,” said Murdock, who wanted to use her ideas to help children understand what is going on in the world.

Each mouse has a talent they use to share with the group to keep them entertained while the cat is waiting outside.

Murdock has many hobbies, some of which inspired the animals’ talents. She is currently taking online viola lessons which inspired a bunny character who also plays the viola.

“Every one of them is doing something to make them to make them feel good and look better and we have one that doesn’t want to do much of anything which is also useful,” Helmetag said. “Sometimes you just have to turn your brain off.”

Helmetag has written and illustrated other fictional books, which is why she inspired the character of a writer mouse recording the story.

There is also a scientist mouse, a stand-in for Dr. Anthony Fauci, who serves on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and is working on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The book has already made more than $300 in royalties, and Murdock and Helmetag said they will donate half of the book’s profits.

Murdock and Helmetag chose two nonprofit organizations, the Emergency Family Assistance Association and Seeds for Success, to receive the money.

EFAA is a local Boulder nonprofit organization that provides assistance to families when they cannot meet their basic needs. Seeds for Success is an Annapolis, Md., organization that helps children in local impoverished communities by offering services such as tutoring and mentorship programs.

Although writing the first book was a way for the two to feel closer together even when hundreds of miles apart, they have no immediate plans for a second one.

“I kind of doubt I’ll write a second one, but if Noni comes up with a good idea, it’s a possibility,” Helmetag said.

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