Children’s Book Tackles Atlanta’s COVID Pandemic
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Children’s Book Tackles Atlanta’s COVID Pandemic

Cynthia Zeldin’s new book for children takes on the challenges of isolation through the real-life adventures of her dog, Lily Tova.

Cynthia Zeldin’s new book has a strong message for children about the pandemic
Cynthia Zeldin’s new book has a strong message for children about the pandemic

A new book for children published by Atlanta author Cynthia Zeldin seeks to explain the recent pandemic in ways that kids will understand. “Lily Tova, The Therapy Dog” is inspired by real life, structured around the experience of Zeldin’s pet, an 8-year-old Havanese and certified therapy dog with over 500 hours of service.

The book began to take shape in Feb. 2020, just after Zeldin’s 80th birthday, which she celebrated at The Temple, where she serves on the board of directors.

“It was the last occasion at The Temple,” she recalled. “A week later, the congregation announced that they would be not having an in-person service. And from that moment I said, ‘this is what I have to do to make this year count.’ I decided that I would write a book. It took a year and a half to complete.”

The book’s illustrations are based on Lily Tova’s actual experience. Prior to the pandemic, the dog had been a regular visitor to The Temple’s Zaban Paradies Center for Homeless Couples, and other local social service programs.

Park of the book is based on visits Zeldin and Lily Tova have made to the William Breman Jewish Home.

The artwork on the cover is based on an incident in which Lily Tova began chewing on the pages of a book as a teacher at the Global Village school was reading to a group of students. Among the illustrations, which are all based on photographs that Zeldin has taken over the years, are scenes from the Jewish Tower apartments and the William Breman Jewish Home in Buckhead, where Lily Tova and Zeldin make frequent appearances.

All of that came to a sudden halt when the pandemic closed these facilities to the public. Rather than avoid it, Zeldin has made the experience an important focus of her children’s volume.

“It’s been a sad year for Lily Tova. She is a very friendly dog who loves people. And so it was sad for her not to see these children and those seniors in person. So, we did the next best thing. We created a story around it.”

Instead of personally visiting the children that they had come to know so well, Zeldin scheduled Zoom calls, with the dog as an active participant — something Zeldin photographed in preparing the illustrations for the book.

Lily Tova uses a personal computer to connect with young students.

“I have actual pictures of Lily Tova sitting at my table in my sunroom with her nose up against the computer screen. She’s listening to the children at Global Village Project, which was how she was able to regain some of the happiness from when she visited them in person.”

Zeldin hopes that the book conveys the message that even though the COVID pandemic has created very real problems, people have found ways to carry on and learn important lessons about life and the role that animals can play in society.

“It’s much more isolating than anyone could imagine,” she said. “And I think that was one of the reasons that I wrote the book. I knew there was so much isolation, so many feelings of being deserted and being left in loneliness. And I thought this was a very a good way for people to feel good about themselves.”

Zeldin and Lily Tova at the Global Village School.

Because the dog is a Havanese, a breed officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as originating in Cuba, Zeldin is preparing a translation of the book into Spanish — and perhaps even into Hebrew, to honor the dog’s name.

Whichever the language, Zeldin believes the underlying idea of the book is universal.

“Lily Tova is like a hero. And I really wanted her to be viewed that way. She’s a dog who gives totally 100 percent of herself. I wanted people to see her as a therapy dog who is kind and caring and loving, and that children will all want to have.”

“Lily Tova, The Therapy Dog” is published by Archway Publishing and available at your local bookseller.

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