Tag: Invasion of the Time Troopers

Talking to Kids about the Coronavirus (COVID-19)


by Jim Denney
author of Battle Before Time, Doorway to Doom, and Walt’s Disneyland

Left: Public domain electron microscope image of the coronavirus, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If you’re a parent or grandparent, you’ve probably fielded questions from children about the coronavirus (COVID-19): “Why are those people wearing masks?” “Why is the store out of toilet paper?” “Why did they close the school?” “Why can’t we visit Grandma and Grandpa?” “Will I get sick?”

I’m not a child development expert. I’m just a dad, a granddad, and an author who has written books for children. I want to offer some suggestions for talking to kids about the coronavirus.

  1. Communicate with calm confidence. You may not feel confident about the future when you see your supermarket shelves cleared of toilet paper and hand sanitizer and when the schools are closed. Nevertheless, you have good reason for confidence. The pandemic will pass. The economy will rebound. We don’t know how long it will take, but we do know that governments around the world are taking steps to save lives and shorten the duration of the crisis.
  2. Filter the daily news. Our children look to us for their sense of safety and security. Our job is to filter out as much of the scary stuff as possible, and interpret these events so our kids will feel safe, secure, and loved. Turn off the 24-hour cable news when they are around. Be the news filter for your children.
  3. Be a good listener. Invite children to talk about their feelings and fears. After you have listened to them, tell them the steps you’re taking to keep them safe. Tell them what they can do to help, such as covering their coughs and thoroughly washing their hands while singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice through. Make it fun by washing your hands with your children and singing with them.
  4. Answer questions honestly—and reassuringly. Children often get misinformation from friends or by misunderstanding news broadcasts. Answer their questions simply and briefly. Avoid overwhelming them with more information than they want or need. If you don’t know the answer, say, “I’ll find out and tell you.” If they worry, “Will I get sick?” tell them probably not, but even if they do, kids generally don’t get as sick as grownups. Reassure your children that they can always talk to you about their fears and worries.
  5. Create new routines that give children a sense of normalcy. If your children are unable to participate in their usual gymnastics or dance classes, they may feel their lives are disrupted. Create new routines and structure for them. Set aside certain days for crafts, reading, backyard play, homework, games, baking, and other activities that help kids feel engaged and secure.
  6. Help your children stay connected with family and friends. Skype, Facebook Messenger, Facetime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and Marco Polo are great ways to hear and see your family and friends during these “social distancing” times. (Note: I do NOT recommend Zoom because of its vulnerability to being hacked by “Zoombombers.“)
  7. Rely on your faith. Praying with your children in stressful times can lift their spirits. Lean on the reassuring words of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Read the entire psalm here.)
  8. Encourage your kids to read. Reading good books is time well spent—during stressful times, doubly so. Reading takes kids’ minds off of headlines and confinement, and transports them to other times, other places, with messages of hope and reassurance. Here are some recent releases I would suggest:

Picture Books:

BookAnotherAnother by Christian Robinson. A cat leads a girl into a magical world of adventure, where she learns to appreciate similarities and differences.

Birdsong by Julie Flett. A charming story about a family moving to a new place, making new friends, and experiencing loss and growth through a season of life.

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe. A whimsical tale of a frog and his drum, and the parade he leads.

BookIMissMyGrandpaFry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Delicate illustrations enhance this poetic meditation on food, heritage, history, and culture.

Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. When five-year-old Sarah begins her first day of kindergarten, her devoted pet turtle Truman escapes from his tank to search for her.

I Miss My Grandpa by Jin Xiaojing. In this lyrical tale, a girl recalls all she has heard about a story-telling grandfather she has never met.

Middle Grade Books

BookThisWasOurPactThis Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews. Graphic novel about six boys who explore a legend about paper lanterns becoming stars.

New Kid by Jerry Craft. Graphic novel about an art-loving African-American boy at an upscale private school.

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. Sal Vidón is a thirteen-year-old boy afflicted with diabetes yet gifted with the ability to alter the space-time continuum. 

BookQueenOfTheSeaQueen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. Graphic novel and alternate history inspired by the early life of Queen Elizabeth I and her sister-rival, Mary Tudor.

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu. A tale of twin sisters Iris and Lark who discover a dark secret that threatens to separate them forever. A triumphant story of love and empowerment.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Alexander Nabaum. Ten overlapping stories about the adventures, fears, and first crushes of middle-schoolers when school’s out.

And, if I may . . .

Battle Before Time Ebook CoverI would also suggest my four-book Timebendors Series, originally published in 2002. I have just revised and updated all four books for a new generation of readers. Designed for middle graders, ages nine to thirteen, the Timebenders Series is a thrill-ride through time and space with Max McCrane, a young genius who invented a time machine. These books deal with themes of faith, courage, character, and spiritual warfare from a Christian perspective. Young readers who enjoy C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time would probably like the Timebenders series.

One Amazon reviewer wrote, “I read this series as a kid and they have remained four of the most memorable books from my childhood. Well-written and action-packed, they helped me understand important concepts like ‘Why does God give us free will?’ . . . I was so wrapped up in the story that I wouldn’t realize I was learning until later. I would read a few chapters and then excitedly run over to my mom to give her the latest update on what was happening in the lives of Max and his three friends. . . . The Timebenders Series is such a fun read!”

Doorway to Doom Ebook CoverIf your children struggle with fears and insecurities because of the coronavirus emergency, the Timebenders books might provide hope and encouragement. The four books in the series are:

Book One: Battle Before Time

Max McCrane is a young inventor who built his own time machine. Climb aboard with Max and his companions—Allie O’Dell, Grady Stubblefield, and Toby Brubaker—as they face dinosaurs, alien Emissaries, and mankind’s most ancient and terrifying Enemy, the Silver Dragon.

Book Two: Doorway to Doom

In Book Two, Max, Allie, Grady, and Toby tumble through an ancient time portal—the Doorway to Doom. It sends them to an age of warrior kings, knights on horseback, and dark wizardry. 

Invasion of Time Troopers Ebook CoverBook Three: Invasion of the Time Troopers

In Book Three, Max is trapped in the past by Luna Skyes, a wannabe witch. His friends Allie, Grady, and Toby jump aboard Timebender to search for Max and Luna, only to be chased through time and space by the relentless, robotic Time Troopers! 

Book Four:
Lost in Cydonia

CydoniaEbookCoverSizedForKindleIn Book Four, Max adds something new to Timebender: Anti-gravity! Meanwhile, his friend Allie O’Dell feels her life is falling apart—and the troublesome Toby Brubaker is chased by the police! So begins the latest Timebenders adventure as Max, Grady, Allie, and Toby are swept away to another world to face the strange, golden-eyed beings called the Timelings. Jim Denney has written more than a hundred books, but the Timebenders series is his favorite. He is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Jim Denney’s Advice for Young Writers

Battle Before Time Ebook CoverI knew I wanted to be a writer when I was about nine years old. How about you? Do you have stories to tell? Would you like to spend your days thinking up adventures and writing them down, like I do? Excellent! Writing is a lot of fun. If you’d like to be a writer, too, then I have some ideas that may help you reach your goals.

Tip #1: Write About What You Really Care About

I’ve heard people say, “Write what you know.” Well, I say, “Write what you really care about.”

The problem with “Write what you know” is that there are a lot of things that are fun to write about that nobody has ever done. For example, my Timebenders books are about time travel—but I’ve never traveled in time. I’ve never been scared out of my socks by a Tyrannosaurus rex. I’ve never been to an old English castle. I’ve never gone to the future and been chased by robots. If I could only write what I know from my own experience, I couldn’t have written Timebenders.

If you write a story about a different time or place, you may need to do some research. For example, if you want to write a story about the American Civil War, you’ll need to read books on American history in the 1860s. One of the most famous novels ever written about the Civil War is The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Yet Stephen Crane was never a soldier and was never in the Civil War. He didn’t write what he knew; he did research. And he did his research so well that his book convinced many people that he had actually been a soldier in the war.

So write whatever you really want to write about, whatever you think would make an interesting story, whatever you really care and feel intensely about. Write about the things you love, the things that make you angry, or the things that make you afraid. 

Doorway to Doom Ebook CoverTip #2: Read.

A writer is a reader first of all, so read every day. And when you read, don’t just read your favorite kind of book. Read all kinds of books. Whether you like scary books or fantasy or adventure stories or romance, you should read other kinds of books as well. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read books about the lives of famous people. Read books about science, history, literature, and art. Read poetry. Read the Bible. If you want to be a good writer, become a well-rounded reader.

Tip #3: Write All the Time.

Some people only like to write when they feel “inspired.” But I’ve found that the best way to be inspired is to sit down and start writing—even when I don’t feel like writing. I write every day, and I don’t always feel “inspired” when I begin. But soon after I start writing, ideas and sentences start to flow. I start having fun. And I keep writing for an hour, two hours, or three hours at a stretch.

Keep a journal or diary. Write down observations about interesting events and interesting people. Write down things that happen to you. Write about things that make you feel happy, angry, scared, sad, or embarrassed. Someday, you may use those observations as bits and pieces of a story or book.

When you write, remember it’s okay to imitate writers you admire. I don’t mean you should “steal” story ideas or actual sentences from other writers. But study your favorite writers and see how they create characters, how they write believable dialogue, how they create realistic settings and descriptions, and how they use metaphors to create word pictures in the reader’s mind. It’s okay to study and imitate other writers—that’s how we learn. Over time, you’ll develop your own style and a writing “voice” that is uniquely your own.

Invasion of Time Troopers Ebook CoverTip #4: Relax and Daydream

My best ideas come when I am relaxed, not when I’m super-concentrating. If you concentrate real hard and tell yourself, “Think. Think. Come up with an idea.,” your imagination will freeze up. But when you relax, you loosen up your mind, you let your thoughts drift, and ideas start to flow.

Here are some relaxation ideas: Step away from your desk or computer for a moment, lie down on the couch or your bed, and just daydream about your story. You can listen to music, but keep the TV, phone, and video games turned off.  Take a walk, get some exercise, or do some yardwork—sweeping the patio or raking the leaves in the yard.

As you let your thoughts drift, daydream about the characters in your story. What do they look like? What are their personalities like? How are your characters different from each other? Why do they like or dislike each other? What makes them get mad at each other? What common goals do they have to unite them? Are your characters messy or neat? Are they lazy or hard-working? Are they kind or are they mean? How do they talk? How can you give each character a unique-sounding voice?

Daydream about your setting. How can you describe the setting of your story and make it feel real? Let’s say your story takes place in a garden. As you daydream, ask yourself: What grows in this garden? What plants and flowers do you see? What are the unique smells and sounds in this garden? What kinds of insects and birds do you see and hear in this garden? Help your reader see, smell, and hear the garden. Get inside the skin of your characters and feel what they feel. Let the reader feel it, too: The warm, golden sunshine on a character’s face, or the fragrance of orange blossoms on the breeze. Help your reader to be there, right alongside your characters.

Daydream about your plot. Ask yourself: How can I start the story in an exciting way? What unexpected thing can I do to surprise the reader? What can I do at the end of the chapter to make the reader want to turn the page and keep reading? How can I keep the reader asking, “What happens next?”

CydoniaEbookCoverSizedForKindleTip #5: Don’t Try to be Perfect.

Don’t try to be perfect when you write. Tell yourself, “It’s okay to write badly. The important thing is to just write.” Get the words down, even if you’re not sure of the spelling, even if you think it’s the worst piece of writing anyone has ever done. That’s okay. Just write. Jodi Picoult, who has written bestselling novels and Wonder Woman comic books, said, “You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

I make my living writing books—yet I write badly all the time. And that’s okay. It doesn’t bother me one bit to write badly. You know why? Because it’s just a first draft. First drafts are supposed to be bad. That’s why they call them “first drafts.” I don’t worry about a bad first draft, because I know I’m going to do a second draft, and a third draft, and by the time my third draft is done, it’s going to be a very good piece of writing.

When you write your first draft, write it as fast as you can. Don’t criticize it. Don’t go back over the sentence you just wrote and keep fiddling with it. Write one sentence and move quickly to the next sentence, and keep going, going, going, without looking back. The faster you write, the better you write. When you write quickly, you write with the creative side of your brain; when you write slowly and try to make it perfect, you write with the critical side of your brain.

The best writing is done by the creative side of your brain, because that is writing that flows, that soars, that inspires. Then, after you create your first draft, you let the critical side of your brain go over it, tidy it up, and make it sparkle. Both sides of your brain are important, but when you do your first draft, write it quickly, write it creatively. Don’t let the critical side of your brain interrupt your creative flow.

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Tip #6: Welcome Criticism

Never fear criticism. I always have people criticize my books before they’re published, because I want my books to be as good as they can be. If there are mistakes or boring places or dumb ideas in my books, I hope someone helps me catch them before the book is printed.

Remember that writing is a matter of taste—and what one person finds interesting, another person will find dull. So don’t expect to please everybody, and don’t be surprised if you get conflicting advice from different people. That’s okay. Listen to the criticism and see if it makes sense to you. If the advice makes sense, follow it. If the advice doesn’t ring true, ignore it and write it the way it seems best to you.

Show your writing to your friends and teachers. Start a writing club and share your stories with each other. Criticize each other’s stories—not in a mean or hurtful way, but in a helpful way: “I think this dialogue could be improved if you did such and such,” or, “What if your character decided to do this instead of that?” Encourage each other and help each other to do your finest work.

Above all, keep writing!


The four Timebenders books have just been revised, updated, and re-released. Order Timebenders No. 1: Battle Before Time from Amazon.com today.