In the early days of the pandemic, business closures and stay-at-home orders left many wondering how to fill their new-found free time.
For Jacqueline Elaine Mannina and her family, they found comfort in an old family recipe, which gave Mannina some inspiration.
She sat down and wrote, “A Kid’s Book for COVID-19: Cooking Pizza in Quarantine” in March 2020, and it was published a year later.
“When everything was just shut down, I was sitting at home and like really realizing, you know, we’re in a historic time that we may never experience again in this time. Hopefully not. I was sitting there and I was like, wow, I would love to just write a record almost of what happened during quarantine,” Mannina said.
Mannina is a 21-year-old Houston native who is about to enter her senior year at Washington & Jefferson College, hoping to graduate with a major in English and a minor in education.
Mannina found inspiration in her sister, Gianna, a character in the book, who was out of the classroom when schools shut down.
“I started thinking, this is really going to be something that affects kids down the line,” Mannina said.
The book tells the story of the Pepperoni family and how they come together to make pizza to pass the time while they are stuck inside their home, but it is not a traditional pizza.
This is a pizza you can make with a piece of bread, some sauce and a slice of cheese. Once it’s assembled you just pop it in the oven.
“My grandmother made this simple pizza recipe ... It’s super simple, but it tastes really good and it’s special,” Mannina said. “She would make this for her kids and her neighbors in Dunlevy, PA.”
When the pandemic began, Mannina, her father and her sister used the recipe to spend time together and share with their neighbors, which mirrors the narrative of Mannina’s book.
“In the book, the family gives pizza to their neighbors and helps them get through this unprecedented time,” Mannina said.
Mannina’s family calls the recipe, “Franny’s Pizza,” named for her grandmother, Frances Mannina.
The book opens with a dedication to Mannina’s grandmother, as well as to her mother, Elaine, who died from cancer four years ago. The mother in the book is named for Mannina’s mother.
Each page features a short stanza with rhyming lines, accompanied by an illustration. Liz Beatty drew the artwork for the book.
Mannina had the book published through Pittsburgh-based Dorrance Publishing Co. Mannina provided the words, and Dorrance provided the illustrator.
“I had a lot of involvement. They asked me, ‘What colors do you want? What do you want the cover to look like?’ Things like that. I did have to approve every single illustration, which was nice,” Mannina said.
There were small changes to the artwork along the way. At first, none of the characters were wearing masks, but after the public was asked to start masking up, masks were added to the drawings.
It took a full year from Mannina putting pen to paper to the book being published. Though it came at a time when COVID-19-related restrictions and masks were starting to be lifted, Mannina thinks the message of the book can still resonate with kids trying to process the last year.
“I’m happy it came out at the time it did, because now we do have hope, and there is a light at the end of tunnel,” Mannina said. “COVID was so devastating to so many, but yet I think that this will still help children coming out of the pandemic.”
Even with the difficulties of the pandemic, Mannina found the positive side of being stuck at home.
“Before the pandemic, I think we were always on the go with life,” she said. “It just made me really sit back and enjoy that time with family ... You can sit back and you can make memories at home with those who you love.”
”A Kid’s Book for COVID-19: Cooking Pizza in Quarantine” is available at Barnes & Noble Stores at South Hills Village, Robinson, Cranberry and Morgantown. It is also available online through Amazon, Target and Walmart.