KNOWN in his communal capacity as co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and as the author of two books on Israeli history and politics, Alex Ryvchin can now add children’s writer to his professional bow having recently released a picture book about appreciating life’s small pleasures during the COVID-19 crisis.
A New Day – written by Ryvchin with illustrations by Anna Mardakhaeva – tells of the joys that will return when the pandemic passes, while following the journey of Ryvchin and his wife, Vicki, their three daughters, Lilah, Elly and Maya, and their dog, Hamilton – as they embark on their days during social isolation, and delight in the simple pleasures around them.
“I’ve always believed that the simple things in life are the most important and the most gratifying,” said Ryvchin, who has honed in on some meaningful life lessons in an otherwise despairing situation. “It has brought home to [my kids] that things aren’t always easy, things aren’t always good, that we need to have hope and resilience to get through the difficult times.”
Typically spending most of his working hours commenting and writing on matters including national policy, Zionism and Jewish heritage, a foray into children’s writing wasn’t something Ryvchin was contemplating prior to COVID-19.
“I believe very much in the power of words and the power of writing to disseminate ideas and to help people. I’ve previously applied that to things I care about in the Jewish world,” he said.
But this year, the anxiety, disruption and distress experienced by his family and others due to coronavirus became front of mind, and one moment in particular set the wheels of his project in motion.
Friends, I give you, A New Day. My new book to bring joy and hope to families worldwide going through isolation, disruption of #COVID. Includes diary pages. 10% of profits go to @SmithFamily_org and similar charities globally to help vulnerable children. https://t.co/PdlXLq4coD pic.twitter.com/3BrLqY1djB
— Alex Ryvchin (@AlexRyvchin) May 3, 2020
When Ryvchin’s parents came to visit their grandchildren and pulled into the driveway, Lilah, Elly and Maya bounded over to greet them.
“Then I realised I couldn’t let them touch each other and actually see each other,” lamented Ryvchin.
Seeing the heartbreak on his kids’ faces, and the hurt it caused his parents, made him put pen to paper.
“I thought I could write a little story to explain what they are going through, to explain that [their reactions are] natural and normal and that these dark days will pass, but to also seize the beauty that has come from this miserable situation, to appreciate the joy and beauty in every day, and to find pleasure in the small things,” he said.
Ten percent of proceeds are also being directed to the Smith Family to help vulnerable children and families.
“As difficult as this has been for all of us, there’s a segment of our community that is particularly vulnerable, who come from abusive homes or broken homes, who are below the poverty line,” said Ryvchin. “I thought a book like this could really bring some light and joy.”
Ryvchin – whose book is one of the top 100 sellers on Book Depository – has been receiving photos and reflections from families the world over who have read and delighted in his work. He hopes families will continue to send messages about the story’s impact on both children and adults alike.
Appreciating life’s small pleasures is a virtue Ryvchin has always strived to instil in his children, but COVID-19 may have enabled that message to stick a little more firmly.
“Sometimes I tell my kids anecdotes about life in the Soviet Union where I was born. Three families lived in an apartment with two rooms and they didn’t have enough food and they didn’t have basic necessities, but it’s all so remote and distanced for them,” he said.
“I try to show my children the beauty of nature, taking them outdoors as much as possible, hoping that they appreciate the things that I appreciate, but often it takes a seminal moment in human history like this – a crisis – to really bring home the things that are important, and the things that really matter.”
With a section of the book designated for families to record their own reflections during the pandemic, Ryvchin said A New Day, published by Yogi Books, could serve as “a memento for every family to have and to look back on and remember how they coped through these difficult times”.
The story may have emerged in a unique period of time, but for children who feel comforted and reassured reading A New Day, there could be more books by Ryvchin landing in their laps down the track.
“The sort of writing that really means something to me is the writing that instil values and lessons, and I’m not sure enough children’s literature does that,” he said. “There are a lot of virtues that I want to instil in my children and I think that good stories written in the right way can do that, and maybe I can contribute something in that regard.”
A New Day is available on Book Depository. Visit www.bookdepository.com/New-Day-Alex-Ryvchin/9780646817149.