After hearing that the World Health Organization declared HIV the number 1 cause of death globally for women of reproductive age, Lawrence Schimel decided to write a children’s book. Volando Cometas is a delightful Spanish-language story in which life with an HIV-positive relative is presented in a way that promotes knowledge, honesty, and acceptance and, Schimel says, helps “normalize the reality of HIV, and especially the existence of women with HIV, for children.”
Daniel is a young boy whose Aunt Nieves invites him and his parents over to her beachside house for the weekend. Before the trip, Daniel overhears his parents say that Nieves is sick. The story explains Daniel’s learning process about his HIV-positive aunt. With the help of Nieves and her supportive boyfriend, Enrique, Daniel gains a greater understanding of HIV.
Schimel’s Volando Cometas has been well-received by an international audience that hopefully includes, as Schimel says, “educators and librarians, who can use the book to help spark dialogues with their students and patrons.” In addition to the published versions in Spanish and Catalán, Schimel is also launching a Slovenian translation. Núria Fortuny’s whimsical illustrations help lighten the mood, but the book’s primary goal is to enlighten children without underestimating their capacity to comprehend tough issues.
“I wanted to tell a story from a child’s point of view,” explains Schimel, “that would serve as a vehicle to address HIV, but without creating a didactic tale that hits readers over the head with its message, as if the book were titled My Aunt Has AIDS.” The book’s clever symbolism and simple structure enhance the overarching message: Children should learn about HIV and AIDS through honest and open dialogues with educated adults because, as Nieves says, “Ignorance does the most damage.”