Written, published and released during a pandemic: Eric Walters defies traditional publishing norms to create a book for young people living through the COVID-19 era.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me, a middle-grade novel by multi-award-winning author Eric Walters about a group of preteens forced into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be released June 2, 2020, from Orca Book Publishers.

VICTORIA, BC – Don’t Stand So Close to Me reflects the current life experience of many young people around the world who, due to COVID-19, are unable to attend school in person or see their friends. It offers lessons about understanding the pandemic and concepts such as “exponential growth” and “flattening the curve.” It also instills hope and optimism about the ways our communities have come together to support one another, from a safe distance. Walters had hundreds of emails from teachers and parents asking if he was going to write about these unprecedented times. He explains, “there was a need to educate and inspire, to lead with optimism, while trying to make sense of the chaos swirling around us.” Walters came up with the idea on April 22, which went from conception to publication in less than seven weeks. “It’s been an amazing collaborative process from the start,” he says of working with his editor and publisher at Orca Book Publishers. In addition, Walters reached out to teachers, librarians and students across North America to create a team of beta readers for the manuscript on a tight timeline. Their feedback—which included everything from identifying the concepts coming out of the pandemic that are challenging for preteens to understand to tweaking the dialogue and song references to improve the authenticity—has ensured that the story accurately portrays current experiences of distance learning.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me will be released in PDF and EPUB formats and will be available at orcabook.com and all major ebook retailers. A print version will be released this fall. Eric has also written a free teacher’s guide to assist teachers in adapting the book into their distance learning plans before the end of the school year, which is available at orcabook.com.

“This has certainly been a challenging time for the Canadian publishing and bookselling industry, and we’ve been considering novel ways to reach readers,” says Andrew Wooldridge, publisher of Victoria’s Orca Book Publishers. “As print sales have largely collapsed, we have seen renewed interest in ebooks and digital content.”

With this book, Orca is launching its Digital First initiative. “This is our first digital title that hasn’t been accompanied with a simultaneous print edition,” Wooldridge explains. “It presents a great opportunity to quickly provide an important story to readers, wherever they may be.”

Walters’ book will be followed by several others coming out in the Digital First format this summer, including The Wrench by Elise Gravel, When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith, and another book by Eric Walters, his quasi-autobiographical The King of Jam Sandwiches. Print editions of each will be released this fall. Orca has long been at the forefront of the ebook shift and, along with all titles being available in various electronic formats, they also sell digital subscriptions directly to schools and libraries, and partner with numerous online platforms to provide access to Canadian books. “While there is a growing demand for free content, we are also seeing a huge interest from schools for appropriate, accessible licensed content,” says Wooldridge. In response, Orca is offering multiple licensing options for teachers and librarians: individual, classroom and school.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me + individual license ($7.99) is intended for a single user and allows the reader to download their ebook file to three devices.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me + classroom license ($29.99) is perfect for educators who would like to share Don’t Stand So Close to Me with an entire class simultaneously. This ebook file may be shared with students and their families by email or via a classroom portal such as Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me + school license ($59.99) extends usage to an entire school population and may be shared through a library system as well as classroom portals and email.

Walters is the author of more than 115 novels and picture books and has won over 100 awards. He also has a master of social work degree and was employed in a hospital emergency department for 18 years, which included working in mask, gloves and scrubs during the SARS outbreak. Walters conceived of the “I Read Canadian” initiative launched earlier this year to promote Canadian children’s books. He co-founded and co-runs The Creation of Hope, a children’s program for orphans in rural Kenya.

A portion of the proceeds from Don’t Stand So Close to Me will be donated to Lakeside Hope House in Guelph, Ontario, where Walters lives. Lakeside Hope House offers services and programs that challenge the stigmas surrounding poverty and advocates on the belief that poverty, food insecurity, health and community are all interconnected.

Advance praise for Don’t Stand So Close to Me:

“Walters certainly has his pulse on world events and the minds of young people. So true is the narrative of this timely book, that it reads like nonfiction as much as fiction. Walters helps readers to identify, connect and make sense of a powerful turning point in history. Eric Walters, you are a hero!”
—Larry Swartz, author of Teaching Tough Topics

“It’s a positive story about a very negative event that will be one for the history books. Don’t Stand So Close to Me takes readers into the pandemic of their experiences and, while teaching them important safety concerns that not all children will have learned about, reassures and provides hope.”
—Helen Kubiw, CanLit for Little Canadians

“Navigates the experience of this unique time period with heart. I couldn’t put it down. My students won’t be able to either.”
—Kim Moss, teacher-librarian, Creekside Middle School, Bentonville, AR

“Wow – just wow! I LOVED it! Great story, cute without being overly so, funny, honest and fastpaced.”
—Kristen Badger, media specialist, Switzerland Point Middle School, Jacksonville, Florida

About Orca Book Publishers (orcabook.com)

Founded in 1984, Orca Book Publishers is an independently owned Canadian children’s book publisher of award-winning, bestselling books in a number of genres. With over 1,000 titles in print and more than 90 new titles a year, Orca prides itself on publishing Canadian authors and bringing them to a wider market.

For further information, media requests and interviews, please contact Leslie Bootle by email at leslie@orcabook.com or call 250-532-2075.