Life on Pandemic Avenue: Raleigh teen's book helps kids cope with COVID-19

Ryan Markley, a senior at Athens Drive High School, has already sold 260 copies of her children's book, "Life on Pandemic Avenue."

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Jessica Patrick
, WRAL multiplatform producer

Ryan Markley, a senior at Athens Drive High School, has already sold 260 copies of her children's book, "Life on Pandemic Avenue." She's donating 100% of her earnings to help mental health groups and struggling educators.

The book, which originated as an honors project in Ryan's 11th grade design class, is now for sale on Amazon. The colorful pages, all illustrated by Ryan, tell stories of four homes and how the children inside are adapting to the pandemic.

Ryan's younger sister, Charlotte, was her inspiration for the book and is even featured in the story. The idea formed when Ryan noticed 9-year-old Charlotte, normally an extrovert, quiet and grieving from not seeing her classmates once school went virtual.

"She just started to become sad due to the sense of separation, and it was something we weren't used to seeing at all," Ryan said. "So I knew that people of all ages were experiencing this type of isolation, and I wanted to address that."

In the book, Charlotte combats her loneliness by pretending her stuffed animals are classmates. On another page, a girl comes up with a creative plan to show a senior neighbor he is never alone while keeping a safe distance.

Ryan's favorite page is a grocery store scene where a little boy simply tries to see the fun in life and make the best of his "new normal."

The book even features a special space for families to write down their pandemic memories and organize photos from the unusual year.

Ryan's mom, Lisa Markley, said Charlotte was thrilled her big sister wrote a book.

"Although Charlotte was already back in school in-person by the time the book was published, it meant so much to her to see how Ryan used her experience dealing with isolation to help others," she said.

Ryan, who has played soccer for 11 years, is captain of the Athens varsity soccer team. She said the impact of the pandemic took her by surprise.

"I think it was just all a big shock at first because everything kind of felt surreal," Ryan said. "When it first started, it was just so unfamiliar, and everything was just up in the air and disorganized. I know some very extroverted people, and it was breaking them and bringing them down completely."

Instead of mourning the in-person learning and socializing she lost for parts of her sophomore and junior years, Ryan said she is thankful for the perspective she gained and for the teachers who helped her get through it.

"I am so grateful for my teachers, like my design teacher, Ms. Luna, who is the one who encouraged and pushed me to publish this, because it was out of my comfort zone," Ryan said. "I'm so grateful that I did."

The book has only been for sale for one month, but Ryan has raised $600 for charities so far. Her mom said dozens of people have reached out to tell Ryan how the book touched them.

"I'm proud to live in a community where teachers, coaches and neighbors pour into and support youth trying to make a small difference in the world," she said. "With so much hard going on, it’s a gift to know that there is so much good as well."

Now that she is back among her classmates and friends, Ryan said it's even more important to her to experience her final year of high school at its fullest.

"Now being back in school, it just shows you what you took for granted," she said. "And now just experiencing that and getting to see people again, it feels like surreal. I got to see how much work my teachers and everybody put into it, and I think it just increases how grateful I am about everything."


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