Two days after Singapore began its circuit breaker measures in April, children’s author Leila Boukarim had a brainwave.

In the midst of feeling hopeless and helpless about the Covid-19 pandemic, she came up with an idea on how to help some of those hit hard by the situation. She decided to raise funds for charities by putting together an anthology of children’s literature from local authors and illustrators.

She shared her idea with author-illustrator Dave Liew, who is the regional advisor for the Singapore chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They joined forces with Denise Tan, a children’s bookseller with 10 years’ experience and owner of Closetful of Books, to lead this fundraising project.

A Book of Hugs: Stories to Keep You Company, was produced with contributions from a group of Singapore-based children’s authors and illustrators to raise fund to children charity
A Book of Hugs (Cover art by David Liew)

The anthology, A Book of Hugs: Stories to Keep You Company, was produced with contributions from a group of Singapore-based children’s authors and illustrators. The team aims to raise $10,000 for two children’s charities, Superhero Me and Child at Street 11.

“It felt at first like there was so little we could do. But then I realised we are all creators, this is something that we all can do – create content for children,” Boukarim tells The Pride.

Superhero Me is a non-profit inclusive arts movement that runs creative workshops for children from special needs and less privileged communities, while Child at Street 11 provides education and daycare services for underprivileged.

The two non-profit organisations were chosen because of their work with young children and their need for fundraising.

“We have always championed the arts as a means to empower the special-needs children we work with. This burst of creative energy from authors and illustrators motivates us to keep seeking new ways of connection with our community and journey with them through these challenging times,” Jean Loo, co-founder of Superhero Me tells The Pride.

The campaign officially launched on 20 June on Closetful of Books’ e-commerce platform. The book is priced at $25, with bundle deals ranging from $35 up to $250 for schools. These bundle deals include autographed copies, video recordings, and visits (either online or in person) by two of the contributing authors. Donors who purchase books will receive the printed copies in early August, after the campaign closes in late July.

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The anthology, written for children aged six to nine deliberately focuses on universal themes and not just Covid-19 related issues. This is because the group wanted the book to be relevant beyond the pandemic. The initial call to contributors was to create “stories of hope”, explains Liew.

“This book is triggered by Covid-19 but not about the pandemic per se. In the new normal, kids will still struggle over many things,” he tells The Pride.

Although the book’s main purpose is to raise funds for charity, the organisers also wanted it to be a “source of comfort for [readers’] entire lives,” Tan adds.

Art by Quek Hong Shin for children charity
Art by Quek Hong Shin

The anthology has contributions from many award-winning authors and illustrators, many of whom had worked with the two charities before. The 45 contributors, all of whom are Singaporeans or expats based in Singapore, include Quek Hong Shin, Josef Lee, Ben Lai, Barbara Moxham, Pippa Chorley, Hwee Goh, Emily Lim, Pauline Loh and Josephine Chia.

The stories, poems, letters, artwork and illustrations explore genres ranging from fantasy, adventure, humour, and science fiction.

Art by James Lim for children charity
Art by James Lim

“We’re so happy that everyone was so generous. Almost everyone we wrote to agreed to contribute their work at no cost, and the small number who declined did so only because they could not manage the tight deadline that we gave them,” Boukarim says. In fact, she says, it became a balancing act to include as much content as possible while keeping production overheads to a minimum so that most of the earnings can be given to the charities.

Felicia Low, co-author of the Sherlock Sam series, contributed a heartwarming story about a girl’s friendship with a robot, titled Empty Inside.

Melanie Lee’s story, Neon Shark, is about a girl who befriends a supposedly dangerous neon-orange shark and discovers an opportunity to pursue her dreams. Veteran author Emily Lim wrote a poem of a kid wondering about a villainous virus and processing it with a child-like imagination. “I think it’s good for kids to be able to talk about how they feel as this is something we have to live with for sometime,” she shares.

Not only were authors and illustrators keen to contribute their work, they were also keen to share their expertise and contacts for the project.

“This meant that we could trampoline off their know-how and get the project moving quickly,” Tan shares. For example, veteran book publisher Fong Hoe Fang of Ethos Books, shared his expertise on the print-on-demand model, which was adopted so that no out-of-pocket expenses would be required.

To order your copy of A Book of Hugs: Stories to Keep You Company, visit the Closetful of Books.

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Top Image: David Liew