You may not know this, but not all children have fun at parties.
Not all children feel comfortable in crowded, noisy places.
Not all children like to jump into the pool and get their faces wet.
So what happens when boisterous, bright, bold books upset your child at bedtime? You write one yourself. Leila Boukarim told SWAG about All Too Much for Oliver, a book for highly sensitive children.
Leila: Highly sensitive children tend to get overwhelmed by the world much faster than your regular child. They hear things louder, feel things deeper, even think more than the average child, and that tends to push them to get overwhelmed.
SWAG: Did you set out to write book specifically for highly sensitive children?
Leila: It was my aim to write for highly sensitive children because my child is highly sensitive. Often we would read books that lead to tears and questions about the philosophy of life that you don’t want to discuss at bedtime. I tried looking for books that were quieter and easier, and there isn’t much out there. So I decided to write something to inspire other children.
SWAG: If you think about the book shelves, kids’ books are always so bright and loud.
Leila: Very bright, very loud, very adventurous. Very often characters go off without their parents. In our case, that lead to tears and questions about ‘where his mother?’, ‘where is his father?’. It’s all too much for a child who thinks too much. And that’s where the title came from, All Too Much for Oliver. You can see the colours of my books are washed out, it’s very quiet.
SWAG: Is there anything else specific to the language or design of the book that makes it relevant for HSC?
Leila: My illustrator (Barbara Maxham) is also the mother of a highly sensitive child and so she understood. She came up with the idea of using watercolour pictures that are very soft and the colous are not bright. It helps when you’re working with someone who understands what the book is trying to accomplish. Also, the plot is about a child who is going through an everyday problem. A child who is frightened to go to the playground because it’s too loud.
SWAG: Did you do any specialist research?
Leila: I understand highly sensitive children because I’ve read so much about it. I happened to find a book review from a mother whose child was scared of birthday parties. At the time, my husband and I were convinced we were alone and that no-one else had these kinds of issues. It turned about to be the book The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aaron. I started to read many articles, trying to better understand how to deal with it and I started a blog to let other parents know that they’re not alone. And that’s when I started to write the book.
SWAG: There’s an obvious need for your book – how was it to get published?
Leila: There’s not a huge market because only 20% of the population is highly sensitive, not the majority. So we knew from the beginning that it would be hard to sell because not every child will understand what Oliver is going through. Now, when I read the book in schools, most of the kids jump up and shout that they love playgrounds. But there will be a few – it’s always about 20% of the class – who stay quiet.
So we decided to self-publish. It’s been a long process. And difficult because we knew nothing about publishing. I spent two years reading up about what it takes to self-publish and what makes a good children’s book. And I got a good team. I didn’t want this to be a DIY project, but to be professional so I got a professional illustrator and editor. Then I sent it out to ten mothers of highly sensitive children, changed it according to the feedback, and then went ahead and published.
SWAG: You also made a promotional video on You Tube and a very professional website – it must haven a huge amount of time.
Leila: It did take a lot of time because we did it all on our own. The website was our own work. It is possible, it can be done but it’s very time consuming
SWAG: So what’s next?
Leila: We have one more book in the final edit stage and we have more manuscripts coming along that I have written. But we are also considering taking on other writers who have stories for HSC.
SWAG: So you could start your own specialist press?
Leila: Maybe, who knows!
SWAG: What does All Too Much for Oliver mean to your child?
Leila: I wrote the first draft two years ago just for my son. We had been through something difficult and I noticed then when he was upset he would go to the bookshelf and find a story that made him feel a little more brave. So I decided to write a story that would inspire him to have the courage to do the things he couldn’t do. I read it to him and, even though there were no pictures then, it was just words on a page, he wanted to hear it again and again. And that’s when I thought that maybe I have something here, let’s take this further.
Leila Boukarim was born in Lebanon, raised in several countries, and now resides in Singapore with her husband and two children. Since discovering her eldest was a highly sensitive child, Leila has dedicated herself to shedding light on what it’s like to have a child who doesn’t like the playground, sprinklers or parties, and to writing books that speak to these extraordinary children. “All Too Much for Oliver” is her first children’s book. http://www.myquietadventures.com