As anyone who has kids will tell you, parenting is not an easy gig. But when life throws you a curveball and you discover you’re the parent of a highly sensitive child – a trait found in up to one in five people – parenting by the manual doesn’t always come into play. Writer and mum-of-two, Leila Boukarim, didn’t always know her son was a highly sensitive child, but once she did, she was inspired to write the My Quiet Adventures picture books with highly sensitive children in mind, along with illustrator Barbara Moxham. We caught up with Leila recently to ask her all about her writing and her parenting journey…
How long have you been in Singapore for and where did you grow up?
My family and I have called Singapore home for the past six years now, and we’ve loved every minute on the Little Red Dot. I was born to Lebanese parents, and although I did spend fifteen years in Lebanon before moving to Singapore, I was raised and went to school in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the US, and Canada before finally moving to Singapore. I have two sons, Luca aged nine years old and Alexander who is almost six years old.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My days tend to differ but I try to do the following:
Start the day with a nature walk at the Bukit Batok Nature Reserve; watch the news; go over my to-do list and study my story cork board; write and revise; read and critique other people’s work; read and watch webinars about the craft of writing picture books; go to the library (with a little suitcase); meet my critique group on a Wednesday; do yoga at least once; play with my kids after school; read at least three picture books and a few chapters from a middle grade novel to my kids before bed every night.
This is the stuff that makes my week, and it comes with plenty of coffee!
You have a series and blog called My Quiet Adventures: Picture Books for the Highly Sensitive Child. What made you decide to write My Quiet Adventures?
My writing journey started accidentally. My eldest, Luca, has always loved books and learned to read when he turned three years. He was also born highly sensitive. When he was almost four years old and he was struggling with something, he would pull out a book that might help him. Most of his struggles, however, were not really represented in picture books like crowds, loud noises, birthday parties, and surprises. He had trouble processing his emotions because they were always so big. His head was filled with difficult questions about life. In other words, he was like a grown-up stuck inside a child’s body, and he had no idea what to do with himself.
At the time, we had a lovely neighbour my son’s age and his polar opposite, but she was very fond of him. Every day she would come looking for him, and every day my son would scream and run to his room. I knew it wasn’t because he didn’t like her. On the contrary, he loved her, and his feelings for her were so big they would pour out when she showed up – in the form of tears and screaming. Our little neighbour wasn’t even four years old at that point and yet she kept coming until my son stopped screaming and actually let her in. She knew it would happen even before I did. And she was right.
During this time, I decided to write All Too Much for Oliver to help my son understand the world around him better and feel less overwhelmed. He loved it, and asked me to read it over and over again. That’s how My Quiet Adventures began. Now I’ll never know for sure, but I’d like to think All Too Much for Oliver helped him step out of his shell, although I have to admit it was his little friend who did most of the work.
Today, my son is nine years old, and growing up to be an incredible human being who, I like to think, will change the world for the better. I’m biased, of course, but I have always believed that if they are shown love, support and understanding when they’re little, highly sensitive people can be some of the strongest, most driven people you’ll meet.
What other books have you written?
I started my writing career with two self-published picture books, All Too Much For Oliver and Aiden Finds A Way. I’ve since worked with Marshall Cavendish on four more titles that are more universal, but still have a strong focus on social emotional learning. Hello Goodbye Little Island (2017) is about a little girl who moves to “the little island” and has trouble adjusting until she makes a new friend. A Warm Christmas (2018) is about a little boy who dreams of a white Christmas, but lives in a place where it never snows. And two books which will be published soon are the The Yummiest Cupcake (2019) which follows a character who loves cupcakes more than anything but is only ever allowed one, which becomes a problem on his birthday; and the Girl/Boy With Big Dreams: a personalised picture book for kids with big imaginations!
Although these titles are more ‘fun’ than our first two, they cover important themes like friendship, change, love, family, self-control, perseverance, and the power of creativity.
Is there a new project in the pipeline and if so tell us all about it?
My partner, Barbara Moxham, and I are currently working on a series of biographies for children focusing on amazing people from Asia. This will be our first non-fiction project and we’re both very excited!
Finally, what advice do you have for other families who may be parenting highly sensitive children?
Don’t go at it alone. When we first found out about our son, we had never even heard of the term ‘highly sensitive’. Awareness of the character trait has significantly increased since. There are countless books, documentaries, blogs, and online articles being published on an almost daily basis. More importantly, there are communities there for you. Parents of highly sensitive people get together online and offline to talk about the things they’re going through. Often, just knowing that you’re not alone in this can make the whole difference. Surround yourself with people who get it, they will help you more than anyone else can.
Thanks, Leila. We’re super excited about your upcoming books!
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