We all know some amazing things have come out of collaboration within the GESS community and this community never stops surprising us!
Recently, we caught wind that one of our very own teachers, Mr. Shameer Bismilla, and GESS parent Leila Boukarim have authored two brilliant children’s books. It is illustrated by another GESS parent, Barbara Moxham. Both books, “The Boy and the Box” and “The Girl and the Box”, are now available for sale.
As you might imagine, we want to know about all the details of this lovely collaboration between a trio who first got to know each other at GESS! Without wasting a moment, we posed our burning questions directly to the masterminds behind these new publications.
The three of you met at GESS and have now collaborated on a book that brings together the efforts of a GESS teacher, GESS parents and students even. How did it all begin? How did this project come to be?
Shameer: Having been a teacher for more than 20 years, I have always felt a strong sense of duty towards creating a safe space for the children in my class. My gradual increase in awareness of gender stereotypes gave me the idea to write a story, highlighting the misrepresentation of children’s voices and the need to respect their aspirations. I approached the amazing Leila who has written many picture books for sensitive children and shared my ideas with her, leading to several enjoyable brainstorming sessions.
Leila: Shameer taught my eldest and is now teaching my youngest. He is a legend at our school and it’s not hard to see why. Over the years, I encouraged him to write the stories he wants to tell and offered him my editorial support. One day, he suggested we co-write a book together. This is something I had never done before. We chatted about what we might be able to do together, and after a few brainstorming sessions and a successful pitch to our publisher, we were offered 2 contracts. With regular meetings, valuable feedback from the brilliant students at GESS, and a whole new layer of meaning evoked by the gorgeous art from Barbara, these two books came to be.
Barbara: Leila and I met as GESS class parents many years ago. We connected on many levels and have now created many lovely picture books together. We are always looking for ways to support children’s emotional well-being and this book presented the perfect opportunity to further that goal.
Can you tell us a bit about the involvement of GESS students in this project?
Shameer: I shared every crafted script with my students. They were honest and ready to give their opinions. We took their sentiments seriously in order to make the story meaningful for the younger readers.
Leila: A writer doesn’t always get to hear what young readers think of the story. The input from the students moulded our words into what I think are two best books we have created to date.
Both books grapple with the idea of being true to oneself! In your opinion, what makes these particular books unique? What is the value of these books?
Shameer: These books show children that it is important to embrace who they are and celebrate their differences. Our stories also emphasize that young children are strong and capable enough to make some decisions and it is important to respect the rights of a child so that they have the room to grow at their own pace.
Leila: The books we have written show young readers that the journey of life is not always clear and straightforward. Sometimes, we need to make decisions that are difficult and we often need to go down the wrong paths before we know which one is right for us.
In life, we will get lots of advice, from people who have our best interest in mind and want to see us succeed, and others who may not. It is up to us to decide what advice serves us. What’s right for us isn’t necessarily right for everyone else. We each carve out the path that best suits us.
Barbara: To add on to what has been said, the books will certainly empower children to be themselves even when it is not easy. The story prompts readers to question the gender stereotypes that have been ingrained in our society. The books also span across multiple age groups and will, hopefully, enable children of different ages to find their own meaning in the narrative.
What has been the most exciting part of working on this book project?
Shameer: It has been a pleasure to work with Leila and Barbara. Barbara’s illustration really brings our story to life. The best part of the process was getting feedback from my Grade 2 students (Academic Year 2019/20) and being able to dedicate these books to them.
Leila: The collaboration was fun and it was a privilege to learn from Shameer and his students. Also, seeing how Barbara interprets these stories with her artwork is always something that fills my heart with joy. I am one lucky writer.
What was your favourite part about illustrating the book?
Barbara: Experimenting with a different medium. Normally, I work with watercolour or gouache and collage. For these books, I wanted a very emotive medium, that highlighted the Boy’s and Girl’s journeys without the illustrations overwhelming the message. I experimented until I found pastel and pencil to be the form that allowed me to illustrate the themes fully and most expressively.
What is the one message you hope readers will take away from the books?
Shameer: Dare to be different, embrace your inner voice and welcome the unknown.
Leila: Follow your heart and follow the path that brings you joy. If the path doesn’t exist, blaze your own trail and pave the way for others like you.
If what Shameer, Leila and Barbara have shared piques your interest, check out their books.
The Boy and the Box
A boy sets out on a journey, full of wonder. He comes across an empty box and imagines all the things he can do with it. But when the path he is on splits, the boy must make a decision: to follow the advice of others or to follow his own heart.
The Girl and the Box
A girl sets out on a journey, full of wonder. She sees the Moon and decides she wants to go there. But when she builds a box to climb up, she is told to stay on the path that was planned for her. The girl must make a decision: to put her dreams away or to carve her own path.