Books & Literature

Book Review: What You Need to Be Warm, by Neil Gaiman

CHILDREN’S BOOK: What You Need to Be Warm is an exploration of displacement and flight from conflict through the objects and memories that represent warmth. It is about our right to feel safe, whoever we are and wherever we are from. It is about holding out a hand to welcome those who find themselves far from home.

A lovely series of illustrated thoughts that make us consider how fortunate many of us are.

Feature image credit: Bloomsbury

Neil Gaiman is an English author whose works include Good Omens, Coraline, Stardust, American Gods, and Anansi Boys. He has been a supporter of the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) since 2013 and a global Goodwill Ambassador since 2017.

In 2019, he decided to ask his Twitter followers: “What reminds you of warmth?”

From the thousands of answers Gaiman received, he put together a poem in aid of UNHCR’s winter appeal. It was then made into a book by the UNHCR and Bloomsbury.

Thirteen artists were asked to work with an orange, black, and white palette, to each interpret a small section of the poem. Everything in What You Need to Be Warm is in these three colours. From the front cover showing two hands reaching towards a planet earth on fire, to the orange text of the foreword and the endpapers which are orange with white leaves. Some illustrators chose to use one of the three colours more sparingly for dramatic effect. The choice of orange has very cleverly helped the illustrators to represent warmth.

Gaiman’s foreword tells us he wanted to draw attention to those people who were living without warmth due to war, which had destroyed their homes, or villages. Each section of the poem is about being warm and what that means.

Some of the stories are about the yearnings of those without warmth, some are memories of what once was, both good and bad, and some are about escape and the kindness of others. Each story tells the lives of not just the author, but also what is happening and has happened to many people around the world.

At the end of What You Need to Be Warm, each illustrator explains what motivated them when creating their work, some of which were memories from their own lived experiences. These stories are just as meaningful as the main poem which has been illustrated.

What You Need to Be Warm would be a wonderful book to share with a class of middle years students, from about Year Four to Year Eight. Endless discussions about the plight of many children around the world could be facilitated as it asks them to think about their right to a safe and warm environment. Children could also draw what being warm means to them, which would create further discussion. They could also discuss their own colour choices and what motivated this choice.

Every copy of this book sold will help support the work of UNHCR.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: October 2023
RRP: $19.99

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