In 2020, as winter approached, Neil Gaiman made a special request to his legions of social media followers, asking them to share memories that reminded them of warmth. Answers ranged from the pleasure of a baked potato on a chilly night, to the less tangible comfort of a smile from a stranger. In a bid to draw attention to those left out in the cold, particularly those fleeing from war or persecution, he wove these ideas into a scarf, a film, and here, casting a welcome glow, is the book, What You Need to be Warm by Neil Gaiman.
Thirteen artists have provided illustrations, using a colour palette of flame orange and charcoal. Continuing the collaborative vibe, Gaiman has asked them to share their thoughts on their individual contributions, and it makes for absorbing reading.
The aforementioned baked potato is being cupped by a young girl hiding in the darkest woods. Cold and afraid of we know not what, she is fortified by her simple supper and transfixed by the dancing flames of a bonfire. Illustrator, Yuliya Gwilym, imagines her recalling the voice of her grandmother, ‘You’re stronger than you think, my child.’
A later illustration is less ambiguous. Another child, this time snuggled in bed and surfacing from sleep. Outside the window, against an icy backdrop, we see a row of men in single file. Illustrator, Pam Smy, tells us this represents Ukrainian men going to fight, a stark contrast to the boy savouring the cosy, carefree waking moments before he has to face ‘the chill’ of both weather and war.
But it’s the penultimate illustration that touched me most. A refugee camp, from illustrator, Majid Adin, who once lived in the Calais jungle camp.
‘Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place, to hold out a badly knitted scarf. To offer a kind word.’
A donation from the sale of this timely and compassionate book will go to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
What You Need to be Warm by Neil Gaiman is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 32 pages.