By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—A mother-daughter team from Caledonia is behind a new fundraiser, which will see copies of their new book, along with a handmade elephant stuffy, help raise funds benefitting an elephant sanctuary in Kenya.
Amber Kuipers lives with her husband and three children, one of whom, Harper, was the driving force behind their new children’s storybook, Harper and the Elephant.
“I’ve always loved to write but it was something that was just mine. I didn’t want to share it with anyone,” said Kuipers, who would go on to test the waters by starting a blog following the birth of her first two children, just 13 months apart. “I tried to share all those less-than-picture-perfect moments. It was therapeutic for me.”
Kuipers’ father passed away when she was just 17, and she said it was the struggle to find good grief-related material to read at the time; this led her to her first book idea: “I wanted to write a children’s book about grief but never thought I was good enough. Then through a series of pretty incredible circumstances, I was able to publish my first children’s book, When Grey Came to Stay, last year. It was an incredibly vulnerable journey but the book ended up being a finalist for the Canadian Book Club Awards, which was so humbling.”
She explained why the topic resonated so much with her: “I feel like our culture does not handle grief well. We don’t like those uncomfortable, unsolvable feelings…. I wanted to encourage grief conversations, especially with kids.”
With that difficult subject behind her, Kuipers couldn’t imagine her next writing project would prove more difficult: “I thought writing a children’s book about grief was tough until I started writing with my daughter. Pretty sure no one has expectations or demands like an elephant-obsessed five-year-old who is determined to convince everyone to love elephants.”
Originally, Kuipers was working on a follow up children’s book that dealt with depression, but found herself drained by tackling two difficult subjects back-to-back.
“I took a break to write something for fun on a topic I loved. Harper mentioned wanting to write about elephants, so I thought why not,” said Kuipers. “Harper has loved elephants from the time she was a baby. She can find an elephant anywhere. And as she got older, she started to understand poaching and elephants in captivity and desperately wanted to stop it. We read a ton of elephant books and tried to figure out what information other books don’t have that we could. We decided to focus on those bits of information, like how elephants communicate through smell and their feet.”
Harper took part in two virtual visits with her class to an elephant sanctuary located in Tennessee as part of her research process as well.
“Harper also approved all the illustrations – the illustrator was gracious enough to send multiple sketches, layouts, and colours for Harper to choose from. She had the final say in character design and layout. I absolutely loved working with my daughter, despite the challenges of negotiating the realities of publishing a book. I loved being able to foster her love of elephants and turn it into something productive, the hope of teaching others about elephants and why we need to protect them.”
She continued, “I wanted Harper and the Elephant to reflect Harper’s hilarious and wild character. In the book she wants a real elephant so badly she sets out to find one. But along the way she discovers all the reasons why an elephant wouldn’t be a good pet. All of those questions she had asked in real life, so they were copied in. She also thinks the fact that elephant poop is important is hilarious. I wanted the book to be funny but engaging.”
Kuipers and Harper have partnered with Caledonia-based company JustOne to create a special, collectible stuffed elephant.
“Each elephant was handcrafted by Regina, one of Just-One’s Kenyan artisans. All the proceeds from the sale of these elephants will go directly to an elephant sanctuary. Our goal is to sell 100 of them, but it would be incredible if we could sell even more. We are also putting aside any proceeds from the book for Harper to one day be able to visit elephants in real life.”
Those interested in the book, the elephant stuffy, or both, can visit shopjustone.com, where you can purchase the stuffy, currently at the sale price of $12, the book for $15.99, or a combo set for $26.