Two UQ graduates have brought the best of humanity to life in a children's book as the world faces one its toughest challenges.
As the coronavirus spread earlier this year and cities around the world went into lockdown, Dr Amber Khan began collecting uplifting stories.
Daily reports of rising COVID-19 case numbers and mortalities had saddened the UQ School of Dentistry lecturer and graduate (Bachelor of Dental Science '01), and she found solace in hearing about gestures of kindness around the world.
Often small, they were meaningful actions that everyday people were taking to help their communities. In the US, a retired farmer in his 70s donated to New York state one of only five N95 masks he possessed so that it could be used by a doctor or nurse, despite his wife only having one lung. On a Far North Queensland street, four- and six-year-old best friends pulled a trolley filled with rolls of toilet paper, bought with their pocket money, to gift to elderly neighbours.
These vignettes of generosity led Khan to create an uplifting story of her own: a children’s book called When the World Came Together, which is inspired by seven examples of humanity seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There's references at the back,” Khan says.
“I guess that comes from my academic background.”
A picture book set during the pandemic, When the World Came Together features three little ducks that set off across the world on an adventure to understand why people have stopped visiting them.
The book is brightly illustrated by fellow dentistry graduate Li Yang Lim (Bachelor of Dental Science (Honours) '20), who works part-time as a dentist and as an illustrator.
Each double-page spread features iconic landmarks – a love letter of sorts to travel and to the great cities of the world, says Khan, at a time when each has been transformed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Sydney is featured, but Khan has also included countries that COVID-19 has heavily affected, such as the US, UK and Brazil.
Initially, Khan had an older readership in mind.
“Roald Dahl was my favourite author growing up,” she says.
“My original story idea was more complex, geared more at pre-teens than younger children.”
Khan’s collaboration with Li Yang began in June. Li Yang had been involved in the UQ Dental Students' Association, and a mutual acquaintance recommended his illustrative skills.
After seeing Li Yang’s early illustrations, Khan knew immediately that the book should be for younger children.
“It's kind of like realism, fantasy and surrealism all rolled into one,” she says.
As her own way of giving back, Amber plans to donate a 20 per cent of the book’s profits towards UQ COVID-19 research.
As positive vaccine news around the world brings the COVID-19 pandemic into a more hopeful phase, Khan hopes that her book will provide an opportunity for parents and their children to reflect upon and one day recall what life was like in 2020–21.
“It’s been a difficult time; it’s been a challenging time. Our lives have completely changed,” Khan says.
But in a year marked by grief, isolation and division, When the World Came Together also serves as a record of humanity at its best.