Society tends to always place the young or the sick on the receiving end of gratitude - identifying them as "in need of help" and expecting them to be thankful in return. However, Libby Lam's fourth children's book, Ten-Star Service, challenges this perception.
Other than featuring favorite characters from Lam's previous books, Ten-Star Service introduces a new character, BJ, inspired by Hong Kong teenager Pansy, a recovering cancer patient and aspiring philanthropist, whom Libby came across during her volunteer work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2018.
BJ's story is the most touching subplot in the book, as it is based on Pansy's wish to help young patients in mainland China who face similar challenges as her but have limited access to health-care resources. To raise money for these patients, Pansy decided to weave bracelets for a charity sale, which gathered the support of more than 100 volunteers.
"When I first conceived of writing a book about gratitude, lots of ideas came to my mind," said Lam.
She says the challenge she faced as a writer and illustrator was to shortlist the most relatable daily examples that offered a high visual impact and "clicked" with young readers at first glance as a children's book.
"Pansy's story encapsulates one of the many lessons in gratitude and giving I hope to teach my children and share with others," Lam said.
Sponsored by JEMS Character Academy, proceeds from the book will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Lam aims to give back to the community, bring parents and children closer together, as well as build children's confidence through meaningful stories.
Lam and her daughters serve as a prime example of building good relations through mutual appreciation.
She recalled one weekend when her children were planning a fun tie-dye project with fabric paints and old T-shirts instead of spending their weekend finishing homework which, as a parent, is what she thought they should do.
It wasn't hard or expensive to get the supplies for them, but rearranging the time can leave parents stumped and wondering if it's worth it.
Lam's answer was yes. She said that children appreciate parents who respect their priorities, and in turn, they learn to respect parents' preferences too.
"I often remind myself that our children are independent individuals with their own personalities, temperament, and drive. When it comes to the little things I do for them daily, it is about recognizing their differences, understanding what makes them "tick" and taking their priorities as mine," Lam said.
Inspired by that sentiment, Lam included a scene in Ten-Star Service that depicts children taking the lead in organizing a charity sale, with their parents assisting on simple things such as baking.
Lam sees the book as being about people offering help to others regardless of age, health conditions, or any other limitations. "It was a real experience for our family. It's the little 'hearty' things parents do that money can't buy," she said.
Daily anecdotes also inspired her to write a book on "gratitude," celebrating compassion and love.
On one occasion, Lam accidentally left a purple scarf - a personal souvenir she had bought for herself on a recent trip abroad- in a mall. While Lam lamented the loss all night, her eldest daughter offered Lam her own pink scarf - a handmade scarf that her daughter had spent months knitting.
Her daughter said: "Mom, it's not purple, but it's the closest color I can get," and Lam's heart melted.
"It not only cheered me up but also gave me a eureka moment. The greatest gifts in life can never be wrapped in a big box with shiny ribbons; they come in the most unexpected way, at the most unexpected times," Lam said.
"I'm always amazed by how much compassion and empathy a [kid's] small body can hold. This is what inspired me to write Ten-Star Service."
Lam believes it is important to appreciate the little things family members do for each other, be grateful to each other and learn to see the world from each other's perspectives. "While we often look elsewhere for five-star enjoyment, we can easily find 10-star qualities at home."