Two independent publishers Little Toller and Bluemoose Books have teamed up to provide backpacks containing essentials for children fleeing Ukraine, and Madeleine Milburn agent Hayley Steed has launched a separate fundraiser with 150 trade figures already taking part. 

Over one million people have already fled the violence in Ukraine. Over the coming weeks, the United Nations estimate that as many as 5 million refugees will be forced across the borders into neighbouring Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. Many of these will be children, who will experience terrible distress being separated from friends and family, their school and the community where they belong.

With such terrible disruption to the familiar places, people and routine of their lives, we are hoping to offer just a little comfort and escape, especially as they try to settle for bedtime. Starting with storybooks, every one of the 10,000 backpacks will be filled with a selection of items that are both comforting and essential, such as head torches, notepads, colouring pencils, toothbrushes, puzzles, playing cards, activity books, bags of marbles, hot water bottles, socks, hats and scarfs, reusable drinking bottles, and many other much-needed things.

Gracie Cooper, publisher at Little Toller Books and Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose Books are behind Packed with Hope an initiative that aims to bring a little comfort and escape for the displaced children fleeing Ukraine.

The JustGiving campaign is going live today to raise £75,000 to support the purchase of items and the distribution of 10,000 filled rucksacks from a warehouse in Dorset.

"My children are constantly asking ’could this happen to us?’ We can’t simply stand back and watch," said Cooper. "The uprooting of families is heartbreaking, and we have to be able to help in some way."

The indies aim to provide at least 30,000 books and are inviting publishers, bookshops and authors to donate picture books and paperbacks for children of different ages. All books must be accessible to children for whom English is not their first language.

Cooper is organising a volunteer network in Dorset to help source, sort, pack and distribute the bags. Alongside the books the publishers are requesting items including colouring books, notepads, head torches, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, puzzles, bags of marbles, insulated water bottles, warm hats, gloves and socks, pencil cases, stationery, hot-water bottles, and rucksacks.

The JustGiving campaign aims to raise funds to cover basic costs of warehousing and transportation, alongside items that are not donated so every bag can be packed full of "useful and lovely things".

"We know what we are doing is only the slightest of gestures," Cooper said. " But what if something in that bag puts a smile on someone’s face? What if a six-year-old could fall asleep listening to a bedtime story? What if a thirteen-year-old could escape into a story? We’re sure that our friends in the publishing world will be supportive. We are extremely grateful to the Poundbury Cancer Institute in Dorset for lending us their warehouse to run our project from."

Donations can be made on the Packed with Hope campaign page. Queries should be sent to Gracie Cooper and Kevin Duffy Those wishing to donate non-book items should contact Alex MacEwen

Meanwhile, Steed is calling on the trade to volunteer items for her fundraiser by Sunday (6th March), with bidding taking to take place from 7th March to 20th March. All money raised will go to British-Ukranian Aid.  

Bid items already listed for Book Aid for Ukraine include a one-hour Zoom call or chat with Cesca Major, plus two signed books and a query critique by New York Times bestselling author Erin A Craig, both starting at £10. More lots will be added over the next few weeks. 

Steed, an agent at the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency and a Bookseller Rising Star of 2019, said: “I’ve already had over 150 people reach out but would love more. I’ve had offers of everything from signed books and one-on-ones, to afternoon teas, hotel stays and even a sightseeing flight, so it’s really varied and I’m happy to open it up to more than just publishing items. I’m keen for people to bid and donate generously to raise as much as we can for Ukraine.” 

British-Ukrainian Aid is a charity that supports people suffering from the war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine by aligning UK and Ukrainian efforts. 

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