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Katherine Rundell on The Book of Hopes

Posted on 30th September 2020 by Anna Orhanen

The Book of Hopes is a treasury of heart-warming stories and images by 133 beloved children's authors and artists, from Anthony Horowitz and Michael Morpurgo to Lauren Child and Axel Scheffler. Curated with care and passion by Katherine Rundell, this remarkable anthology was born out of the desire to spread positive messages in the challenging times we are living through.

In this exclusive piece, Rundell talks about the feelings and thoughts that sparked the project and and why books are such potent vessels for hope.

A Hope Adventure

©Emma Yarlett

My work for the last twelve years has been writing adventure stories; journeys onto the rooftops of Paris and the snows of Russia, the Amazon rainforest and the mean streets of 1920s New York City. It has always been for me the greatest delight and challenge: to attempt to write a story that will grab the reader by the wrist and not let go of them: to try to make something that can be paced fast and hard, and still point to beauty and to the labyrinthine riddle of the human heart. My most recent project, though, was different. I began it during some dark months, when the pandemic first began, and I found myself caught up in fear and sorrow; it was an adventure into hope. 

In those early lockdown months, when time felt like it come loose from its moorings and sunk to the bottom of the sea, I emailed more than 100 of the children’s writers and illustrators whose work I love, and asked them to write or draw something that would spark hope in the reader: something that would make kids laugh or gasp or snort – something that would remind them that the world, for all its chaos, is one shot through with possibilities, with change, with wonderments and startlements. I wanted to build a book that would say: the seeking of hope is a quest, a mission, an expedition all of its own: a Book of Hopes. 

The children’s book community responded with such talent, skill and generosity: it was the kind of thing that blows your hair back. Everyone gave their time and talent for free, and my inbox was flooded with a sudden tsunami of jokes and delight. With 133 writers and artists, it feels like a one-book parade. There are stories in the book of the tooth fairy retraining as an astronaut and of Hope-a-potamuses, and there’s Michael Morpurgo writing about the animal chorus and Catherine Johnson’s poem for the axolotl at bedtime. It began its life as a free to read text on the National Literacy Trust website, and is now a hardback book, with glorious cover art by Axel Scheffler and exquisite endpapers by Lauren Child, with proceeds going to support NHS Charities Together. It’s been wonderful to see its life so far  the number of schools who have made hope displays and hope books and hope recipes has been a wild pleasure – to see it gain a momentum all of its own.

We have invented many spectacular things as a human race – toasters! Bicycles! Doorbells that play Madonna’s greatest hits!– but I still believe that the greatest human invention is the book. There is nothing in the world that better allows us to spread hope from one person to another without being in their physical presence. 

I hope you might read The Book of Hopes: and I hope if you do, it might make your day feel larger. It’s a house with a 133 doors: with each story or essay or poem or picture you step into another person’s imagination. A very large house, then: a story castle. 

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