When I want to create a children’s book I am looking for visual as well as lyrical hooks to give strength to the work. There is no excuse not to pack that book full of rich, condensed yumminess that readers can pour over time after time – leading them joyfully through from the beginning, to the middle, to the end.
The potential for a story around the life and work of Sister Lucy’s Great Big Family was almost irresistible! A true story so loaded with tantalising imagery and rhythm that it practically leapt out and said ‘write me!’
The story was based on fact – so nothing could be added to it that was made up or embellished. That would be wrong and diminish the integrity of readers who were genuinely interested in the truth of Lucy’s situation and wanting to make a difference. So it was essential for the raw material to be authentic and accessible.
Firstly there were the eggs! Chickens and eggs. What came first? Well in this case the chickens – then there was a slow build up of other animals. Pigs, goats and cows. This was fun enough in itself. Animals are so appealing to children and how much fun seeing the farmyard grow. But at the same time as the animals increasing and growing – the children are increasing and growing too! A lovely symmetry already built in.
Everything had purpose. The animals had purpose – the children had purpose. And this created the build up for the conclusion. Children plucked from nowhere – now somewhere – being loved into a hope for their future.
And neither were these children ordinary – they were beautiful and colourful; covered from head to toe in a rainbow of knitted hats and leg-warmers. Not ordinary ones – but each one uniquely crafted by the children themselves using cypress sticks plucked from the trees on their land.
These hats created a compelling visual hook throughout the book that worked on so many levels. Given the raw materials these children were able to make fully functional creations that not only kept them warm but that were all unique – just like the children themselves. William Morris would have been proud. ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,’ he said. Absolutely! There is life and joy in this multi-coloured array of hats and leg-warmers. These children are thriving because they are being cared for by the ‘brilliant’ Sister Lucy with her ‘good at thinking head’ and because they have been given the opportunity to create something beautiful and functional and make their own mark.
‘They are doing so well,’ my book Sister Lucy’s Great Big Familytells us. And it’s true. I was amazed at how these children have an array of career hopes and dreams and each one is well on their way to fulfilling it.
So in terms of ‘hats and hooks’ – this amazing true story was full of them. What a privilege it was to tell it.