I’m so proud to have collaborated with super-talented illustrator Maisie Paradise Shearring on our new book, The Boy Who Loved Everyone, out on November 7th with Walker Books.
The story is inspired by a real boy, who used to attend my weekly under-5s art class at a local nursery. He had the most touching habit of telling everyone he loved them – the other children, the nursery staff, and me. It was utterly charming but I noticed that often people wouldn’t quite know how to respond – although you could tell they were secretly pleased.
This was happening around the time of the Brexit referendum, and the week after the result there was a tangible sense of sadness from the wonderful nursery staff, who are from all over Europe. But that melted away when the real ‘Dimitri’ called out ‘I love you’ to one of them. His words also emboldened me to say what needed to be said – that these lovely people were welcome and we wanted them to stay.
The story came together quickly after that. It occurred to me that it could take the shape of the classic 1940s Frank Capra movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, where a generous-hearted character comes to doubt his worth but is redeemed when shown the difference he has made to other people’s lives.
I was thrilled when Maisie agreed to illustrate the book – I had admired her artwork for a while and I knew that she would be the right person to show visually the tenderness and vulnerability that the story needed. Maisie came to the nursery for two days to sketch in the early stages of making the book, and she has captured beautifully the life and heart of the nursery, from the ladybird cushions to the children’s pictures hanging from pegs on a clothesline. The teacher in the book is exactly like the real teacher!
My favourite spread in the book is the deliciously blue-toned bedtime scene, with the warm light falling on Dimitri’s bed from the landing as his mum tucks him in. “You’re my best, best boy,” she tells him – this line came from my son when he was little and told me I was his “best, best Mummy”!
The book is also published in Italy by La Margherita Edizioni as Io Ti Voglio Tanto Bene, and will be published in the US in 2020 by Candlewick Press.