Hope is the thing by Johanna Bell & Erica Wagner

cover image

I love picking up a new book and reading the publication page and the blurb learning about its background before I begin to read. I always feel excited reading about a book and being alerted to some of the things in the author and illustrator’s minds as they worked. To find a poem by Emily Dickinson quoted on the acknowledgement page and referenced as a main influence in this story piqued my interest and had me seeking out more of her poems.

The poem quoted, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’, underlines that ever-present impetus deep in the soul, a hope that keeps us all going. A fitting introduction to a book which grew out of the 2019 bushfires when hope seemed lost. A young girl wanders through the book, as each line begins, ‘Hope is..’ then relates that hope to a bird or animal affected by the fires. So hope is a kookaburra singing to the sun, or an emu on the run, a song on a mound, a cockie with a mischievous beak, an albatross taking off, a curlew migrating south. Each page has one or two lines to read aloud and ponder, and children may like to make up their own ‘hope is …’ line to add to the book.

The illustrations are marvellously executed, drawing the eyes to the multitude of media used in the collages. Again a blurb on the publication page points out the way the illustrations were created, and I found it hard to resist taking another look to track each down. The birds pictured fly against a sweep of watercolour across each page, the images made up of old artwork, scripts of paper, pieces torn from books, images of leaves, along with gouache, acrylic and ink.

I had to find examples in the illustrations and like re-reading Emily Dickinson’s poems, this added another layer of interest to this positively glowing  book.

To find hope where it seems all is lost is an underlying theme throughout the book, as the birds resume their natural routines after the fire has passed, watching the regeneration of the landscape, offering help to the child who watches them.

Themes: Bushfires, Regeneration, Environment, Collage, Hope.

Fran Knight