by Jane Porter
When I wrote ‘The Boy Who Loved Everyone’, I couldn’t possibly have imagined that it would end up in hot demand from schools welcoming children back to a strange new post-Covid socially-distanced reality. It’s sad to think that the exuberant piles of children in Maisie Paradise Shearring’s wonderful illustrations are now a distant memory, as children must learn to play together without touching. But I’m also very happy to think that the book has been used around the world to help all those heading back into reception classes understand that there are lots of different ways to show love and affection – many of which are just as effective from two metres away!
The book began its life around the time of the referendum on the UK leaving Europe, which does seem a lifetime ago now. I visit a local nursery once a week to run an art and storytime session, which over the years has been a source of joy and also a well of inspiration. Around that time there was a boy at the nursery who really did say “I love you” to everyone – and it was interesting and touching to see how children and adults responded in a variety of different ways, some with a smile and others with faint bafflement. At the class after the referendum result, there was an atmosphere of terrible sadness from the lovely nursery staff, who were from all over Europe and must have been feeling very unwelcome. Then the boy said “I love you” to one of them and the whole mood changed. He was from Greece, and I wanted to make sure that the character in the story had a non-English name too to reflect how important and enriching it is to welcome people from all over the world to this country.
I wrote the story quickly, and borrowed a little bit from the plot of the classic movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – I wanted to show how much difference ordinary kindness can make in the world. The book does seem to have struck a chord with a lot of people – it’s great to see teachers using it in the classroom, many parents has told them it’s brought a tear to their eye and most importantly of all, I have heard of lots of children really enjoying it. I know they love spotting the glorious everyday details in Maisie’s illustrations – she came to the nursery and spent two days sketching, so every detail is true to life including the teacher who is exactly like the real teacher, the wonderful Olive!
I’ve been on bookshop and school visits with the book (although sadly this was brought to an abrupt halt by Covid) and have had lots of fun spreading the message of the book. One activity that I love doing with children inspired by the book is getting them to invent a collective story based on the ones that start and close The Boy Who Loved Everyone. I get them to tell me the story while I draw: of the magic teapot, the dragon and the volcano, or the story of the mountain, the frog and the rabbit who loved everyone – and the imagination that this unleashes is fabulous! There’s a video where I explain this a bit more on my You Tube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMZTLMnAtvY&t=5s
Super-teacher Andrew Moffatt has created some lesson plans based on the book (at no-outsiders.com), and I’ve also made a video to support this, which talks about the book in the context of returning to school in these strange times. You can watch ‘Back to School With The Boy Who Loved Everyone’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4oV7fm0EJc&t=9s
I am really thrilled to be collaborating with Maisie and Walker Books again on a new book, so watch this space!
The Boy Who Loved Everyone is published by Walker Books and available to purchase from all good booksellers.
Any views or opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.