Love Grows Everywhere began in 2018 as little more than a rhythm in my head, calling for words that might fit with the beat. Back then, it was called ‘Love Lives Everywhere’, a loose idea about love being welcome in all homes. I soon hit a creative block, however, and had to change direction.
The theme of plants and growth came later, rescuing the book from the ‘abandoned’ pile. But in remembering all of this today, it strikes me that both versions of the story have the idea of belonging at their heart. We talk of ‘home’ mostly as a place where we belong, where we put down roots and feel grounded. It’s a place where we can contribute, making a difference for those who live with us or near us, as well as for ourselves.
Plants, too, have a profound relationship with the spot on which they grow. Sunlight, rainfall, soil conditions, neighbouring plants and animals … all these things create a delicate web, a finely balanced ecosystem – a kind of belonging in itself.
In Love Grows Everywhere, Tisha Lee’s joyous illustrations say all those things that the minimal text cannot. They show the colour, bustle and heartbeat of a diverse and thriving community. But if, like plants, we also need certain conditions to help us grow, then it follows that we may need some time in one place before we feel like we truly belong.
The little boy in the story who moves into the community was not part of my initial plan for the book. Instead, he emerged from the crucial (and enjoyable) discussions between the project’s editor, designer, Tisha and myself. The boy’s journey is a path towards belonging, and we see it most clearly in the montage of vignettes towards the end of the book – almost a time-lapse sequence in which his friendship flourishes with the little girl in the story.
Friendships can’t be forced. Some never get off the ground. Others get too far ahead of themselves, falter, and take time to find their way again. Even if the boy character came later, the notion that relationships involve risk felt important from the start. To have a chance of belonging, we first have to show up as ourselves. This can feel scary. It’s a choice we make each day to be authentic with others. There’s always the risk of rejection.
Something I feel very proud of is the diversity in the book. But it goes without saying that where there’s difference, there can also be misunderstandings or conflicting views. We don’t see conflict in the story, but there’s sufficient grit in Tisha’s well-observed characters and locations for it to feel possible.
One of the lines in the book is: ‘If we’re brave, perhaps we’ll dare to show how much we really care’. This has always felt like a powerful moment in the story to me, and I’ve noticed others comment on it too. Like the little boy, each character in the community will have had times when they needed to be brave, digging deep in order to be true to themselves, or to help another do the same. Without that bravery, how do we connect as a community? How else can we belong?
Adults will easily recognise this aspect of the story, but I hope the book triggers new conversations and helps young children begin to grasp it too.
Love Grows Everywhere by Barry Timms and Tisha Lee is published by Frances Lincoln Publishers (Quarto)