Hope — anticipation and waiting and wanting — is a concept that may or may not be somewhat difficult for a child to explain.
In their picture book Hope is the Thing, a note from Johanna Bell and Erica Wagner explains that in the book they aim to ‘[speak] to the many ways hope presents in the world’.
Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem Hope is the Thing With Feathers, Johanna and Erica use their main character, a creative young girl, and many kinds of birds to help ‘create an imagined world filled with art and hope’.
The freedom and activity of birds offers a feeling of hope and exhilaration which the text of Hope is the Thing captures and celebrates beautifully. There are kookaburras singing, emus running, and pelicans patrolling. Mischievous cockatoos and the hungry ibis make themselves known. The birds featured offer insight into the wonderful birdlife we can experience.
The pictures in Hope is the Thing are created using mixed media collages which give wonderful texture, depth and movement, and the backgrounds are painted on paper. A note from illustrator Erica Wagner at the back of the book gives a bit more detail about the illustrations.
All the pictures are fantastic, however I particularly love the final two pictures, where the girl has dressed up as a bird, and a flock of birds is flying from her hand and out a window. Then you see the girl herself joining them as she flies on the back of a large bird.
A child’s innocence and the freedom of birds combine to create an uplifting story in Hope is the Thing.
Title: Hope is the Thing
Author: Johanna Bell
Illustrator: Erica Wagner
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, $24.99
Publication Date: 31 January 2023
For ages: 4 – 8
Type: Picture book