"Keep hopeful!": Smriti Halls says goodbye as Writer in Residence

Published on: 08 March 2021 Author: Smriti Halls

We've absolutely loved having Smriti Halls as our Writer in Residence for the last six months! As her residency comes to an end, she shares some final inspiring words for us.

Smriti Halls holding a wooden rainbow heart

 

I’ve so enjoyed being BookTrust Writer in Residence and celebrating all that’s wonderful about books. As I come away from the residency my heart is full of hope.

It’s been a tough six months for many of us, but I feel I’ve been witness to the real power of words and language to keep us hopeful and knit us together. I’ve been lucky enough to shout about this to anyone who’ll listen – this has included the Daily Telegraph, Sky News, Radio 3... and even the poor BookTrust staff at their Christmas party (a real lockdown highlight for me - there was a Christmas jumper cookie decorating competition and everything!). And so I leave my post feeling full of positivity that if we bring books into our lives, books WILL equip us for life.

Here are five things I’ve explored, experienced and learned during my residency which I hope we’ll be able to hold onto as we move to a sunnier future.

Acknowledging the dark days and the dragons

Everyone struggles and it’s right to accept that. Giving space for our sadness is important. It’s also important to recognise that while sadness might be part of our story, it is NOT the whole story. We are surrounded by so much that can help - not least books, poems, songs and stories. I’ve been - and remain - amazed at the response to Rain Before Rainbows. It published at the start of my residency and has given a space for so many to process and talk about what’s difficult in life – but also to remember and celebrate all that’s good. I am grateful that it has been a help and hope it will continue to shine light into the dark places for always.

Illustration from Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Halls and David LitchfieldIllustration: David Litchfield

Being a rainbow for each other

We’ve seen incredible acts of kindness and community, and one such gem that I was lucky enough to be involved with was taking 30 children to sing in the gardens of an elderly people’s residence, during the brief window between lockdowns. Those young voices raised in song, spreading words of comfort and joy, was utterly moving and inspiring. I hope that we continue to reach out to one another and connect using words that remind us of how much we have in common. I especially hope we’ll carry on looking out for those who might feel alone – finding friendship across generations and building community. When the going gets tough we can reach out and be rainbows for one another.

Using words to stir us into action and bring change

There’s little that I’ve seen these six months that’s been more encouraging than the response to the Booktrust Christmas appeal. It was a privilege to be able to lend my voice to this - and to think of the difference those books will make in the lives of the recipients. The huge response from the public for this campaign shows just how important we know books are. But there's change needed within books too, to make sure our wonderful books, intended for all, really do represent and include all. While tremendous headway has been made in some areas of inclusion, there are sobering statistics on South Asian representation in children’s books and this is something that we must continue working to improve.

 Illustration from Not That Pet! by Smriti Halls and Rosalind Beardshaw

Illustration: Rosalind Beardshaw

Let’s carry on being compelled to spread positive action and social justice and speak up for each other – and our planet – in ways that really change lives.

Listening to the voices of children

A wonderful highlight of the residency was being able to run a BookTrust competition looking for Stories of Hope and Joy. What a privilege to listen to the ways that children spread positivity – through inventive words and pictures, humorous anecdotes, jokes old and new and moving stories showing great emotional depth. It reminds us how much we need to keep listening to children – they have such wisdom and encouragement to share. Their enthusiasm, sparkle and immense desire to solve problems is inspiring and life affirming and holds real hope for the future of our world.

Illustration from I'm Sticking With You by Smriti Halls and Steve Small

Illustration: Steve Small

Making time for one another – and books

The real beauty of the past six months has been the way that we’ve spent time together. Families have started walking together. With more opportunity for talking together. And we’ve kept sane with lots and lots of wonderful reading together which I believe binds us to one another in such meaningful ways. It's a joy that needn’t end once children are reading independently but something to treasure with tweens and teens just as much as with younger ones.  I hope that having had the opportunity to share this experience more frequently in recent months, we’ll never want to let it go.

Perhaps because I finish my residency launching a new book – Not That Pet! – and during the week of World Book Day, which is such a joyous celebration of reading, I feel particularly optimistic that we are, in fact, BONKERS about books. May this grow and grow.

Enormous thanks to the tremenous BookTrust family who have been so wonderful to work with. A big thank you to Axel Scheffler and Sarah McIntyre for joining me for a very special storytime. And thank you to everyone who has encouraged me and followed the blogs and vlogs. I hope to see you all soon, when… and apologies in advance… there WILL be hugs.

Lots of love,

Smriti

Follow Smriti on Twitter or see what she got up to as our Writer in Residence.

Meet our latest Writer in Residence

Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books.

Find out more