The tenth anniversary is being linked with World Children’s Day on 20th November.
YCW spoke with the instigator and editor of this project, which has helped so many over the years. Paul Nash is the head of the chaplaincy team at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Victoria Beech is a freelance writer and regular contributor to YCW.
Premier Youth and Children’s Work: How did the series come about?
Paul Nash: The publisher Christian Education had a series which was really quite progressive. It was called Teddy Horsley and featured a little teddy bear in booklets about the size of a phone. I was thinking of using this character for a new book to help children facing tough situations in hospital. But even though the author was keen, the publishers weren’t sure Teddy was the right way forward for us and asked how I would feel about my own series. So we pitched some book ideas, and they introduced us to Victoria and it started from there.
YCW: How did you edit the books?
Victoria Beech: I visited Paul at the children’s hospital and to be honest came home a bit traumatised having met a lot of really sick babies and young children with tubes! There was a network of paediatric chaplains which Paul helps organise and we asked them: “What do you need when you’re going around talking to people on the ward?” And I think they came up with 27 ideas! In the end we decided on four books – one theological idea per book.
I found an illustrator who I thought would work really well for the topic. We decided we wanted to communicate to two to seven-year-olds, mainly because the siblings of children at children’s hospitals tend to be in that age group and also because there’s really there was nothing on the market for them.
The writer’s job is really to only communicate in words, what can’t be communicated through illustration. And so the illustrator’s work was really important. I wrote the books backwards and forwards between this group of experts on sickness, death and grieving, and the illustrator.
PN: We triangulated three things: faith, age and the condition of the child. And I think we achieved in each of the four books.
VB: We asked the question: how does a child experience theology? We wanted a child in the story, rather than say an animal, because children of that age are not very good at abstract stuff. We didn’t want them to jump over the leap of “Am I like the badger or like the rabbit?” So we chose to have a child in each story.
For example, in one of the books the child sits with their grandpa and they talk about how in heaven, Jesus is making us a new body. They both have a thought bubble coming out their head, and the child’s thought bubble is of their sibling who’s currently terminally ill, with a new body looking happy without tubes. The grandpa’s thought bubble is him without a stick, without his hearing aid, having a bit of a dance! So what we want to keep it real, but also model really good ways of how you communicate with children.
YCW: Which was the toughest to work on?
VB: Sam and his Special Book. It’s all about a child who is life limited, which means he’s going to die of the disease he has. We don’t go into any specifics so that it could apply to lots of different children. The book explores the ideas and meaning around when Jesus says: “I’m going to prepare a place for you.”
We describe Sam and he’s got a book that’s all about his life. It’s very practical, modelling how you can create memories with a child that are going to be good for them to process their life, and also good for you to have after they’re gone.
The book talks about the fact that Jesus is preparing a room for you, that’s just perfect for you. As Sam draws these rooms for his different family members, he’s not sure what his room is going to be like. We purposefully left that empty because then it allows you to immediately say to a child or to the adult: “What might you have in your room? What might your room in God’s big house be like?” And it’s deeply profound thinking about what God might be preparing for you.
At the very end of that book, I think, is probably one of my favourite images where Sam is standing at a door, and he’s opening a dark door and behind it is his light coming out of the door, and he doesn’t have his tubing anymore. And he’s quite clearly going into God’s house. It’s just beautiful.
PN: I was working with a lad who was twelve using this book. I explained that it may be a bit young for him. He looked at the book and said: “I think I’d quite like a bar in my room!” There were lots of things he hadn’t done in his life, and he figured ‘having a drink’ might be something in the life to come!
VB: We have video versions of all the books and were delighted that Bear Grylls very kindly donated his time and energy into narrating them, apparently on set in the wilds of New Zealand!
YCW: Why is the series called Held in Hope?
PN: We hadn’t thought of a series title and so at the end of the process I brought together the team in a room, just off our education centre in the Children’s Hospital. I asked them to visualise a poorly dying or bereaved child in the midst of us. And what would that child want to say to us? What would we want to say to that child? And what would Jesus in that child be talking about?
In the process of discussion somebody said: “He wouldn’t say anything. He would just hold them.” So these three simple, profound words came together: held in hope.
As part of the anniversary celebrations there will be a Facebook Live gathering on Monday 22nd November on the GodVenture Facebook page.
The four books focus on different issues that our children might encounter and are written through Joe, Maya, Sam and Josh’s perspectives. Each of the books include helpful notes for parents, including questions and activities to use with young children and information of other resources and organisations. You can get hold of the books here.
Jesus Still Loves Joe
This book explores a young child’s experience of being a bereaved sibling and how important it is for such children to know that God loves them no matter how they feel.
Maya Goes to Hospital
Maya discovers that Jesus is with her everywhere she goes, even in hospital.
Sam and his Special Book
This story explores Sam’s experience of being life limited and shows how important it is for such children to know that that Jesus is preparing a place especially for them and that they will always be remembered.
Josh Stays in Hospital
Josh often has to stay in hospital and discovers that Jesus is with him and will help him.
To further help engage children, each of the stories have been made in to four five-minute cartoons which have been voiced by Bear Grylls– they are free to use and available on YouTube.