Olivia Hope is an Irish writer with a special love for children’s fiction. A former record-breaking athlete, she competed internationally representing Ireland. With twenty years' experience teaching children, she has worked with all ages in the creative arts; as a creative associate with the Irish Arts Council on the Creative Schools programme, and as a creative learning assistant with Siamsa Tíre (the National Folk theatre of Ireland).
Inspired by the vivid green landscape of her home, Olivia Hope wrote Be Wild, Little One as a way of capturing the excitement, adventure, peace and wonder that engagement with nature brings. She lives in the South West of Ireland with her husband and sons. Be Wild, Little One is her first book.
Be Wild, Little One (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
Be Wild, Little One, is a poetic, richly illustrated story that celebrates the joy of being free in nature.
The sweeping landscapes and uplifting text in this debut from Olivia Hope, beautifully illustrated by Daniel Egneus, will encourage children and their families to seek out and explore the natural world around them, drawing inspiration from the wildlife and plants they discover and encouraging an early love of wilderness.
We asked author Olivia Hope to tell us more about Be Wild, Little One, and what inspired her own love of the natural world. She also reads from the book in this short video.
Q&A with Olivia Hope
1. What brought you into writing for children?
I've always worked with children - from being a teenage babysitter, to working in creches and summer sports camps. I qualified as a teacher of PE and English and have always been happiest working with children over the last 20 years.
Even now I work as a creative learning assistant in the National Folk theatre of Ireland - so the physicality of moving from PE and creativity from English very naturally spilled into how I engage with younger children.
When I had my own children, I found that my boys really enjoyed books and if I didn't have a book in my hand I was making up stories for them. I don't think that was ever an actual decision to be a writer, it possibly stemmed more me not wanting to forget what felt like a fun story to tell my boys, so I simply wrote it down.
2. Can you tell us about your new picture book, Be Wild, Little One, and what inspired it?
I live in a very beautiful corner of Ireland. My hometown of Killarney sits on the edge of one of three lakes; they are nestled at the foot of the tallest mountains in Ireland, and the rivers that run through flow all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
I'm very lucky to be surrounded by such awe inspiring nature. Growing up here and seeing my boys grow up here, made me want to capture that connection with nature and how good it is for our whole being - physically mentally creatively socially. Getting outside and being close to nature transforms your mind, body and soul - it makes you feel good about yourself and that is the essence of the story.
Scenes from nature - beautifully illustrated by Daniel Egnéus - show a small child absolutely free and wild and engaging in their surroundings. Be wild, little one is an anthem of bravery, it's a song about living and valuing our world.
3. Do you feel a strong connection with the natural world in your everyday life?
I walk my dog twice a day - once at around 6.30 am and then later with my sons. We live on the outskirts of a village in the southwestern corner of rural Ireland. I can tell you when the first swallows arrive, when the first hawthorns have blossomed and whether the daffodils have popped up earlier or later than usual.
I have this appreciation because of my mother, My summers were spent outside - collecting wild flowers, pressing them and then sticking them into a book and learning their names. My mom is still very connected to nature - she's the type of person that can decipher birdsong and makes wild blackberry jam. Our conversations seem to happen outdoors or around nature, I can even see it as something that my boys have picked up from her.
4. Why did you want to share this message with young children and their families?
I wrote this story before the pandemic, very simply because of my love of wild places, but since the pandemic I know many young children (and parents) might be worried about the big wide world and it feels like this story carries another meaning in 2022.
The story is a reminder of how much the natural world can give to us - all we have to do is step out into it and engage. Whether noisily running down a grassy hill or quietly observing tiny shells in the sand - this world is bountiful in natural treasure that will only enrich our lives - so get out and be wild!
5. Why did you want to write it like a poem and how long did it take to complete the text?
I love reading stories that have refrain! It means that little children can join in with a natural rhythm. I especially love how a key phrase can stick with you for longer when it is gently repeated - ‘Be wild, little one' is a kind and reassuring mantra that we can say to our children and we can empower them to save themselves.
As with all stories, the idea and initial writing came quickly - which is the best part. However, there was much more content in the initial version and after some kind discussions with my lovely editor Alison Richie at Bloomsbury, we pared back the use of the refrain and selected lines that could work the best with Daniel's art.
6. Are there any activities around this book that you can suggest for teachers sharing the book in their classrooms, and for families at home?
Creativity in nature is something I'm really interested in - making nature collages either on the forest floor using moss, twigs, pebbles and leaves, or beach mandalas using pebbles, shells and stones is very satisfying and art creations left in situ are a lovely surprise for other folk that comes across it - take a look at Andy Goldsworthy and James Brunt for further inspiration.
7. What do you think of the illustrations by Daniel Egneus, and the magical twists he has given the images?
Nothing really prepared me for the cinematic nature of Daniel's art; there are broad, sweeping landscapes with a tiny child running with wolves, and then quiet sunny moments of reflection with the child is crouched on a golden beach, and everything in between! The colours are rich and deep, really conveying the dynamic majestic of the natural world's palette. The man is tremendous, and I am dumbstruck by his work.
8. Do you have any favourite spreads?
The penultimate spread has a child running in a lush green forest, with swooping swallows. It feels like any sunny summer's day from my childhood. Hiding in the shadows is a tiny deer which coincidentally our National Park in Killarney is full of. Perhaps this spread is my favourite because it makes me think of home, which was the original inspiration for this book.
9. Do you have any other picture books coming up? What are you working on currently?
I'm currently working on my second book which will be out next summer with Bloomsbury again called Little Lion Girl, which will be illustrated by the incredible Fiona Woodcock. I haven't seen any of her artwork art yet and I can't wait to see what her vision for this feisty little character is.
10. What kinds of activities do you enjoy when you're away from your desk?
I love being outside! I love long walks with my dog Rocco, and chatting with my friends and sisters, by any of the lakes, forests or narrow farm lanes around where I live. My eldest son is an animé officianado so we have been binge watching some great series in the last year. Or a long walk with friends or family followed by a cheese board is quite an excellent day in my books!