It started as a clattering, maybe an old pot being bashed with a wooden spoon? Maybe a dustbin lid being whacked with an empty bottle of pop? I open the window to my study and the noise deepens there are shouts and whoops and cheers within it all hanging in the air from a raucous applause that seems to be floating on the wind.
This is how the NHS clap would come to me every Thursday evening during the height of lockdown. Each time it came I would open my window and add my own clap to the applause feeling part of something bigger than me, something important, a mass expression of gratitude.
In my latest picture book illustrated by the amazing Sam Usher I wanted to capture something of the feeling and energy of the NHS Clap, an event which has left its mark in the beautiful representations of rainbows drawn by children adorning windows on every street you happen to pass. I found it quite striking that it was the youngest among us that have created the visual record of our huge feelings of gratitude towards the NHS and also all the other key workers that have allowed some semblance of normality to continue as they work in shops stocking shelves, on our streets clearing bins, in our restaurants and cafes, schools and hospitals.
These window-captured rainbows and the choral Thursday rounds of applause came together to inspire the story that sees Tatenda – a Zimbabwean name meaning thank you- trigger a huge colourful Thank You. A thank you that drifts out of his house and goes on a journey around his local community affecting and being affected by the wonderful workers it meets on the way; sweetening by the bakers, growing bolder as it passes doctors and singing by the dustbin men.
In many ways it mirrors what I have seen in my own community where people have always been ready with a smile despite having to wait in long queues in the supermarkets or be sent through strange doors and hand wiping rituals in shops and cafes. Everyone has always had a Thank You ready on their lips and that simple word has made these changes easier to contend with. Whilst at the same time recognising that the risk taken by those on working on the front line serving and helping hundreds of people everyday.
My hope is that the book will show younger children the power of gratitude which not only emboldens the receiver but also empowers the giver. I’m also thrilled that three per cent of the profits from the book are being donated to Groundwork, so Tentenda’s story will also directly benefit children across the UK.
During these difficult times we have all had to learn new ways to live and what has been incredibly clear is that the best way that we can overcome all difficulties is by working together with love and acceptance and gratitude in our hearts.
Guest post by Joseph Coelho