A special feature on Toby Little author of Dear World, How Are You?
Reading changes lives. We hear that saying quite a lot, it's on book vouchers in the shops, on posters in schools, on pictures shared on social media, looking to inspire us. In our case, reading changed our lives rather dramatically!
When Toby was five years old, he brought home a book from school, called "A Letter to New Zealand
" (by Alison Hawes). It describes the journey a letter takes. Toby hadn't heard of New Zealand, so we looked it up on a map. Then we went to bed. The next morning, walking to school, Toby asked if he could write a letter to New Zealand, followed almost immediately, with the confidence and enthusiasm of a 5-year-old: "Can I write a letter to every country in the world?
What follows is a long story, which we'll have to cut short! Five letters got written, then 10, then 15, then 20...and Toby wasn't stopping. The early letters are about two sentences long, each letter taking nearly an hour to write. For each letter, we look up the country or area, and Toby asks questions which are of interest to him. So, a letter might ask "are sultanas called sultanas because they are for the sultan?
", or it might ask "are you ever scared of going to school?
Somewhere around 40 letters, we started to realise that he really wasn't going to quit. Somewhere around 100, we thought that it might actually be possible. It took Toby just over four months, many, many hours, several pencils and a lot of questions to write to every country in the world. The responses told us of magical places where people shook out their shoes to check for scorpions, of elaborate greeting rituals, of research projects all over the world (including the South Pole), and how children and adults live their lives.
When Toby asked a class of 5-year-olds in Ashgabat about their local monuments, they organised a class trip to explore them. When Toby asked about local food, we got sent a recipe, which we made and tasted, trying to find poffertje pans and purple yam (not for the same recipe!) We ended up reading books by international children's authors, danced around the house to Brazilian music, watching online videos of traditional Zulu dances and practised out Xhosa clicks...our family life turned into one great adventure of armchair exploration.
People joined the journey via Toby's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/writingtotheworld
), and in May 2015, we got an email we never expected. In essence, it said "Hi, this is Penguin Publishers...we heard about your project - would you like to write a book?
" - only they said it more eloquently. Choosing letters for the book was both fun and difficult - there were so many! Together, we tried to find a balance of continents, countries, ages, jobs, and topics. The result got published in "Dear World, How Are You?
" in March 2016, starting a whole new chapter in Toby's journey. People are getting touch
telling us they use Toby's book in their classrooms, read it with their children, or they read it themselves, when they want to remember that, right at the bottom of it, the world is a beautiful place, with amazing, kind and caring people in it.
When Lovereading created and shared an image
of Toby's book with international monuments and landmarks, it sparked the idea of Toby's book "seeing the world", and people have started to share pictures of "Dear World, How Are You?" out and about.
Did we ever think it would come to this? Not in a million years. Right at the very start, Toby said he wanted to make the world a better place - because, he reasoned, if we know more about the world and other people, we care more. Toby dedicated his book "To everybody who helped me with my project, and to every child with a big dream." Maybe we all need to dream a little bit bigger.