October ushers in a new month full of bright orange pumpkins and fall foliage… and hope, thanks to actor Alyssa Milano, who introduces the character of Hope Roberts in the first installment of her middle-grade series, Hope #1: Project Middle School. Milano teamed up with co-writer Debbie Rigaud, whose most recent book is the YA romcom Truly, Madly Royally, and illustrator Eric S. Keyes, an animator and character designer for the TV series The Simpsons.
Speaking with PW prior to her SRO appearance at this year’s Children’s Institute, Milano said, “All the seeds that are planted in your child are what cultivate a truly empathic and compassionate adult,” explaining why she felt compelled to create a book series featuring this spunky 11-year-old who wants to change the world.
Hope is indefatigable. She wants to be an astrophysicist. She loves swimming, Galaxy Girl comic books, and her two rescue dogs. She believes that it’s always a good day to champion a cause, defend an underdog, and save the future. Most of all, Hope believes in dreaming big. That’s why she’s enrolled in all of the advanced classes at her new middle school. She’s smart and confident in her abilities. But, though Hope seems strong on the outside, there’s another side of her, too: she’s just a regular girl trying to survive middle school.
Part of Hope springs from what Milano calls her own “love of civic responsibility,” which has manifested itself in myriad ways throughout her life. She speaks at schools across the country about the importance of voting and teaches children who aren’t even close to voting age how to fill out a ballot. Recently, she was recognized for popularizing the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter, and since 2003 she has been a national ambassador for UNICEF.
That love of civic responsibility is not just a public persona. Milano, who is the mother of a seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, also cited the importance of raising children who are “very aware of what’s going on socially, culturally, and even politically” as another impetus for the project.
Milano said that traveling the world on behalf of children makes her eager to eventually have an international audience for the book. “There is a real awakening when young people realize that there are other children throughout the world who have very distinct issues that pertain to where they were born,” she notes. Understanding world history and the specific struggles of different groups helps children develop empathy. “The thing I have taken away from my travels on behalf of children’s rights,” she said, “is that what ties everyone together is innate hope.”
Although this is her first work for children, Milano has written Safe at Home: Confessions of a Baseball Fanatic for adults and cowritten a graphic novel, Hacktivist #1. “I prefer to work collaboratively, not only because of personal time constraints, but also to be able to bounce ideas off of someone and get different perspectives,” she says. “To have someone you trust and who can help you figure out the nuance of a story is super important.” She also appreciates having professional writers help tackle the structural aspects of writing, since it’s something that she doesn’t do every day.
What Milano has trained for since her early days as a child actor is getting out in front of people, which she is excited to do on behalf of the series. “I’m hoping to meet as many people as possible: booksellers, teachers, readers,” she says. “I want to read from the book and inspire people to find hope within their hearts.” Milano begins that process with appearances in New York and Los Angeles.