As Britain went through the initial throes of the coronavirus outbreak in March, Tomos Roberts’s work as a freelance filmmaker and spoken word poet dried up. He moved home and began helping to homeschool his seven-year-old twin siblings, and in doing so, he came up with a rhyme about what he calls The Great Realization. His poem about the world before and after the pandemic became a video that garnered the attention of tens of millions, hailed by the likes of actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Kristen Bell. Now it is slated to become a picture book, set for release on September 1 by HarperCollins.
“Creating this piece came from a desire to offer up an optimistic outlook amid a time of great strain and difficulty,” Roberts told PW. “I felt like the virus had, quite understandably, given a knock to even the most staunchly optimistic perspectives and I wanted to try to find a reason for people to be hopeful of a future after this pandemic.”
The story is presented from an unspecified future time, looking back on a hurried, dehumanizing world bent on environmental destruction. The arrival of the virus is seen as the first “great realization” that began to shift away from that earlier path toward a humanity marked by deeper engagement with one another and respect for the planet.
For Roberts, whose work has simultaneously been in the realm of poetry and film, the book’s illustrated format is the culmination of a vision. The artwork, created by Kate Greenaway Medal nominee Nomoco, “breathes life into this story from the perspective of another creative individual,” Roberts said. “Suddenly moments in the story have come to life for me in a new way.”
Collaboration and a spirit of artistic creation are part of a broader message Roberts hopes will arise from the story of the book’s creation as a simple poem told from one sibling to another. “I think the world needs creative expression in all forms,” he said. “We live in a world of individuals with talents that, if shared, can bring so much comfort, hope and emotion to people who are in need of that deep catharsis. Artists, musicians, actors, dancers, singers, comedians, poets and a million others whom I have not mentioned, are, in my opinion, giving us the fuel we need to be competent and good in this world.”
Holding onto that vision and ensuring that the world does not return to business-as-usual is a concern for the poet, who sees the urgent desire for change and renewed hope that accompanied the initial, tragic arrival of the virus, now slipping away as it persists. “I feel like with each passing month, these types of optimistic messages have become even more necessary,” Roberts said. “We live in a world in which we are never short of reasons to feel confused, scared or angry and if there is anything I can do to alleviate even a modicum of this, then I will be doing my job.”
The success of this story is a call, he believes, for others to join in by creating even more art. “I would love to live in a world where the value structure was such that many more people felt compelled to express themselves without judgement or ridicule,” he said. “I hope that children can see more and more examples of people doing this and will find their own voices. I think that would benefit us all.”