Stephen Savage’s latest picture book, And Then Came Hope, represents a heartwarming meshing of past and present, of nonfiction and fiction. Released this month by Holiday House’s Neal Porter Books, it tells a story based on the SS HOPE, a 20th-century American hospital ship, and delivers a message of hope and healing that resonates deeply today. To elevate the topic of child health and wellness, the publisher is partnering with Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian organization dedicated to carrying on the legacy of the historic ship by providing health care, training, and resources in countries affected by marginalized health systems, health crises, conflicts, and natural disasters.
Honoring the legacy of the hospital ship, And Then Came Hope depicts a cheerful, anthropomorphized ship tending to the needs of ailing vessels: she warms shivering Submarine with a blanket, treats Ferry’s fever, and cures Aircraft Carrier’s cough. In an afterword, Savage chronicles the story of the real-life vessel, which as the USS Consolation served as a hospital ship during World War II. After the war, she was refitted and updated to become the country’s first peacetime floating hospital. Renamed the SS HOPE (an acronym for Health Opportunities for People Everywhere), the state-of-the-art, 250-bed medical center was launched on September 22, 1960, when the ship left San Francisco and steamed across the Pacific to Indonesia. For the next 14 years, its crew brought health care, training, and supplies to countries around the world until the ship was retired in 1974.
In a new century, during a global health crisis, the sight of a contemporary counterpart of the SS HOPE gave float to Savage’s idea for And Then Came Hope. “For some time, well before the current pandemic, I had wanted to create a book saluting first responders, doctors, and nurses, since my family and I have dealt with so many of these heroes over the years,” the author explained. “But I had been struggling with how to talk about health care workers in a way that would be uplifting, inspiring, and accessible to young children. It is very tricky to do a message book without making it too deliberate or hard-hitting. I wanted to find a way to take a symbolic approach.”
The Brooklyn resident serendipitously found his inspiration when the hospital ship USNS Comfort made a dramatic arrival in New York Harbor in late March 2020 to deliver aid to the Covid-ravaged city. “When I saw the powerful image of the Comfort in New York, I knew how I would do the book,” he said. “There is such symbolism there, representing a long and comforting tradition of hospital ships dating back to the Civil War.”
Forging a Partnership
While researching the history of medical vessels, Savage learned about Project HOPE and contacted the organization. “The members of this group have so much pride in the history and legacy of the ship,” Savage said. “I knew right away what the title of my book would be. It was heartening to learn how the SS HOPE was such a goodwill ambassador and powerful symbol in addition to providing medical care. The organization’s very helpful archivist read And Then Came Hope and gave the book her blessing, which was so nice to receive. The group has really embraced the book, and I am so pleased that we have the opportunity to work with them.”
To commemorate their partnership, Holiday House and Project HOPE are collaborating on several projects. “The Project HOPE team is very passionate about supporting And Then Came Hope, and we worked together to find the best ways to connect their dedicated audience with the book,” said Michelle Montague, executive director of marketing at Holiday House. The campaign kicked off on May 4, when Savage participated in a Facebook Live with Project HOPE’s donor relations and stewardship manager Grace Duggan. Later this month, the author will record an episode of Holiday House’s podcast, The Guest Book, with Cinira Baldi, v-p, chief development and communications officer of Project HOPE. And a Zoom donor event hosted by the group’s senior technical officer, Eden Ahmed, and editor Neal Porter is scheduled for June 2. A “wellness activity kit” will also be available online.
“We are excited about Stephen’s book and featuring Project HOPE’s mission,” Baldi said. “At a time when young people have been so deeply affected by this pandemic and mental health issues are on the rise, this book begins a conversation for parents, caregivers, and teachers to have with our children. Most importantly, it gives them hope and inspires a foundation of resilience for our future.”
Promoting Ongoing Hope and Healing
Though And Then Came Hope was conceived and created while Covid began to cast its dark shadows on the world, its message is as pertinent today—and beyond. “I like to think I publish books for the long haul,” Porter said. “We began working on this book when everyone was trapped in lockdown, and we wanted to create a story that spoke to the moment but also would endure and speak to any kid in need of comfort and help at any point in time. The final words of the book—“Hope would always be there”—is a message that is important no matter when you are reading the book.”
Savage also underscored the timelessness and continuing relevance of the book he began “at a time of crisis.” More than a year later, he noted, “We are now dealing with a different crisis that is much more difficult than hunkering down in lockdown. So many kids are dealing with loneliness and mental health wellness and the long, drawn-out aftereffects of the trauma. I hope that this story will get a conversation started with kids—and that the boats can be used to help them identify their feelings and deal with uncertainty. Hope is a very effective way of dealing with uncertainty.”
And Then Came Hope by Stephen Savage. Holiday House/Neal Porter Books, $18.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-8234-4518-9