Fred Small, a singer-songwriter and former Unitarian minister, introduces one of his classic songs to a new generation via a picture book to be published by Nosy Crow in 2023.
“Everything Possible,” which Small wrote in 1983, is a lullaby that expresses unconditional love and assures listeners of their freedom to live proudly, boldly, and according to their own personal truths. The picture book adaption includes illustrations by Alison Brown and a QR code that allows readers to hear a new recording of the song.
PW spoke to Small and Brown about the origins of the song, its continued relevance, and the experience of transforming the lyrics into a picture book.
Fred, tell me about the story behind the song “Everything Possible.” What was your initial inspiration for writing it?
Small: In March of 1983, while on tour in the Pacific Northwest, I visited my friend Janet Peterson, cellist and singer in the women’s music group Motherlode and a lesbian mom. Over tea in her Seattle home, Janet told me how her nine-year-old son Aaron was struggling with peer pressure to conform to masculine stereotypes—to be tough, cool, and unemotional. Might I consider writing a song, she asked, that would let him know he didn’t have to fit that mold, that he could choose his own path? The next day, on a rainy bus ride to my next gig at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., “Everything Possible” came to me. The song really took off when the Flirtations, the iconic gay male a cappella group, picked it up, performing it at clubs, concerts, and Pride events on their tours. It became their most frequently requested song.
After 40 years, the lyrics to “Everything Possible” feel as relevant as ever. What do you think makes the song so beloved across generations?
Small: The challenges of gender conditioning can be as daunting today as they were in 1983, in some ways more so. (Go into any big chain store and check out the difference between “boys” and “girls” clothing and toys!) While many children and young people now have unprecedented choices, forces of reaction agitate to keep them confined in the old boxes. Children who grew up with “Everything Possible” in the 20th century are now singing it to their children in the 21st!
I think many adults still resonate with the line “I will sing you a song no one sang to me.” How many of us were blessed with parents who sang us into possibility—who truly honored our dreams, our autonomy, our sense of self?
What do you feel Alison Brown’s illustrations bring to the text?
Small: When Alison sent me her first artwork for the book, I emailed her. “Your illustrations touch me deeply. They beautifully capture both the whimsy and gravity of the song.” I love how Alison’s pictures convey a sense of both safety and adventure—the reassuring comfort of home, the allure of a diverse and magical world, and the courage it takes to be oneself.
What do you hope a new generation of children glean from the book and song?
Small: That each of us is loved inherently and unconditionally. That we can resist pressure to conform and become who we truly are. That while the world can be scary sometimes, it’s resplendent with beauty, excitement, friendship, and community.
Alison, what first drew you to Fred’s song “Everything Possible?”
Brown: I sing with Leeds People's Choir. Around 2015, we joined together with Out in Tune, an LGBTQ+ choir from Bradford. Our musical director, Lorraine Cowburn, taught us “Everything Possible.” I thought it was really beautiful and positive, but a few years went by before I heard it again. The second time I sang it, it resonated with me even more strongly and it didn’t leave! I think that, partly, this was because quite a few of the children I know had begun to reach the teenage years and I had a new perspective on how exciting but fragile and challenging that stage of life can be. That made me think about how important it is, as you grow up, to hear powerful messages of love and acceptance in becoming whoever you want to be.
The story of how the book came to be published is somewhat unusual. What can you share?
Brown: The more I listened to “Everything Possible,” the more I felt that its message was very much needed, and I thought it would make a beautiful picture book. I knew that, as a song, it was already widely loved and shared. I’d even been told by grannies that they were learning to sing it to their grandkids! My hope was that a picture book could be a new medium to complement it, and perhaps reach a new audience.
So, I worked up the courage to email Fred. I had no idea if he would think I was crazy or would trust me with his song. Very fortunately for me, after a chat on Zoom, he said yes!
Your illustrations are lush and beautiful, but also cozy and warm. Can you share a little about your creative process? What inspires you as you’re creating your images?
Brown: The longest stage of each illustration is creating the ingredients for each scene: characters; elements of landscape; small objects; natural forms and textures. I draw or paint (or cut out or print—whatever feels right!) numerous versions of them until exactly the right one emerges. I made lots of the drawings outside—in the park, at the allotment, or on trips to the coast. Some things are from memories or imaginary convergences of real people and situations. For the final illustrations I digitally collage and layer all the pieces together.
It’s a process that doesn’t have a predictable end point. But the main thing is for all the elements to come together and convey the right emotion—that’s when I know it’s done!
I knew that I wanted nature to be central to the book, and the idea of things growing was an important theme. The line, “the love you leave behind when you’re done” can have so many meanings, but I imagined a garden as a project of love sent into the future.
The people in the book are based on the ones I see around me in my neighborhood. In the early stages of the book, everything was in limbo because of the pandemic, so I spent days hanging around parks just watching and sketching. It was especially affecting at that time to be reminded of how close connections between people are essential.
All those things were important, but, most of all, my inspiration came from wanting to create a world for this child that was not a "perfect place" but was just suffused with all the things that the song wishes for them—love, security, joy, freedom. I wanted these things to radiate out of the pictures, as they do from the words.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
Brown: "Take away" is a really good way of putting this question. My hope is that children will have this book read to them by the people they love most and that, as they grow up, they will remember it in two ways: as Fred's song, with the music in their heads, as well as those familiar voices. Moments from songs and books, especially from childhood, stay with you forever, and what better message than “Everything Possible” to carry with you as you head off into the world!