By her own admission, Brooklyn-based author and illustrator Sophie Blackall is an optimist, someone who can see the silver lining in just about any cloud. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and even the most glass-half-full of us felt the pressure. “When things looked particularly bleak, I started posting a list of things to look forward to on Instagram, because I needed to cheer myself up and wanted to feel less hopeless,” Blackall recalled. Its subscribers, in turn, published their own lists. “People baked muffins and delivered them to neighbors and first responders. They told me about things they had learned and things they wanted to learn. We did things, even though we looked forward to them.
You may recognize Blackall’s illustrations from his many picture books and early readers, including the Ivy & Bean series. She has won two Caldecott Medals, an annual honor for children’s book illustrators, once in 2016 for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear and again in 2019 for Hello Lighthouse. Perhaps you unknowingly watched his work during your 2011 subway ride, when his piece “Missed Connections” was included in the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. Her latest project, Things to Look Forward To: 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Every Day, evolved from her messages about the pandemic and is due out this spring from Chronicle Books.
The things Blackall looks forward to range from simple pleasures like spotting a rainbow or a flock of birds to activities like learning a new word or fixing a hole. Every page of the book reminds readers that even though the world sometimes seems bleak, there is always a tomorrow. Taken from the book, here is a selection of things we can all look forward to.
Kiss a friend:
It wasn’t until the pandemic, when I couldn’t hug anyone, that I realized how much I missed it. My friends and I hug to celebrate something good, and we kiss to sympathize when things go wrong. I hug my adult children and remember when they hold in my arms; I hug my parents and almost remember moving into theirs. I hug my bony ninety-two-year-old friend very gently, and I hug my friend’s giggling baby vigorously. And I look forward to their hugs in return.
Write a letter:
The pandemic has reminded many of us of the joy of mailing things to each other. We crave tactile connection. If we can’t see or touch each other, we can write something by hand and imagine it arriving in someone else’s hand. We send emails all the time, but when we sit down to write a letter, we think more of the person reading it. Will they tear it up and read it right away? Will they turn on the kettle and take their time? Will they respond?
My grandmother, who never went on vacation, used to say, “A change is as good as a vacation. Each time we visited him, we found the living room reconfigured. There is something to be said for moving furniture. For one thing, it forces you to sweep under the couch, and you might find something you thought was lost. It also makes you see things that had become invisible to you. It changes your point of view.
Make a list :
If you’re in a rut, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with gloom, if you’re exhausted and uninspired and in a bad mood, you can make a list of things to look forward to. Simple things, everyday things. Things that aren’t expensive. Things you can do without leaving home. Things that make you happy. Things you don’t want to take for granted. Things that may never happen, but are still fun to look forward to. And if you make such a list, you can share it with a friend, or with me, and maybe it will do us all good.
Share your list with Sophie Blackall, or simply follow her on Instagram @sophieblackall