Thomas Coram: The making of my story

Thomas Coram: Champion for Children tells the story of Thomas Coram, just a man who wanted things to change so children were safe and looked after.

It is also the history of how the first charity was created to look after children, and how it continues today, just called Coram.

The book has been made by two friends who met when they were nine years old in 1940. Robin wrote the words, and Albany made the drawings. They have worked together for 40 years. Here’s a video of them talking about the book.

In the book, Thomas Coram is shown with woolly hair and wearing a long red coat because this is how he is shown in the famous portrait of him by his friend William Hogarth. 

The drawings for the book were done by hand with pen and ink – not something a computer can do. Albany had to do many drawings, and he worked on it for many weeks.

Since the story of Thomas Coram is set in the past, but the work of the charity continues today, the style was chosen to be both friendly and timeless. 

The cover shows one group of children in the 18th century uniforms they wore in the Foundling Hospital School, and another group of children today, wearing our T shirts. 

All of the children are dancing to show that the work of Coram is about making things better, and that the work is not over.

There were many drawings before the final choice was made. Some didn’t make it into the book. This includes King George II in his bed thinking about whether to give his support to Thomas Coram.

Why do you think they were left out of the final version?

One reason was the comments from children. 

Many children helped to shape the story by reading the first draft and giving ideas on how it could be better.  Robin changed the words as needed.

Many children made good comments on the book:

“The bit about him going sailing when he was eleven. The idea of it is fun”

“Hearing about Thomas Coram’s early life, he sailed the sea like a pirate”

“When Harold the Giraffe was mentioned, he’s been to my school”

“When he said , ‘I found my sea legs’, because it is funny”

“The funny names the Foundlings got.  One was called Julius Caesar”

Teachers and parents also gave their ideas. Teachers told us that some words – like the word ‘foundling’ – might be new or difficult to understand, so we included a dictionary at the back. 

Others said that they might like to do more about the story at school, so we have created a School Assembly and lessons for years 5 and 6.

Parents told us that it is good to be able to discuss history and the ideas and feelings in the story, and to understand why the book was written. So we asked Peter Capaldi – famous as the actor who played Dr Who – to write an introduction to explain.

There are also practical things to consider when you create a book. 

When you print books, you have to print in multiples of 4 pages. You can print 28 pages or 32 pages but you cannot print 29 or there will be blank sides.

The size of the book is also important. Little books fit in your pocket and feel nice, but they may be too small to see the pictures. They’re also more likely to get lost.

It’s Thomas Coram’s 350th birthday, so a special larger and unusual size was chosen. But if it were too big, it might not fit on the shelf in the library, or it might be too heavy to hold.

Since the book is being sent to every primary school, it had to be strong and able to last so lots of children can enjoy it and so it looks nice for every reader. 

The cover has been treated with a laminated coating – like a film that is put on to the paper to make it shiny and thicker making it feel even more special.

Thomas Coram died in 1751, but the story isn’t over. His charity helps children every day. 

You can write your own story and make a book, or ask your teacher about the Assembly for schools.

Or email and tell us who you think is the champion for children today, so together we can continue the story.

If you would like to see the original drawings, you can ask your parents to make a visit to see the free exhibition Thomas Coram: Life and Legacy at the Coram Campus in London, 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday. It is a short walk from King’s Cross station and next to the Coram’s Fields playground. 

There will be a special reading of the story and other stories inspired by Thomas Coram at Coram on Tell a Story Day on Saturday 27th October.