Kid Lit Talk: Christina Dendy and Katie Rewse on 'The Wall and The Wild'

by Lantana Publishing on September 16, 2021

It's the book birthday of The Wall and The Wild, a wonderful celebration of biodiversity and the natural world that highlights why we need diverse human communities, too. We asked author Christina Dendy and illustrator Clara Anganuzzi to share a bit about their creative process. Read on for some great insights!  

Christina: Hello, Katie! I'm excited to exchange some questions and answers with you and learn a little more about you and how you turned about 500 words into such a lovely book. I know that I had certain images in my mind as I wrote Ana’s story, but your illustrations were so bold, engaging and just perfect that they have supplanted whatever I envisioned. What did you see with your artist's eye when you first read the story? What made you want to illustrate The Wall and the Wild?

Katie: Hello Christina, I'm excited too! Thank you so much for your kind words about my illustrations. It was a huge privilege to have the opportunity to illustrate your wonderful story. When I first read the text for The Wall and the Wild, I was very excited as I loved the message, and I began to picture the changing environment within the story, as well as how the wall could look as it would grow throughout the pages. I love to draw nature, and was thrilled about the possibility of drawing surreal, vibrant flowers and plants, especially since I was told that I could use my artistic licence here. It was also exciting to picture how Ana could look, a small girl so dedicated to her task. 

As well as the environmental theme, and the celebration of diversity, I was also drawn in by the narrative itself. I was wondering how you came up with the idea?

Christina: I’m so glad you saw something in Ana’s story that inspired you! The idea came out of a big mixed-up kettle of stuff in my head. I had been thinking a lot about current events centered on discussions of a border wall in my country and related issues. I’ve actually always been fascinated by walls both as structures and symbols, in part because I spent four years of my childhood in what was then West Germany in the 1980s. My folks were in the military, Reagan was president, the Cold War was the defining narrative of international politics (and in many ways, our culture), and the Berlin Wall was a very real physical and symbolic barrier. Later, in middle school, I read Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” and was struck by the underlying themes and questions, ideas that I found so often mirrored in history and then contemporary public policy. That doesn’t sound like a children’s book, right? Well, somehow, years later, all those thoughts got stirred together with my love for gardens and wild spaces, and poof! One day, it all popped out as a story about a fastidious gardener determined to make things a certain way, what he (later, she) considered the right way, and building this huge wall to keep out threats while overlooking that something amazing was happening on the other side. The rest was a lot of revision, getting feedback, and so on. Also, I know this answer is already long but I feel like it’s important to say that these are just some of the seeds that sprouted the story for me. As an author, I have ideas I want to convey, but I also love that reading is about what readers find in a story, too. I don’t expect everyone to get the same exact message or experience from the story. 

Speaking of revision, as a writer, I go through a lot of "process." Ideas, drafts (lots and lots of these), character notes, even plot diagrams! What is your process as an illustrator like? How did you bring Ana, her garden and wall, and the Wild to life?

Katie: Yes, same here, quite a lot of time spent on development for the illustration too before the final artwork is completed. I usually begin with character design, and this can be quite a collaborative process with the publisher. I filled a few pages of ideas for how Ana could look, different hairstyles, features, clothing etc. and with the publisher's direction Ana began to appear! After this, I usually like to consider how the environments within a story could look. I loved the description of the setting in your text, and this brought lots of ideas to my mind right from the first time that I read it. I thought it was important to capture a dramatic change in the environment and decided that using shape and colour to enhance this would be fun. It was quite a playful process developing the environments. I had some great feedback from the publisher whilst working on the artwork, and they encouraged me to play further with light, which is something that I am less comfortable with in my work, but I really enjoyed it and hope that the final effect adds to the mood.

I'd love to know more about your writing process too. Did the text change much from the first draft, and did you receive any helpful feedback yourself during the development?

Christina: I love that you experimented with light! Light is an important part of the story because as the wall gets higher, it blocks out sunlight, which is something Ana’s garden needs. As for process, yes, the text changed a great deal. The underlying themes, the basic storyline and elements of the plot, those remained largely the same, but the characters to some extent the setting evolved as I worked. Ana actually started out as a sort of ogre, if you can believe it! Lots of digging into the story, getting feedback from critiques, these nudged me to keep tweaking and to play the “What If?” game. That game led me to Ana, and suddenly, the story clicked in a way that it hadn’t before. All the little things I couldn’t quite get to fit smoothly, once my ogre turned into Ana, they did. Despite any changes though, I like to think the heart of the story remained the same. Helpful feedback, yes—Remember to have fun. Remember to write to the reader, in this case, mainly children. Also, a popular adage among writers, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings, which means to cut or change things that you really love in a story. Sometimes we hold on to things that feel clever (or in Ana’s word, perfect) too tightly and it blocks the story trying to get out. Writing is a lot like gardening sometimes!

I felt like your illustrations really captured that heart of the story my words want to tell. They’re so vibrant, and have such a distinctive style in color, texture and layering. How did you develop your style as an artist? What tools do you use? (My daughter just asked me about this tonight, too, so I’m excited to share your answer. She and my son love art!)

Katie: Thank you! I primarily work in Photoshop using a drawing tablet but I sketch quite a bit on paper and use various found and made textures to layer into the digital work. I think my way of working just developed over time. Lots of practice and experimentation, stopping to think what I did and didn't like about the images, and then making tweaks and moving forward from there. 

The Wall and the Wild, I believe, is your debut picture book. What led you to write this book, and what other writing do you do? Also, how did you get into writing?

Christina: It is! Like many writers, I started as a reader. I love books and spent an inordinate number of hours as a child secreted with Alice, Nancy Drew, hobbits, the Grimm tales, Milo and Tock, Bastian Balthasar Bux, Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead, and more. It’s a passion that has continued into the present (except now I can’t keep up with my to-read stacks). Along the way, I started feeling the compulsion to write myself and just kept doing it though the types of writing varied over the years, and there were long stretches where I didn’t pursue publication of any sort. I wrote what I considered my first children’s story for my first child. I kept writing them for fun, and for my kids. Meanwhile, I got into educational publishing, which let me apply my love of history with teaching through text, and I think that, combined with my renewed love for picture books (thanks to so many trips to the library and reading with my kids) flicked a switch. I could write books for other kids! So then I got to work in earnest to learn the craft and market. As far as other writing, I still work on educational texts as a primary occupation, and I write poetry and other things from time to time. During the pandemic, I started keeping a sort of digital journal of “daily anecdotal poems.” It’s my way of meditating.

So, I imagine that just like I write things other than children's books, you probably make other types of art. What are other ways that art plays a role in your life? When did you know you would be an illustrator?

Katie: I didn't really know that I wanted to pursue a career as a children's book illustrator until I was studying Illustration at university. On my Art Foundation I found that I was really interested in how art could be used to communicate a message, and I enjoyed creating work for campaigns for causes that I believed in. Slowly my work became more character based and then I found that I was interested in storytelling, and how stories can be powerful ways of communicating ideas and how they can be used to introduce people to different topics. I was lucky enough to study for a Masters, and whilst I was doing this I went to the Bologna Children's Book Fair which was just incredible and I came away so inspired. I feel very fortunate that this is now my career. Alongside children's book illustration, I do enjoy having a play with more decorative work, making patterns and cards and illustrations that I simply hope might put a smile on somebody's face.

Christina: That’s awesome! As I’ve explored the kid lit world more, I’ve enjoyed following illustrators and seeing all the wonderful things you make. Okay, final question … You and I have never actually met, but I sense that we have a similar concern for the environment, climate change, and sustainable practices, among other issues. What are some things that you do in your life, other than produce gorgeous books, to raise awareness about issues of importance to you?

Katie: I love how this industry connects people all over the world. It's fantastic to be able to work together from different corners of the globe but such a shame not to be able to meet! Maybe one day we might meet in Bologna, we can enjoy some pizza and gelato together :) You are correct though, I think we definitely share similar passions. So maybe we won't be getting on that plane? Argh, a conundrum. As I mentioned before I do like to use my illustration to share information and raise awareness for issues that concern me, ocean pollution, climate change, fast fashion, and how this interlinks with social injustices. I try to make good choices regarding sustainability myself, and to keep as informed as possible, although I could always do better! I think we all have different reasons for activism, according to our passions. For example, I love surfing and the ocean, so taking part in beach cleans and engaging with campaigns relating to this is what I am most naturally drawn to. 

How about you? Other than writing The Wall and the Wild of course, have you been able to use your writing for causes important to you? Are there other ways that you engage with issues of concern?

Christina: Yes, I’ve noticed your passion for beaches! :) In the rest of my life, I work on educational texts, mainly in history, civics and geography, which I consider one way of working toward the goal of educating and empowering people, challenging biases and misconceptions, and expanding empathy. I’ve done volunteer editing and writing for organizations affiliated with the United Nations as well as for other groups over the years. My interests are wide-ranging but interconnected, so I’ve worked in various ways over the years on different social, economic and environmental justice issues. Like you, I often feel that I fall short, and don’t do enough or don’t live up well enough to my own ideals. So often, our efforts feel small compared to the enormity of the problems, but many small things add up, I hope. 

Sneaky bonus question: You just took a great road trip across the UK and, I think, are heading into Europe. What have been some highlights so far? Did you see any cool walls, gardens of wilderness? 

Katie: I love to be outdoors so it has been amazing to spend an entire summer in our campervan. We tend to stick to the coast but recently had a beautiful time exploring the Brecon Beacons in Wales where we got to see so many waterfalls! The Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the Minnack Theatre gardens in Cornwall have some very inspiring exotic plants which would not have been out of place in Ana's Wild!

I'd like to ask a bonus question too! What are you working on at the moment? Have you got some more stories in development?

Christine: Oooh, I’ll have to look those up. Our next ideal trip would be to the Redwoods in the States! As for ongoing projects, I have a number of other picture book manuscripts written and on submission as well as others in various stages of revision plus a chapter book in development and a middle grade novel I’ve been neglecting for too long. I’m really excited about a picture book biography I’ve been working on about Ada McKinley, a Black settlement house founder in Chicago in the early 1900s. I love library/research rabbit holes! 

If you have time to share one more response, I’d love to hear more about your ongoing or upcoming projects. I know Climate Action and The Big Beach Cleanup came out this year. What else from you can we all look forward to?

Katie: Yes, that's right, Climate Action and the Big Beach Cleanup were out earlier this year. It's been a year of environmental themed books for me, which is great! I am currently working on a couple of book projects, and I am hoping to spend some time in the coming months creating some personal work. I'd love to make some more prints inspired by nature. 

It's been lovely chatting to you, Christina!

Thank you, Christina and Katie, for sharing these thoughtful stories from behind the book!

See more from this gorgeous book when you watch the book trailer below!

Click HERE to buy a copy of the book and HERE to download the FREE reading guide and colouring sheet for parents and teachers!

Every print book purchase goes towards our A Book for a Book programme where we donate books to children who need them most via our amazing charity partners.

 

Christina is an American author with a wide range of experience in the K-12 educational market. She loves just about anything that involves exploration. The Wall and the Wild is her debut picture book. Learn more about Christina and her work on christinadendywrites.com or on Twitter.

 

 

Katie is an illustrator based on the south coast of England. She has been shortlisted for multiple awards and believes illustration can trigger positive change. She finds inspiration in the outdoors, travel, and adventure. Visit her website katierewse.com or follow her on TwitterInstagram or Facebook to see more of her stunning work.

 

 

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