Hi, Math is Everywhere readers,
I’m doubly excited today because we have a joint interview! We have the honor of talking with the author and illustrator of The Wall and the Wild a new picture book written by Christina Dendy and illustrated by Katie Rewse
The Wall and the Wild Description
In a plot of land at the edge of town, Ana strives to grow the “perfect” garden. To keep it that way, she throws all the irregular shoots and uneven seeds into the disorderly Wild and builds a wall to protect her own tidy plot. But as her garden gets more constrained, the Wild begins to grow …
Kaitlyn: Thanks so much for joining us today, ladies!
Christina: Thank you for asking us to participate, Kaitlyn! It’s exciting to get to share our book with you!
Katie: Yes, thanks so much for having us!
Kaitlyn: I’m excited too. This is such a wonderful book to share for so many reasons (that we’ll get to very soon!) but let’s start with their question: Can you tell us about your process of working together?
Christina: Well, we didn’t really get to work together directly until after everything had been finalized. Mostly, I think, we communicated through Lantana’s editor, Alice Curry. She sent me some images as Katie was working on things, and I gave some feedback that way. Katie had the fabulous idea of giving Ana (the main character) hearing aids, which I loved. I also thought the critters she included in some early PDFs were so wonderful that I asked for more of them! I think I requested some of the stones from the wall be repurposed in the final spread, too, because everything has a place, you know, and in this case, maybe the wall stones can serve a different purpose. So, there was a little back and forth but not a great deal. I really enjoyed seeing some of the character sketch ideas that Katie came up with for Ana. We did email and message on Instagram directly some as well but that was more after the book was ready to go and we were doing things like reaching out to you, talking about the release, and sharing stuff online.
Katie: I was delighted to be asked to illustrate Christina’s wonderful story by Lantana. We worked quite separately for the majority of the process, I had some input from the editor Alice, but mostly I had lots of creative freedom. It was lovely to have some of Christina’s thoughts towards the end though and to be able to add in those additional details, and then to have the opportunity to work with Christina on the promotional side of things.
Kaitlyn: Thanks so much for sharing! Some new authors can be a bit nervous about not having a say in the illustratrations, but as you’ve both shared, it creates an even more wonderful book when the illustrator is given the creative freedom needed! Let’s dive in deeper: Christina, what was the inspiration for this story?
Christina: Everytime someone asks that, I picture this big old kettle of stuff simmering in my brain! The trigger inspiration, if you will, was discussions of a border wall in our country, but for me, that just really tied in to a lot of bigger issues, concerns, experiences and interests. I lived on a military base in what was then West Germany as a child, when the Berlin Wall was still a very real physical and symbolic barrier. The Cold War shaped a lot of our culture and ideas growing up in the ‘80s, and probably shaped a lot of the worldview of the generations before mine. Over time, I became enthralled with history and literature, my two academic passions, so to speak, and I noticed recurring themes and issues surrounding walls. At the same time, I’ve always loved nature, been concerned about the environment, enjoyed gardens as well as wild spaces. I’ve grown some good vegetable gardens in my time, and my husband is a devoted hobbit of a native plant gardener. Somehow, about four years ago, all of the stuff cooked together in my brain and popped out as a story. The initial story spilled out on the page really quickly, and then the work began.
Kaitlyn: Wow, what an amazing origination story and I love that this story can be a jumping point for discussions about historical things like the Berlin Wall and environmental aspects as well; you’ve done so much in these pages! Katie, what inspired you to want to do the illustrations for this story?
Katie: As soon as I read the text I knew that I wanted to create the illustrations. I imagined Ana and her world in my mind, and had lots of ideas about how the Wild could look. I love the story and the message behind it, the environmental aspect but also the broader celebration of diversity.
Kaitlyn: That’s absolutely beautiful, Katie, sounds like you where the dream illustrator for this book. Can you both share why you think this story is so important to share with kids?
Christina: You know, I love that people, especially young people, can find different things to love and take away from stories, and I hope that WALL gives them room to do that. Usually, with a children’s book, you try to tell a fun, entertaining or engaging story that has one big thrust, if you will, a main idea that anchors everything but hopefully doesn’t hit the reader over the head too hard. With WALL, a few themes were jostling for my attention, because they were interrelated, and I worried I was trying to do too much. You don’t want to overpack a 32-page picture book, right? Hopefully, in the end, they come across okay, and enable people to take away meanings that speak to them. For me, the most obvious reason to share Ana’s story is to encourage a love of nature, which includes cultivated places like gardens as well as wild spaces. In that way, it’s just a fun story about a young person interacting with and taking care of the world around her. She talks to her plants and seeds, she tosses the ones she doesn’t like away, she stomps, but she also works hard and doesn’t give up. I hope she’s relatable, likeable, and Katie grew the garden and the Wild so beautifully! However, the heart of the story, which I would love for kids to get, too, is about the value of diversity, in nature as well as in human communities, the idea that rejecting things simply because of perceived differences generally just skirts and even worsens a problem rather than solving it. Related to those ideas is also a more personal lesson that Ana learns, which reflects my own tendencies and tendencies I see in my kids, to get frustrated when things can’t be just “perfect,” whatever we think that is, and to be open to learning from mistakes, seeing the beauty in the process as well as in supposed imperfect, and asking questions. Sometimes what seems obvious or easy isn’t the best way to go.
Katie: I would definitely echo Christina’s thoughts here. I love the layers of this story, and how the themes intertwine so beautifully, Christina did a great job! I hope that anyone reading this book would find an aspect that really resonates with themselves, whether it be about embracing imperfections, the value of community, or the importance of biodiversity, I think there is a message for everyone.
Kaitlyn: So so amazing! And readers take note, it’s those many layers that make a book so appealing! Katie, how did you decide on the color pallet for this story?
Katie: I really wanted to have fun with the Wild, to create flowers and plants that were vibrant and surreal, that would stand out as being different from Ana’s very ordered garden at the beginning of the story. For this reason I knew I needed to go bold for the Wild and to pair this vibrancy with some more muted colours for contrast.
Kaitlyn: Yes! Bold and vibrant juxtaposing the muted colors make this story really pop. Christina, we’ve got to know, what did you think when you saw the characters Katie came up with?
Christina: I loved them. Honestly, I struggle to recall how I envisioned Ana before Katie drew her because Katie’s Ana just brought her to life in such a real way for me. Katie suggested the hearing aids, which brought out another dimension of Ana and made her a much rounder character. But really, on seeing her the first time, I just felt like this is her. I think I mentioned I loved all the animal critters, too, and I was thrilled that Katie included other diverse characters. As an author, you don’t want to overload with art notes that constrain your partner, so it’s wonderful when the illustrator (and publisher) instinctively share your vision and are able to express that in their own unique ways.
Kaitlyn: That is the absolute best! It just shows that you found the perfect team for this amazing story. Now, if you each HAD to pick a favorite spread, which one is it and why?
Christina: That’s tough. I love the “Wow” spread because it’s just gorgeous and it’s that pivotal moment of realization, just like I love the one that follows it because of the glimpse through the hole where Ana removes a stone. But I also really just love spread 10, the one where Ana is sitting and staring at her garden, which really isn’t doing as well, and you can tell her wheels are spinning and she just wants to figure it out. Katie does such a fabulous job giving Ana expressiveness on every page.
Katie: I really like how Christina included the additional information in the final spread, it’s a great way to end the book and I enjoyed working on the border for that. I had so much fun working on the “Wow” spread, although at the time I felt a little pressure to illustrate the Wild here in such a way that would make Ana say “Wow!” I knew I really had to capture it just right!
Kaitlyn: Thank you both for sharing, and I agree, the “wow” page and the amazing border at the end are stunning. I also think Katie hit on an important point here, too, about when there’s a book to create, everyone is trying to do their best, and Katie, I have to tell you, you definitely lived up to the WOW! Okay, last question, if you were able to spend the day with your favorite author or illustrator, would you rather drink tea by the fireside or go fly a kite?
Christina: I love being outdoors, but you know, I really love a cozy fire and warm drink, too, especially if we can have a fire circle outside on a crisp autumn evening. I think I’d go for that. Choosing a favorite to join me would be so incredibly hard though, so I’m relieved you didn’t ask that! On a side note, kites are awesome, so if you haven’t read Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad story “The Kite,” Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck, or Simon Mole’s Kites, you should.
Katie: Fun question! Fire and tea, but outside would be my answer too!
Kaitlyn: Haha, I agree, let’s do both! And I LOVE Frog and Toad, my favorite was the cookie one all about will power lol! Thank you both so much for this delightful interview!
Christina: Thank you so much for having us! It’s been so fun e-talking and sharing Ana, her garden, and the Wild! Ahem, and the Wall. The Wall doesn’t like to be left out.
Katie: It’s been lovely, thank you so much!
Author Bio and links:
Christina Dendy is an American author with a wide range of experience in the K-12 educational market, particularly in social studies. The Wall and the Wild is her debut picture book. She loves books and stories that inspire whimsy, empathy and investigation, and is prone to rabbit holes of many kinds.
Illustrator Bio and links:
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.
Kaitlyn’s Review of the book
The Wall and the Wild is a beautiful book to help your children learn it’s okay to not be perfect, and there’s beauty in everything. Filled with vibrant art and a meaningful message that can carry over into history lessons, this is a book that you definitely want to read with the kids in your life!
Thank you all for supporting such wonder creators and for making my day yesterday with all your amazing Fall Writing Frenzy tweets! I can’t wait to read all your stories!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez