Welcome! Cynthia Cliff,
Author & Illustrator
No, thank you, Dionna! I'm delighted to be here!
The honor is all mine! So, why did you decide to create a story that celebrates that which grows and lives in wild open spaces?
I think that I actually “wrote” this story when I was a child. I loved the wild places that surrounded my rural childhood home. I spent hours and hours outside exploring those places—the woodlands, meadows, and waterways. It was a magical place and time that made a big impression on me. The elders in my family would take us out to forage for edible plants and fruits like sassafras for tea. There were wild asparagus in the early spring, all kinds of wild berries for pies in the summer, and nuts in the fall that my mother would bake into a cake for Christmas. Being out in nature was always like a treasure hunt for the delightful, the delicious, and the curious. So, when tasked by Prestel to develop a garden themed story, The Wild Garden narrative developed organically as I mined my childhood memories.
Did you name the village of your story Mirren after the Village of Mürren in Switzerland?
Is there a Mürren in Switzerland? I had no idea. My Mirren is a totally made-up place. The name just popped into my head. I liked the sound of it. It is a lyrical word. I liked that it almost sounded like mirror. I thought that was useful in the story as the two settings in the book—the wild place and the community garden—share many similarities. In the book I bounce between the two places and compare them to each other. I tried out other names for the village but kept coming back to Mirren.
I first started by developing a color palette for my main characters to make sure they would stand out against all the greenery in the story. I do have a palette that I tend to use, which felt right—colors that are bright but a bit earthly as well, so I leaned into those inclinations. Nature is colorful and I wanted the book to be colorful too.
Do you, like your main character Jilly, have your own wild place to explore? If so, what do you love about it and how does it inspire or inform your kidlit work?
These days I do have a favorite local place to hike and go there as often as I can. It is a very large public space that has both grand vistas and small, intimate woody spaces. I enjoy that mix. In my life I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in many amazing wild places, but my very favorite place to hike is in northern Maine along the coast. In that place, the earthy, mossy, and dreamy woodlands run alongside a granite strewn shoreline, which makes these trails full of magic and wonder--a perfect mix of restfulness and energy. When you look closely, you can find tiny flowers, lichens, and all kinds of little creatures every step of the way. This is the kind of place where I like to recharge, explore, and draw. It’s a place that feeds the soul and inspires, which is important for everyone, and especially for creative people.
As you worked with your Prestel Junior editor Doris Kutschbach going from original submitted manuscript to the finished proof, what about the process surprised you, and/or did you enjoy the most?
I guess what surprised me the most was how incredibly hard it is to write a picture book story for children! The general public has no idea. It’s like catching lightening in a bottle, at least that's how it was for me. There were many, many drafts. Doris was so helpful, she offered encouragement and wise advice. For me the most enjoyable part of the process was making the artwork, of course.
Why do you hope kids will enjoy reading your book? Is there a theme or lesson you'd like for them to carry away?
I think the main lesson is about understanding why the wild landscape is important. Those wildflowers, nuts, berries, and mushrooms are food for wild creatures. It is their garden, in a sense. And those little saplings, rocky hillsides, and mossy ponds are their homes. Often, when children are outside, they might not take the time to look around and think about that connection. On another level, a second lesson might be about speaking up to protect what you value and to not be afraid to do so. But it's my hope that the biggest lesson learned will come through kids enjoying and discovering wild places just like Jilly, my main character, does. I hope my book will encourage children everywhere to experience the richness and excitement found in nature, if they take the time to look.
Wonderful lessons, indeed! Well, thanks so much, Cynthia, for allowing me to shine a spotlight on THE WILD GARDEN and on you today--your Book Launch Day! (WOOT!) Can't wait to read about Jilly's next adventure.
Thanks for having me!