Las Musas wishes a happy book birthday to Zara González Hoang on the release of her picture book A New Kind of Wild!
What does it feel like to move to a new city, leaving behind what you knew and loved? Can you find “a new kind of wild” in a strange new place? Zara González Hoang explores these questions in her magical and colorful author-illustrator debut, A New Kind of Wild, which “is an imaginative exploration of the true meaning of ‘home.’”
Alexandra Alessandri interviews Zara about her inspiration and process, but first, here’s a description of this stunning book:
This sweet author-illustrator debut celebrates imagination, the magic of friendship, and all the different ways we make a new place feel like home.
For Ren, home is his grandmother's little house, and the lush forest that surrounds it. Home is a place of magic and wonder, filled with all the fantastical friends that Ren dreams up. Home is where his imagination can run wild.
For Ava, home is a brick and cement city, where there's always something to do or see or hear. Home is a place bursting with life, where people bustle in and out like a big parade. Home is where Ava is never lonely because there's always someone to share in her adventures.
When Ren moves to Ava's city, he feels lost without his wild. How will he ever feel at home in a place with no green and no magic, where everything is exactly what it seems? Of course, not everything in the city is what meets the eye, and as Ren discovers, nothing makes you feel at home quite like a friend.
Alexandra Alessandri: I absolutely adored A New Kind of Wild. I've read it a few times, and it feels like each time I read it, I discover another bit of the treasure. It's such sweet story about the meaning of home and filled with friendship and magic. One of the first things that drew me in was your vivid cover. It’s so gorgeous! What was your inspiration for the cover and for the story?
Zara González Hoang: Thank you! That really feels so good to hear!
The story was inspired by my Dad who was born in Puerto Rico but then had to move to NY when he was a kid. The way my dad talked about Puerto Rico was so magical and I started thinking about what it would have been like to leave a place that was so special to you and be forced to live somewhere that is almost the complete opposite. How do you start over somewhere new and how do you find that sense of home again? I wanted the cover to show both sides of the story, both the lushness of the island and the starkness of the city.
AA: Those are such important questions and questions that affect so many kids (and adults)! It’s absolutely true of immigrants, but it's also true of kids who've had to move homes, cities, and states. You did a great job in tapping into Ren's emotions here, and also into Ava's love for her city. The juxtaposition of the two characters really conveyed the idea that you can find your “wild” and home anywhere.
Did you have someone in mind when you created Ren and Ava? Is Ren meant to be your dad?
ZGH: Ren isn't exactly my dad, but he's definitely inspired by what I imagine he was like when he first got to the city. My dad grew up in the mountains of Puerto Rico (just like Ren) in a super small town and when he moved to New York he was the country kid who had no clue about anything in the city. So that part of my Dad definitely lives in Ren. Ava wasn't anyone in particular, more just a combination of people – I didn't grow up in NY but whenever we went to visit, my cousins would always be super excited to show me this or that and it's that energy that I wanted to portray in Ava. I also have a love for the city, and I wanted to show that even though the city was different that where Ren lived in PR, it had its own beauty all the same. I think, in some ways, this book is my love letter to PR and also to NY (or just city life in general) I think they are both magical in their own way.
AA: Oh, I love that! It definitely came across with the characters and with both your descriptions and illustrations depicting Puerto Rico and the City (which I guessed to be NYC, but which could really be any big city--opposites but both beautiful in their own way). For Puerto Rico, I was taken with the details of El Yunque and of the coquí serenading Ren to sleep. For the city, I loved how Ava found the beauty in the streets and people and buildings.
The dual POV worked so well in really capturing this magic of country and city because it allowed us to tap into the magical "wild" each one associates with home--and that beauty is shared in their friendship. Was it always your intention to have the two points of view?
ZGH: Thank you! That is exactly what I was hoping to show. When I first started writing the story it only had one POV, Ren's. It was actually my agent (who at the time wasn't my agent) who suggested adding another POV – someone to essentially be the catalyst in helping Ren see that the city could be just as special as PR if he just gave it a chance. I'm so thankful to my agent for suggesting it because the book came much more into focus once Ava came into it!
AA: The two characters really do complement each other so well!
Can you tell us a little about your process in creating A New Kind of WIld? Did the images come first? Or did the text/story? As a writer of picture books, I'm always so intrigued by the process of authors-illustrators!
ZGH: The idea for A New Kind of Wild came to me one day when I was just doodling and listening to music. I wasn't really thinking about stories or writing but all of a sudden as I was drawing, the story started to come to me. As I mentioned before, it was only Ren's POV at first...and the story itself was actually much, much different. The main themes were there but they were muddled with other themes that eventually got weeded out during editing to make the story much stronger. So technically this story started with drawing, but then after I had the idea down, I wrote and edited and wrote and edited until I had a complete version of the story. It was only after I had the words in a good place that I started on the pictures.
This is pretty normal for my process. I really like to have the whole story down before I start drawing. I think that might be different than a lot of illustrators, but for some reason that is what works for me. Once I start drawing, putting together the dummy, finding the characters, etc., then there is a little more back and forth as I realize what images work better here and I can cut the text, or maybe I need a little more text to give context to this situation, etc. But at the start, for me, it's usually just words.
AA: This is so great. It's never a straightforward process, but when the story comes it's a great feeling, isn't it?
ZGH: It is the best feeling! Finding the right words or figuring out the thing that was missing. That is the best! Although for me it usually comes after banging my head against a wall for a while!
AA: I can completely understand that. I have two last questions for you: What does "wild" mean to you? And, what do you hope readers will take with them after reading A New Kind of Wild?
ZGH: To me, "wild" is not a tangible thing, but rather the feeling of comfort you have about a place that allows your imagination to run wild and allows you to believe in all sorts of fantastical realities that could be lurking all around you.
There are so many things I hope readers will take with them after reading A New Kind of Wild, but I hope that reading this story they can start to see that no matter where you are, you can find some sense of home, some sense of wild if you just give yourself a chance to see things differently. And I hope that for readers who have never had to leave someplace they love, they can find some empathy for those that have.
AA: I love this! Thank you so much for talking with me and for writing A New Kind of Wild. I can't wait for readers do discover this sweet story!
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