I became aware of Ginalina’s music in 2016 when I featured her album Forest Friends Nature Club as one of the first reviews to appear on Kids Rhythm and Rock. My appreciation for her music has continued to grow over the years and includes the early 2019 release of the children’s album It Takes a Village and this year’s Small but Mighty. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Ginalina is a two-time Juno-nominated singer-songwriter who, with the release of her first picture book, can now add author to her name.
Based on the track “Save the Mighty River” from Small but Mighty, Ginalina’s debut picture book The Mighty River, is a beautiful read aloud. The book opens with a full-page illustration of over two dozen animals that can be found around the river areas in the Pacific Northwest. As the rhyming story unfolds, each animal is mentioned, with the book ending with the same full-page illustration. There are several layers to each two-page spread. The first is an I spy element where the rhyming text mentions 2-3 animals or aspects of nature which are part of the detailed illustration on the facing page. The second layer is skillfully incorporated in the top corners of each illustration and depicts the moon and its phases as seen in the Northern Hemisphere. The next layer features humans doing all kinds of outdoor activities that children can relate to including swimming, canoeing, collecting rocks along the shore, and having evening bonfires. The final layer is one that I think families will identify with more with this year than in previous years. It is the depiction of children enjoying nature independently, as well as with different generations of their family. The illustrations by Kelley Wills are reminiscent of woodcuts which by employing a simple but stunning color palette, perfectly capture not just the tone of the text, but the subtle beauty and wonder that nature has to offer.
Children will want to read The Mighty River again and again while discovering new animals and searching for them within the illustrations. The Mighty River would work well as a family read aloud, in storytime or as an introduction to lessons for younger children on ecology or woodland habitats. The MIghty River is currently available through www.beautifulworldbooks.com.
Ginalina was kind enough to take a few moments during this busy time to answer a few questions about her newest venture.
Nature plays a big role in your music and is the focus of The Mighty River. Where does your love of the outdoors come from?
Growing up in Toronto, sandwiched between Kensington Market and the Annex, my family didn’t own (or need) a car and this gave me plenty of time to experience the slow pleasures that come with walking everywhere. I heard birds chirping, saw leaves turning, felt seasons changing, smelled roses in the gardens, and noticed all sorts of little wonders – like bees in gardens and clouds in the sky. I think my love for the outdoors happened naturally, by spending time with it. Now that I live in Vancouver, I’m all the closer to trees, mountains, and rivers, and I always feel happier and calmer near them.
“Save the Mighty River,” the song that inspired The Mighty River appears on Small But Mighty, your fifth album for families. What was it about this song that made you want to reimagine it as a picture book?
The song is a powerful narrative from the River’s perspective, telling all about the wonderful things that the River does for the animals and plants and humans. It’s also a call to action prompting humans to imagine how we can partner together to protect her from harm. It’s absolutely appropriate for children – full of delightful imagery and filled with beautiful sounds. I wanted to capture that beauty and the biodiversity of the River in a way that children could engage more deeply in. I see the book as complementary to the song and I envisioned it to be a sort of keepsake that young readers can return to again and again, just as they would with nature, finding something special and new in it every time.
You and illustrator Kelley Wills collaborated on this project. How did this partnership come about?
The story of how we got connected to each other is really neat. What started off as an Instagram search landed me on a picture of a t-shirt design for a folk duo. That design ended up being the catalyst for a partnership and collaboration. I resonated with Kelley’s work right away and reached out to ask her to consider creating my upcoming album cover. We built a strong art synergy and I appreciated how well we communicated and how we both shared interests in music, nature, and interesting storylines. When I had the vision for creating The Mighty River, I could only see it with Kelley’s illustration style, and I’m glad she was excited, like me, to do this project together.
Take us through the process of transforming “Save the Mighty River” into book form.
My kids love stories and when they were young, we poured through stacks and stacks of wonderful picture books. From this, I began to admire flowing text, detailed illustrations, interesting borders, and themes that celebrated strong relationships. In making the song into a book, those elements were very important to me, as well as making the River the star.
The book process started with Kelley and I discussing the vision, colour scheme, and overall vibe. She suggested a reduced colour palette which I adored. Then we researched the river ecology of the West Coast and I pulled my family pictures to inspire the characters. Kelley sketched all the illustrations by hand, inked them in on an iPad, and then brought them into a program for vectorizing. I gathered ideas from children on how to protect the river and Kelley prepared them in the layout, along with some open-ended pages for reflection and drawing. I had so much fun recreating the phases of the moon in the page borders and Kelley did a beautiful job on the cover. Regarding the text, I adapted it from the song and made it lyrical and suitable for read-alouds. I am so thankful for the help of my kids and Linda and Grayson Smith to edit the book. This project took approximately ten months to complete, from concept to publication. It was a very meticulous process and I enjoyed every step.
If you could share one message with children and their caregivers, what would it be?
At the centre of The Mighty River is a sense of community and interdependence – humans with humans, humans with nature, nature with animals, animals with rivers, rivers with humans, etc.. I hope children and readers notice that message and see themselves as part of the environment’s past, present and future narrative. I want readers to get excited about river life and feel inspired to enjoy, explore and care for it together.
What’s next for Ginalina?
I’m proud of my team and this book. I’m so thankful for my illustrator, the editors, and the support of Peppermint Toast Publishing. We are planning a virtual book launch and I’m looking forward to connecting with children and others over their thoughts on The Mighty River. There are a fair number of supplementary materials (music video, sheet music, activity pages, stickers) which should make the entire experience for readers more enriching. The journey of becoming an author has been so rewarding and it definitely feels like a natural extension of my music career. In fact, with the encouragement from our publisher, Kelley and I are already working on our second book and I hope to share more about that when we’re farther along.
Please enjoy the video for Ginalina’s song, “Save The Mighty River” which features animated versions of some of the illustrations from The Mighty River.