A Conversation With Alison Farrell About THE HIKE
Alison Farrell is an illustrator and author living in Portland, Oregon. Before she became a picture book maker, Alison worked on farms and taught art in K-12 schools. The first book she wrote and illustrated is called Cycle City (Chronicle Books 2018). Her second book, THE HIKE releases 10/8/2019 (Chronicle Books).
This post is the result of a conversation with Zoey Abbott about Alison’s forthcoming book, THE HIKE.
THE HIKE is the first story I have written that came to me so sure and fast, it was as though it was caught out of thin air. When it rushed into my mind, I truly felt as though I tapped into an idea-vein and had to scramble to keep up with the flow. Before that, I had been steadfast, but extremely slow in chipping away at manuscript ideas on paper or in a Google doc.
But when THE HIKE came, the ideas were both visual and verbal. I could not just type them up on a laptop. I had no choice but to simultaneously write and draw instead. I started on paper, then transferred them to an ipad.
Maybe the metaphor is more akin to fishing. It was as though I had been fishing for some time, and without knowing what it looked like, I finally caught the exact fish I wanted. Regardless, I was surprised by the process and by how exciting it felt.
Through this initial rush to keep up with the story, my journey with Wren, El, Hattie and Bean came to life.
These black and white images are earlier, more scrawly sketches from THE HIKE. You might notice that these folks are less kid-like, more weird-magical-being-like characters.
Fun fact: Wren was once named Sis. Sometimes I forget she’s Wren now and call her Sis anyway. Maybe it is still her nickname or a secret name?
Compare above and below for a nice example of how those original enigmatic weirdos translated to final art.
If you look closely at the cross section of the kids’ house in the opening scene of THE HIKE, you’ll find a tiny poster of Mary Oliver on the wall. I have been a devoted reader of her work for many years, and as you might be able to witness from THE HIKE, I connect to her deference to the natural world.
In the poem entitled, Sometimes, Mary Oliver writes:
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
For me, this quote nails the true heart of THE HIKE. At its most basic level, the book is about three kids and their dog who hike up and down a mountain. However, the story arc is also interwoven with gentler themes of feeling free, approaching the world with curiosity, and of truly being present with one’s experiences. The characters are observing, recording, and feeling astonished for the entire duration of the trip. Without so many words, they are each telling a story about how they live a life.
While the book does have overarching elements of observing nature, THE HIKE’s intention is not to be a field guide. Rather, the intention is to be about truly seeing the world: feeling connected, being amazed, and paying homage. To me, these sentiments are paramount to the current state of humanity and our future as a species.
THE HIKE characters were primarily informed by my son Finn, and his cousins Morgan and Brynn. The book was dedicated to these three because I stole so many scenes from our experiences hiking together to tell the story!
For example, it was Morgan and Brynn who taught me how to make a simple basket out of a single thimbleberry leaf.
And when Finn, Morgan, and Brynn were very young, they were so excited to be together that they often began a hike with a burst of energy, “running like maniacs!”
By the time I finished a solid draft of the book, much of the flora and fauna the reader sees throughout the book were labeled. I wanted to share a sense that these things are knowable, and that knowing them connects us to the world and helps us to understand it better.
It seemed that these details could be enriched with more explanation, so I tried to create a glossary. However, the original glossary turned out to be a bit disconnected and dry. Eventually, it morphed into Wren’s sketchbook, where she records and defines things she observes and thinks about during the hike.
Seeing through Wren’s eyes gave the backmatter an energy and a connection to the book that it lacked as a basic a glossary. I love that this added layer also allows the book to be particularly flexible to all ages of readers. You can read the running text only and it would be a short and sweet read for a 2 year old. Or, if you read the book in its entirety, it could be a 30 minute read with a 10 year old!
I do not believe that I intentionally made the characters female when I started THE HIKE. There was a time when I considered turning Hattie into a boy to balance out the sexes. However, as I continued to work on the story, I thought about the history of female representation in visual media. I thought about how not long ago, it would have been entirely acceptable for most stories to have a cast of all-male characters. No one would have called that a “book for boys,” it would have been considered a book for anyone. In the end, I decided to keep the cast female, because I would like to think that we live in a new era, where you can have a cast of all female characters and not have to add the label, a “book for girls.”
When I felt solid about my crew, I made sure they were confident people, prepared to be themselves and support each other in the world. Wren is always ready to observe and to draw, El is always taking notes and writing, and Hattie is the logistics and reason character. I like that they see each other’s strengths and support each other.
I would like to end with some rejected cover sketches:
The final cover was based on the above sketch!
And also, Finn (see below)!
A few editorial reviews of THE HIKE:
"Well-designed pictures create a depth and fullness that immerse readers in the forest. Endmatter makes clever use of Wren's sketch pad to offer additional information about things seen in the woods. Utterly satisfying." — Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"[A] lovely chronicle of an outdoor adventure... Readers may find it difficult to resist the call of the wild after closing the cover." — Publishers Weekly