A couple of years ago I was having lunch with my friend Odette in Germany. She was telling me about her two-year-old nature-loving daughter. Federica would take forever to walk one block because every leaf and bug was too interesting to pass by. Then she would bring them home. I loved Odette’s story and did some sketches while we talked.
When I got back to Canada I needed to catch up on other projects. In my “New Ideas” folder, I came across an idea I’d put aside. I knew it needed something, I just wasn’t sure what it was. The topic was re-wilding, or bringing nature back into our urban lives. Then I remembered Federica. Her innocent idea of bringing nature home was a perfect fit. I was off and running.
As I developed the story, I realized mixing non-fiction with fiction is a tug-of-war — at some point one of them has to win. Federica seemed to stand on its own as a story, so I decided fiction would work. Any mention of re-wilding was gone (but hopefully could still be found lurking behind a bush, for the reader who was looking).
So it became a story about something we all do: cleaning house. Clever Federica does what’s obvious to her. Life at the park is orderly and peaceful, so to make her house orderly and peaceful, she invites her animal friends home. After all, raccoons clean, goats cut grass and spiders eat bugs. Once I was up and running, the book seemed to come naturally – with a good dose of help from my brilliant and supportive editor.
A few weeks before I was set to go to Germany this summer, a box full of the books arrived. I packed them up and flew to Berlin.
Which brings us up to last week when I had the great pleasure of delivering Federica to Federica. Odette and I had coffee while Federica looked through the book. She probably thinks every little girl has a book named after her.
Federica and her brother with the book
Federica speaks German and Italian but no English. I know her mom has done a great job of translating the story for her. But who knows, maybe at the book fair in Bologna next year Federica will find a German or Italian publisher, and she can read it in her own language.
As we were saying goodbye, Odette told me about her new little boy. He’s two years old and eats ladybugs — only ladybugs. It is a great story and, who knows, maybe it will fit nicely with an idea I have waiting in my “New Ideas” folder. I will keep you posted.
by Scot Ritchie
Federica’s busy family can’t keep their house clean! To get away from the buzzy, buggy mess, she escapes to the peaceful park where she can spend time with her animal friends…which gives her an idea.
She brings home sheep and goats, spiders and dragonflies, a toad, an owl, and some raccoons. Then she takes her family to the park for a picnic, and while they’re gone, the animals chomp the overgrown grass in the backyard, eat the garbage and catch the pesky bugs overrunning the house. After a peaceful afternoon at the park, Federica’s family comes home to a clean house — and raccoons doing the dishes!
Scot Ritchie’s warm art and original story bring a fresh perspective to the busy-family challenge of keeping the house clean, while featuring a clever and resourceful young girl who knows that, sometimes, letting nature back into our lives is the best answer.