ST. ALBANS — It might seem unlikely that a story of a wolf and a turtle began here, but Honu Meets Kiyaya did.
For one thing, its author, Jennifer Cyr, and illustrator, Jess Marony, were Bellows Free Academy students. They graduated in 1995.
In a way, the book began in BFA’s fine arts class, which Cyr said “cemented” her friendship with Marony.
They drifted apart after high school. Cyr said her sister remained friends with Marony. In fact, Cyr was her sister’s “plus one” at Marony’s wedding in 2004.
Honu Meets Kiyaya brought them together again.
“When this story started to really come together, I emailed her,” Cyr told the Messenger.
“I always knew she was talented, and I thought this project was a perfect opportunity for her to combine work and art for the sake of enjoyment.
“She’s a busy mom of three, so art for fun isn’t always in the cards.”
Honu Meets Kiyaya is an upbeat story about a wolf and a turtle who develop a bond as they learn about each other.
“It’s a story of two unlikely friends and what they can learn from each other when they are brave enough to be open to one so different from themselves,” Cyr said.
Cyr is an early educator, operating Jennifer Cyr Family Child Care in Middlebury.
She said she incorporated elements of literacy learned in the Vermont Humanities Council’s Never Too Early program, which trains childcare providers in children’s language, early literacy development, and “fun, instructive and engaging ways to share books with children.”
And Cyr also based elements of the story on scientific knowledge about the nesting habits of sea turtles and how wolf packs protect their territory.
But the usage of those creatures has symbolic meaning for Cyr.
The story emerged after a period in Cyr’s life in which she “was so busy taking care of family and caring for others that I did not take care of myself.”
Cyr told the Messenger she closed herself off after the passing of her closest friend, and that a new and unlikely friendship inspired her to open up again to new ideas, to inspiration and challenges — and to put herself first again.
Cyr read about the concept of “spirit animals” during her rehabilitation, shamanistic messengers appearing in the form of particular creatures.
Cyr identified with the sea turtle. Her friend reminded her of a wolf.
The name “Honu” is Hawaiian for turtle. “Kiyaya” is Yakima for “howling wolf.”
When it came to connecting children to her own experience, Cyr said, “I saw the turtle and the wolf as my vehicles.”
She purchased wood figurines of a turtle and wolf on an oceanside trip, figurines carved through the woodworking process of intarsia, which uses a variety of wood shapes, sizes and species.
Those figurines became the models for Marony’s illustrations.
Cyr said she tested the story on her childcare kids.
“I wanted to keep the openness of children’s hearts [at] the forefront of their world,” Cyr said.
“We need more emotional bravery. We need belonging and connection, and we need to be exposed to those [who] are different from ourselves in order to learn and eventually become who we will be.”
Cyr returns to St. Albans this weekend to sign copies of Honu Meets Kiyaya at the Eloquent Page, here on North Main Street.
She’ll be signing books there this Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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