Ravenna, a children’s book written by local author and midwife Stacey Curnow and illustrated by Asheville-based artists Daniel Nevins (Grateful Steps, 2010), tells the story of a young boy who befriends a magical, dancing bear named Ravenna. The story, as Curnow writes in her author’s blurb, is loosely based on the medieval legend of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (with a moral focusing on the importance of sovereignty). Curnow’s main character, Galen, is a curious and highly intuitive little boy who spends his days playing beside a mountain river, climbing trees and tending to his horse. When Ravenna, a striking black bear who loves to dance, meets Galen, she asks him a question: “What does every creature want?” If Galen can “discover” the right answer, Ravenna promises to live with him and share her stories and adventures.
To find the answer, Galen turns to the stream, turns to his favorite tree and horse, and asks them: “What do you want.” Each creature has a different response, and Galen must look within to find the answer to Ravenna’s question. Curnow’s lesson to her young readers is beautiful and simple: Every creature wants to be free, a river wants to flow, a tree wants to spread its roots and a horse wants to run through open fields. Curnow subtly shows that true companionship is based on respect for individual needs and on trust. When Ravenna disappears one morning, Galen is able to rejoice, despite his sadness, because he has learned that Ravenna is exactly where she needs to be.
Nevins’ simple black-and-white prints are wonderfully paired with Curnow’s story. An image of Galen asking a tree what it wants is particularly lovely: A boy with gentle features holds his knees as his body rests on the curved trunk of a tree with puffy cloud-like leaves. His head is tilted, as if straining to hear its whispery reply. The simplicity of the story is perfectly reflected in Nevins’ art, which uses both light and heavy black lines to create each scene.
And, parents should know that Curnow will donated 10 percent of her royalties from the book to Heifer International, a nonprofit organization “whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance & sustainability.”
Curnow and Nevins will discuss their collaborative project at Malaprop’s Books and Café, located on 55 Haywood St. in downtown Asheville, on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 3 p.m.