A Family Flees In 'Story Boat': 'Here' Is Home, But 'Here' Keeps Changing "We think of refugees as people who wait a lot and suffer," says author Kyo Maclear. She was determined to tell a different kind of story. Her illustrator, Rashin Kheiriyeh, fled Iran as a child.

When 'Here' Is Home, But 'Here' Keeps Changing — A Family Flees In 'Story Boat'

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KYO MACLEAR: Hi, it's Kyo.

KHEIRIYEH: This is Rashin (laughter).

MACLEAR: Oh, my God, Rashin. Nice to hear your voice.

KHEIRIYEH: Yeah, nice to hear your voice, too, finally.


"Story Boat" is a new children's book illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh and written by Kyo Maclear.

MACLEAR: Well, "Story Boat" is about a journey that a family's taking. And the entire story takes place after their departure from an unspecified place and just before their arrival at a new place. So it's kind of a story about uncertainty. It's about dreaming. It's about two children's imagination.

SIMON: We've been asking authors and illustrators how they work together, or separately, to try to bring stories to life. Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh had never so much as spoken on the phone until this interview.

MACLEAR: It's funny 'cause I feel like I did speak with you.


MACLEAR: Maybe it was telepathically or something (laughter).

KHEIRIYEH: Yeah. Me, too.

SIMON: Rashin first heard about Kyo's idea for "Story Boat" nearly three years ago. She felt immediately that she needed to illustrate it.

KHEIRIYEH: I loved it. And I said, please, please, let me - (laughter) let me try it. Let me do some illustration, and you'll see if you like it or not. And then I started to come up with three or four different illustration techniques. And I sent them to Kyo and a publisher. And when I got the result and they said they pick me, I was, I mean, over moon. I was so happy because I love this story so much, and I saw myself in it.

To tell a little bit about my background, I'm coming originally from Iran. And when I was a kid, I experienced to be like a refugee kid, because in 1980, there was a war between Iran and Iraq. And in those days, Iraq attacked my hometown, Khorramshahr in Iran. And the war started, and it ended, like, eight years after that. So my family had to leave behind everything they had and just took me and my brother and tried to escape and took us to a safe place. So when I was - started illustrating this book in my studio, I kept thinking - I filled it - I'm drawing myself.

MACLEAR: Well, I'm crying, to be honest. And it's just so beautiful because as soon as I saw the sketches that Rashin had drawn, I felt that she had inhabited this story so fully. And that's all you can ever hope for.

One of the things that made it very difficult was that the story has a tone. There's kind of a whimsy to it, but there is also a sense of hard reality to it. And that's really difficult - like, that's like being at the very center of this kind of spectrum of hope and despair. And it's really tricky as an illustrator to capture that in a way that kind of honors the situation. And that's what was so challenging. And as soon as I saw Rashin's art, I knew that this was perfect. It was like being on "The Bachelor" and you find your perfect match. It was like, I knew this was right.

KHEIRIYEH: Kyo's stories - the great thing about her writing is that - is the simplicity. So I tried to use it in my illustration, too. So I choose a very limited color palette, like blue and orange - blue because of - they are sailing in their journey, so I chose the blue for water. And then I chose orange. I inspired by the color of boating life jackets, which, usually, they are orange. The technique - I use watercolor, ink and oil paint because I needed something to give me a texture for the waves in the sea. So I mixed oil paint with water, and if they cannot get along with each other, so it gives me a good texture for waves for the water.

SIMON: In the book, a little girl and little boy drink out of a steaming cup and sleep under an orange blanket, always against a stormy blue background. Here is a cup, gold and fine, warm as a hug, writes Kyo Maclear. Here is a blanket, patterned and soft, color of apricots. And on the next page, they're moving again. Here isn't always the same, she writes, sometimes it's here just for a moment.

MACLEAR: I don't know if you're familiar with the idea of, like, a step and repeat story. So there's a kind of patterning in certain stories where you kind of build a pattern. And then children look for the thread of continuity, and so they kind of become participants in the story. So one of the words that repeats is the word here. You know, here is a cup, or, here - you know, here is a blanket. And I wanted to give a sense of what home might be in the absence of a solid place. So the heres kind of develop and kind of add up to this story. And so what I really wanted to convey was an idea that home was also a story.

KHEIRIYEH: It's supposed to be a hopeful story, full of imagination and full of dreamings. That's what we, all of us, as children's book creators - is that - to encourage kids to be a dreamer. When you stop dreaming, you cannot realize the future.

SIMON: Illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh and author Kyo Maclear talking about their book "Story Boat."


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