This Wolf Was Different by Katie Slivensky and Hannah Salyer
Happy, happy Monday! Katie Slivensky and Hannah Sayler stopped by to finish my sentences. We discussed This Wolf Was Different's cover, curiosity, Hannah's illustrations, back matter, and more. I wrote the words in purple, Hannah wrote the words in black, and Katie wrote the words in green. Congratulations, Katie and Hannah!
The cover for This Wolf Was Different came to me quickly. We actually ended up going with the first idea that I envisioned, of our Wolf staring straight out at the viewer. Our art director, Lauren Rille, had the brilliant idea to hold our names from the front in order to heighten the drama and distill the cinematic nature of our Wolf’s arresting gaze. If you take a moment to stare back at our Wolf, you will catch a reflection of who she is looking at. There is power in a gaze, and affirmation in the act of feeling seen by another being. Both of the characters in TWWD grow and bond in this way, and I think it’s an apt representation of how humanity’s collective relationship to canines would continue to expand for the tens of thousands of years following the pleistocene. And further, how our companionship continues to evolve and flourish, even today.
Katie Slivensky’s manuscript for This Wolf Was Different pulled me in not only because of how formative my companionships with animals were for me while growing up, but because of how those friendships helped me feel seen and accepted as a quiet and curious kid. Katie captures the loneliness and longing that’s often experienced when you feel like an outsider, while simultaneously imagining how that feeling might be reflected in another species. The story hones in on the fact that our companionships with other creatures can be just as deep and nuanced as our relationships within our own species. That particular experience has carried out over many human and canine generations, and Katie’s background in paleontology and science education adds even more color and meaning to the friendship between our wolf and human.
Picture books can teach us about the world, and how to move through it with curiosity, appreciation, humor, and joy. They can also help us learn how to digest and approach dark, uncomfortable, or confusing ideas and experiences. They are simultaneously a childhood treasure and a universal art form— part of a long storytelling lineage that we have shared for millennia. Using pictures to tell stories connects us back to our early human ancestors, future generations, and each other, in the here and now.
This Wolf Was Different is a story I spent years trying to write, but originally always as a novel or a non-fiction book. I was super interested in exploring the moment dog domestication began and had done a great deal of research into the subject. I just could never find the right format for it. Then this picture book manuscript basically dropped out of the sky and into my head one day. It flipped my thinking entirely. What must it have been like not for the first people to domesticate wolves, but for the first wolves that chose to grow close to people? I knew at once that this was the real story. The story of a different kind of wolf who maybe didn’t quite fit in and as a result, stumbled upon a new, world-changing path. I wrote it in a whirlwind 45 minutes and sent it to my agent with a huge note of apology, because I’d never tried a picture book before and was sending her a totally rushed and wild draft. Thankfully, she didn’t laugh in my face and actually said she really loved it! We did some edits and then began looking for its home.
Hannah Salyer’s illustrations are beyond anything I could have imagined. She captured Wolf so perfectly. Her longing to belong, her sorrow at losing her pack, her openness to something new. I love how she used art styles that harken back to cave paintings to immerse the reader in this prehistoric world, and how she even captured the concept of scent in her art, since that’s such a huge sensory element for wolves and dogs. I’m planning on framing like, every page of this book because it’s all too gorgeous not to hang on a wall! There are some beautiful motifs throughout that I don’t want to spoil, save to say it’s definitely a book you’ll want to read and reread closely to spot all the detail and thematic elements Hannah included along the way. (Speaking of detail, make sure to look closely at Wolf’s eyes on the cover!) And if you haven’t read Hannah’s other books, Packs: Strength in Numbers and Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art, you’ll want to get a copy of those ASAP, because they’re just as stunning.
Back matter is something my nerdy heart has always really appreciated in picture books, and I was beyond excited that my editor was interested in including it for this one. Finally, a place to put all my research! Hah! It just felt right to have a dedicated place to explain the natural history of dog domestication, as this story is meant to be a realistic take on how it could’ve happened. I hope readers enjoy learning more about the subject! And I also hope it’ll inspire some kids to explore science fields like archaeology, paleontology, and zoology even further.
Thank you, Katie and Hannah!
Hannah Salyer received her BFA in illustration and communication design, with a minor in environmental studies, from Pratt Institute. She resides in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes and illustrates picture books, including her own Packs: Strength in Numbers and Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art, as well as This Wolf Was Different by Katie Slivensky. She also teaches art classes for young kids and illustration classes for undergrad students at Parsons School of Design.