This is the second article in a series highlighting the inspiring artwork and community project initiated and led by The Watershed Project in North Richmond. We are thrilled to share the completion of an illustrated children’s storybook telling the story of the local creek, Kiyana and the Wildcat Creek.

The storybook explains the importance of creek stewardship and restoration, and emphasizes indigenous tribal connections to the creek that last to the present, all in a way that is engaging for kids. This book provides information on the lifecycle of steelhead trout and speaks about the efforts to bring fish back to this creek by retrofitting an existing but faulty fish passage. You can read more about this particular effort here from another newsletter article previously published in January 2023. 

The storybook opens with a Land Acknowledgment developed together with our Tribal partners from the Confederated Villages of Lisjan. At the end of the book, there’s educational information and some fun facts on Wildcat Creek and a Nature Index of some plants and animals native to the watershed with their scientific names and their common, Spanish, and Chochenyo names (Chochenyo is one of the languages spoken by indigenous communities in the East Bay, specifically the Lisjan Ohlone peoples).

To make it even more engaging, we’ve created an interactive flipbook version of the storybook – check it out! If you click on the Chochenyo names of plants and animals mentioned in the book, you will hear our tribal partner reading them out loud and can learn to pronounce them yourself. Additionally, the storybook has been translated into Spanish by our own Marianella Aquirre.

The storybook speaks about the importance of community collaboration to protect these natural urban spaces. If it inspires you to do more, sign up to volunteer with us in one of the next Creek Cleanup or restoration events!

Below is an interview with the artist, Ronna Raz, who illustrated the storybook:

Please tell us about yourself

Website: ronnaraz.com
Instagram: @ronna.raz
Ronna Raz is a California-grown illustrator currently studying Graphic Storytelling in Denmark.

What type of art do you make?

I make visual stories! That can take place as children’s books, comics, or just illustrations filled with ideas and stories. I tend towards a naive style, full of color and ready to take life in as a whole. My stories often focus on themes of nature, human connection, and the general complexities of being a person in a big world.

How did you get into this specific art form? Why is it a meaningful art type for you? What’s unique about it?

As a kid who always struggled with reading, comic books, and other visual novels always called to me. Reading them always felt like jumping into the creative world of whichever author wrote them. The mixing of text and visuals seems like an easy endeavor, but it’s one that says so much about how the creator perceives the world and gives one so much freedom with its unique mixing of materials. To me, graphic novels are the most honest and direct way an artist and a reader can interact.

What excited you about working on this storybook?

I was excited to do a story with so much purpose, to get to visualize such an important element of childhood and get to know where you’re from as you grow up. It was very fun working with The Watershed Project team to figure out the balance between education and its youthful approach to existing.

Do you have a favorite page (and why)? 

I hope it’s not cheating, but I have two favorite pages. The first is page seven, where Amne shows the other kids around the native plants of Wildcat Creek, and the other is page nineteen, where Grandma tells Kiyana about her youth at the creek. Although on opposite sides of the book, the two pages interact in a unique way for me and represent the core of the story. They focus on the importance of the creek to the community around it and on the importance of sharing your history and passions with those you care about. Of course, it was also really fun to draw all the nature!

What was the most fun part of creating the storybook?

I had a blast drawing the nature around Wildcat Creek! Having grown up around it, I didn’t consider much of what made it special. But now I had to. I wanted to make sure that the nature in this book will remind the kids who will read it of the nature they see around the Bay Area. What is the color scheme around Wildcat Creek? What shapes does nature here take? How does water flow? What plants are native, and how common are they? With the help of educational materials The Watershed Project Education team gave me, I got to learn a whole lot about the nature around me. Bringing that same energy of joy from getting to know the nature you grew up in into the book was probably the most fun part of creating Kiyana and the Wildcat Creek.

What were some of the challenges working on this specific storybook?

I am so glad to have had the chance to work on this storybook. I believe that even though things should sometimes be explained differently to young minds, they do not need to be simplified. The Watershed Project’s vision for this book really made me consider this challenge; how do I explain such complex and multi-layered ideas like ecosystem conservation, the social and environmental effects of colonialism, and climate change to young children, in only 26 pages for that matter? It really made me consider what both I and The Watershed Project team wanted to prioritize writing about and to be direct yet comprehensive about the subjects covered in the book.

What are you looking to work on next?

I would love to create more educational material, especially directed toward youth!