On July 8th, illustrator Daniela Martagón presented in public for the first time the 'visual philosophy for children' project Wonder Ponder. The presentation took place at Casa de José Zorrilla in Valladolid, within the framework of the International Illustration Festival Ilustratour.
Attendants included many illustrators, the odd publisher and, to Daniela's initial suprise, a group of grandmothers with their grandchildren who thought they were coming to a children's event. After her initial nerves, and reshaping her presentation plan to suit the actual crowd before her , Daniela got started.
For some time now, we have been aware that the best way of explaining and "selling" our project is for it to be seen in action, and that is what happened magically and spontaneously in Valladolid on the day of the presentation.
Daniela herself recounts the experience in detail:
I was already slightly nervous, but when I saw such an incredibly varied audience, comprised of local kids and grandmas, illustrators from across the world and people who'd just dropped in to have a nose about, I got even more nervous. I had prepared for a "highly professional" interview/talk aimed at illustrators and perhaps a couple of booksellers or publishers.
My fear was that I would frighten away the assistants who thought they had come to a children's activity. So I took a deep breath and decided to go for it, starting out strong with our cat stew, the scene on the cover of Cruelty Bites, the first Wonder Ponder box launching at the end of the year.
fter handing out copies of this scene, it wasn't long before the murmurs started, and then the occasional giggle among the audience, and I'm glad to say, for me, this made the tension disappear as if by magic.
I asked what was going on in the scene. The response was rather timid to start with, although everyone's eyes were wide open. Then the first answers arrived: "Those people are about to eat a cat!" And I asked whether anyone in the room had ever eaten cat stew?"Nooooooo!", the reply was unanimous. "Why not?", I asked. "It's disgusting", said one kid. "But how do you know? Have you ever tried it?", I asked.
"I have", a grandmother sitting in the third row said casually. "And it was good too".
Many of us were rather taken aback. "It was during the war and we were hungry", she added. Another of the grandmothers then spoke. "It´s true, they'd often say it was rabbit stew or something else, but who knows how often we've actually eaten cat?".
Suddenly, what only a few moments ago had seemed to us a unanimous no-no, became a memory for some and a potential reality for the rest of us. And this opened up new questions. If cat is yummy, why don't we usually eat it? Why do we think it's cruel to kill some animals and not others? What would we never ever eat? "Insects", said someone. I said that in some places in Mexico 'chalupines' (grasshoppers) are toasted and eaten, all nice and crispy, and maguey worms make a very elegant dish indeed. "I think they're delicious". Many pulled a disgusted face, but they didn't think there was anything wrong in doing it.
"What about eating humans?", I asked. "¡No!" "Never ever?" We sat there thinking and then remembered those stories of people in accidents in isolated places who find themselves in desperate and extreme conditions, with no access to food whatsoever. "In that case it's different, because it's about survival", said one of the girls in the audience. We felt this reply was decent and many of us agreed that the situation changes depending on the circumstances.
However, it is not always out of need that we kill. Sometimes it has nothing to do with that at all. "Would you like to see another scene?" "Yes!" So we showed our ant-killing girl on the screen.
I asked whether anyone in the room had ever killed ants like the girl. Oddly enough, none of the children present said anything, but all the adults there, including myself, raised their hands and giggled. One boy said it was never right to kill ants. Someone said it was justified if they came into our pantry. Another boy said ants were useless, they had no purpose. One man said that anteaters do need ants to feed themselves. But none of us remembered having seen any anteaters around Valladolid.
Is it ok to kill things that are uselesss or have no purpose? Many said it wasn't. However, we do so very often. Why?
In order to speak a little about the origins of Wonder Ponder, I then asked "What is philosophy?" Nobody said a word. "Has anyone ever heard of the word philosophy before?" Utter silence. "Perhaps some of the adults here studied philosophy at school?" The audience remained in silence. It seems the word philosophy is slightly intimidating. So I shared part of what philosophy means for me: asking questions, thinking about why we think what we think and comparing it with what other people think or have thought in the past.
I then asked the audience if they thought what we had done that afternoon was of any use. Is asking philosophical questions of any use? Many said yes: "it's a way of sharing" said some; "it helps us improve our thinking", said others; "it's also a good way of getting to know each other better", said someone else. I asked the children present whether they had thought these questions were too hard. "No", they replied. I told them that since we started the project, some people (by no means all) had said to us that we couldn't hand those materials to children without giving them the answers, and that, in any case, an adult would have to be present, because on their own they might get afraid or become traumatised.
I asked the children if they had felt afraid when they saw these images. The all said no. "If you found this box at home, would you have a look at it on your own?" One girl said that if it was someone else's property she wouldn't open it. "What about if it were your box?" I asked. "Oh, yes, in that case, I would open it", she replied. Why are adults so scared of children asking themselves these questions, when children are anything but scared by them?
One of the boys had the courage to get up and come up to us to take a better look at the Cruelty Bites box, and even took it with him to his seat to browse through all the contents.
On the scene in the background, a very first sketch of a cover for Wonder Ponder magazine.
Do you want to see more? The audience all seemed interested in hearing more, so I put on the presentation I had prepared originally.
I told everyone how Ellen Duthie, Raquel Martínez Uña and I had thought up the name Wonder Ponder and how the idea of the visual philosophy for children boxes had gradually developed. I also showed them how, starting with a series of questions on a particular aspect of cruelty, I came up with an illustration, and then all the changes the illustration went through until getting to the final version.
We looked at a few more scenes from Cruelty Bites, I showed them all the characters and our little Wonder Ponder man, with his curious eyes. And that was it for the evening.
Some of the assistants generously left their comments and proposals for issues they would like to see addressed in future Wonder Ponder boxes.
It was a very pleasant affair and we closed the event with a nice glass of wine in the quiet gardens of Casa de José Zorrilla, with the heat of the day giving way to a welcome evening breeze.
The Casa de José Zorrilla was a stunning setting for the presentation, indoors and outdoors.
We would like to thank all the fellow illustrators and friends who were able to make it, as well as all the other people in the audience, and in particular the team of Ilustratour for inviting us and accompanying us on our first public presentation. We had a great time and we really enjoyed the opportunity of sharing Cruelty Bites with such a varied and participative crowd of people. I learnt a lot from the experience!
(c) Wonder Ponder (An imprint of Traje de lobo S.L.).