Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv were both born in Lviv, Ukraine in 1984. After graduating from the Lviv National Academy of the Arts they set up Studio Agrafka, where they collaborate on books and various other projects. They’ve received many accolades for their work, including two Special Mentions in the BolognaRagazzi Awards.
In this post, Romana and Andriy talk about the creation of ‘The War that Changed Rondo’, which is published in Ukraine by The Old Lion Publishing House. This powerful picturebook received a Special Mention in the 2015 BolognaRagazzi Awards.
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Romana: We had never actually planned to create a picture book for children about war, but reality in our country changed things.
It all started with the Revolution of Dignity at the end of 2013, then the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and military conflict in East Ukraine. The war had started. Thousands of victims and broken lives. At that moment we were all unprepared and vulnerable, but determined. Many of our friends were mobilised for military service.
We couldn’t stay calm and we had to react in some way. Often, parents don’t know how to explain to their children what war is and why it has come to their homes. We decided to create a picture book which could be the starting point for such a sincere talk between children and their parents about what is going on.
As authors, we felt that we should be honest and base the story on our own experience.
First of all, we developed the main characters…
Danko is made of glass with a transparent, fragile body. We wanted to show his fragility and sensitivity because it’s exactly how we felt ourselves at that time, in the face of war.
Fabian is a dog made of balloons and Zirka is a bird made of paper. The three main characters are made from such fragile materials. It’s easy to hurt them – to destroy their world.
We imagined the city of Rondo to be filled with light, fresh air, culture, happiness, joy and music.
But one day, The War comes to the city. No one had expected it, no one knows what to do with it, how to live and move on. For us, it was very important to show how the citizens of Rondo, faced with such a strong and hard reality, don’t lose hope and just carry on. They come together and find a bright solution for how to end the war and how to win.
In our book, The War is a character: silent, without face, without feeling. It speaks with the language of force and hate and doesn’t understand any other language.
Andriy: Some details in the illustrations were inspired by reality. For example, the map of Rondo shows how the city landscape changes during the war… In these screenshots from Google Maps, we can see how the real landscape of our country changed in the area of military action.
In the following illustration, we can see Danko throwing stones at The War. This was inspired by activity in Maidan, when protesters threw stones at armed forces during the civil protests.
Another example of taking inspiration from reality is the music greenhouse, the main building in the city of Rondo. It was inspired by the real greenhouse in our home city, Lviv.
While working on the illustrations, we explored anti-war posters and graphic design. We drew a lot, prepared graphic elements and then digitised them to finish on the computer.
The colour system of this book is very important. It begins with bright colours, with a lot of light, showing the peaceful life of the city… Then it unexpectedly changes; the colours become darker; the light is turned off. We even placed white text diagonally on dark backgrounds to make the reading process uncomfortable, like war makes our living uncomfortable.
And at the end of the book when war is over, the light returns. Light and dark are the main symbols here; the darkness of war is defeated by the light which is produced by the citizens of Rondo. The light is a symbol of education, culture and bright ideas.
We also wanted to be honest with children – not lying to them by saying that after war ends, everything will go back to how it was before. War leaves scars; it changes everyone, physically and mentally. The citizens of Rondo have to live though this painful experience. But they become stronger because of it.
‘The War that Changed Rondo’ has been published in Ukraine, France, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea and China. It received a Special Mention in the BolognaRagazzi Awards 2015 and it was included in the White Ravens list.
The book is not about the war in Ukraine; it is about war as a common disease of the world. It tells children how important it is to not be afraid, to be strong, to stay together with your friends and your people, and to keep hope…
Illustrations © Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv.
Buy this picturebook
Війна, що змінила Рондо /
The War that Changed Rondo
Romana Romanyshyn & Andriy Lesiv
The Old Lion Publishing House, Ukraine, 2015
Danko, Zirka and Fabian live peacefully in a small town called Rondo… until The War comes. The three friends have never experienced war before, so they are unsure how to act. In the hope of stopping The War, they talk to it and fight it, but it’s all in vain. Ultimately, they discover an effective way to stop this darkness: the power of LIGHT. With the help of all the residents of Rondo, Danko, Zirka and Fabian build a huge light machine that disperses the darkness and stops The War. ‘The War that Changed Rondo’ reflects the ambiguity of war and is a tribute to peace.
- Ukrainian: The Old Lion Publishing House
- French: Rue du monde
- Slovak: OZ Brak
- Polish: Krytyka Polityczna
- Korean: Sanha Publishing Co.
- Chinese (Simplified): Dolfin Media