January 07



A few years ago, I saw a photograph of a woman walking a pet cheetah through the streets of London, as if this was the most natural and obvious thing in the world. I had no idea that big cats were sold as pets in the UK throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Even Harrods, the famous department store, boasted a Pet Kingdom where they sold leopards, cheetahs, and lions, among all sorts of other ‘exotic pets.’ Shocked, I began to explore what had happened to some of those animals. While researching, I came across the inspirational work of the big cat conservationist, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. As a child, he had stuttered whenever he spoke to humans but not when he spoke to animals. He followed his passion for big cats in particular and grew up to speak for them—in ways they could not speak for themselves. Ideas about the language of human beings and the language of animals soon found their way into the blank pages of my notebook. Around this time, a friend shared The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. It explores the ways in which trees ‘talk’ to and ‘care’ for one another. My imagination sparked, and the three threads of Wildoak began to take shape: a misunderstood snow leopard, a child who struggles to speak to humans, and an ancient forest in which the trees ‘speak.’  

In many ways, Wildoak is about communication and understanding. Understanding in both senses of the word: how we comprehend meaning, and also how we express empathy and compassion—towards ourselves, towards one another, and towards the world around us.

We are living through complex and challenging times. It’s hard to make sense of all the pain and beauty and wonder that comes with being human. But there is strength in empathy. Comfort in feeling understood. And power in knowing that we are all interconnected. What I love about Diana Sudyka’s cover art is that she speaks to all of this without using any words at all. The branches of the old oak tree encircle the snow leopard and reach up towards a vast sky full of stars, filling out the head and shoulders of a child who is all heart, courage, and fierce determination.

As 2022 begins to unfold, it’s my hope that all readers may find in this story something that speaks to them, as well as to our capacity as human beings to be empathetic, compassionate, and committed—not just towards ourselves and one another, but towards the whole natural world and everything that depends on it.

Christina grew up in the UK. She spent her summer holidays in Cornwall where she loved to climb trees and run barefoot along pebbly beaches. She loves the natural world and believes that stories, much like the roots of an ancient forest, are capable of connecting readers and listeners in essential ways. Wildoak is her first book. She graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English Literature and has since worked for a newspaper, taught literacy to children with learning differences and studied printmaking. She now lives in Maryland with her family and a dog who loves to eat manuscripts. You can learn more about her work at ccharrington.com