Raspberry Gardens: A Svetla Radivoeva Book Review

Svetla Radivoeva thinks it sounds cliché, but she remembers the exact moment that she realized her true passion for animation.

She was 8 years old and drawing while watching Beauty and the Beast for the 100th time. She paused the movie, adjusting her stare between the television and the paper. She realized that what she was watching on the screen was drawings that moved.

"Before that it all looked so real to me since the characters felt like real people with real emotions that I was feeling for,” she said. “It was then that I realized that this was what I wanted to do - to make my drawings as alive as the drawings I loved watching over and over again, that made me laugh and cry.”

For nearly the last decade, Radivoeva has been an animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios. In addition to working on films such as Frozen, Moana and Zootopia, she recently released her first children’s book for Disney Press, Malina’s Jam. The story focuses on Malina, a hedgehog who loves to tend to her raspberry bushes and make jam from the berries. When her animal neighbors show interest in her jam, she happily shares with them and forgets to save some for herself.

Radivoeva had big dreams for an environmental story, but went back and forth with the idea as she felt it was too preachy and was talking about too many topics at the same time. Instead, she focused on an idea about an animal that survives on her food during the winter. She knew that she wanted the main character to end up with nothing and she knew she wanted other animals to be featured, and the rest of the story found its way to her.

“The rest of the puzzle came with going over the story many times, talking it through and iterating it to a point that started to make sense,” she said. “I have to admit that the heart came later and the theme as well. It caught me off guard because it sort of happened on its own. I wish I could say I meant it as it is from the very beginning, and I just had to write it down. I have heard before that you cannot force a story and they are their own thing that just have to come to life but I never really have realized it before I worked on this one. It was definitely a challenging but very, very cool experience that gave me a new perspective to the creation process.”

The book is part of the Walt Disney Animation Artists Studio Showcase, a series that offers Disney artists and storytellers the chance to create a children’s book within their publishing company. This is not only Radivoeva’s first book but the first time she has worked on a project with Disney from beginning to end. She was incredibly nervous, but has the advantage of working alongside a group of insanely talented people that rely on each other and praise one another’s work. 

“I learned a lot about creating a story in the form of a book, where the rules are different from those in a movie,” she said. “I also have a huge respect for storytellers. At the same time there is no denial that when the book was done there was an incredible sense of accomplishment and pride. It felt like a baby to me and being able to see the full cycle of creation of it was an incredible and very fulfilling process.”

The book focuses on themes of sharing and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. However, there is an element that Radivoeva isn’t sure comes across. She said it felt like Malina lost herself in giving also because she loved the animals liking what she made and was caught up in the fact that her jam was so good that they wanted more.

“Sharing felt good but also having something that the others appreciated also felt good to her,” she said. “She realized that she needs the jam to survive and she even stopped caring about her garden that she loves so much. So maybe a conversation that self-care is still important and paying attention to your own needs is also important. She had the animals at the end to help because she was so giving to them, but maybe it is still a good idea to pay attention to yourself as well.”

Malina’s Jam is a sweet, caring story about a hedgehog who learns about caring for herself as much as she cares for others. Between its beautiful illustrations and touching storyline, Svetla Radivoeva created a children’s book that truly encompasses the magic of Disney.