Jennifer Dance Discusses Paint!

Jennifer Dance Discusses Paint!

Posted on February 9 by Kyle in Interview, Kids
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Tell us about your book.

Paint is the story of a black-and-white mustang born wild on the Great Plains of North America. It’s 1870, a time of great change on both the American plains and the Canadian prairie, and the horse named Paint experiences much of it.  Her life story takes us through the near extinction of the buffalo, the plight of the Plains Indians whose lives were intertwined with them, and the struggles of the ranchers and pioneering homesteaders who moved onto what had previously been Indian Territory. Through it all, we glimpse the mistakes that were made, especially the overgrazing and plowing that caused what is still considered to be the biggest environmental disaster in modern history, the Dust Bowl. There’s a lesson here for us today as we face the ecological challenges of a rapidly changing world.


In your own work, which character are you most attached to and why?

Paint! She is a smart, spirited, and beautiful mare, one that I would love to have as my friend. She has a heightened sense of survival handed down from her ancestors who lived wild on the Great Plains. This makes her alert to very small changes around her, and suspicious of new things, especially anything that might eat her! She’s a prey animal and she knows it. But when she overcomes her fear, she is wise, loyal and hard-working, giving her all to the humans who ask for it. If left wild on the Plains she would probably have become the alpha mare of the herd, keeping the other horses in line and making crucial decisions for them. She takes that trait into her life of captivity, still being boss, even to the big Belgian workhorse who is twice her size.


What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Keeping Paint a horse and not anthropomorphizing her. I wanted to tell the story from Paint’s perspective, but I didn’t want to give her a human voice, like Anna Sewell did in Black Beauty, or as Michael Morpurgo did in War Horse. I wanted to keep Paint thinking like a horse, not a human. I’ve had a lifetime of caring for horses and watching their interactions in the herd as well as with humans, but it was still a challenge not to put human thoughts into her head. Overall though, Paint was a relatively easy story for me to write. I have a degree in agriculture, as well as a passion for justice, equality, and the environment. Add this to a lifelong love of horses, and you can see that this book was a natural fit for me.


How did you come up with the title?

It just shouted itself to me! There was never any alternative. My childhood TV viewing had introduced me to Scout, Tonto’s painted horse in the original series, The Lone Ranger, so even as a 5-year-old I knew that painted horses were synonymous with the Wild West! Mustangs can be any colour, but thanks to Tonto and Scout, my story was always going to be about a painted one. And what better name for a painted horse than Paint? Plus it’s a name that all her owners could quite reasonably call her… so she maintains the same identity throughout the story. 


What was your first publication?

Red Wolf: the story of an Anishnaabe boy who was sent to residential school, and the orphaned timber wolf who waits for him. Paint is not a sequel to Red Wolf, but they do have similar themes, so that along with my next book, Hawk, they are now considered part of the White Feather Series. In all of these books I use an endangered animal to help focus on the unjust treatment of indigenous people. With Red Wolf, of course, the animal is a wolf, with Paint it’s a mustang, and with Hawk it’s an osprey.  There is also a strong environmental theme in all three books.