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April 6, 2012

Creating a children’s book


Not everyone can see the joy of the “gloomy and rainy skies” and decide to go outside for a walk – but Curly Orli can and does. Though she heads out after a rainy night into a sunny autumn day in Curly Orli Goes to Vancouver, this new children’s book character is full of energy and enthusiasm. In her debut story, she takes Bunny Arni on a tour of Stanley Park and its environs, encountering many other creatures and interesting landmarks along their way.

The brainchild of Lana Lagoonca (real given name Lana Ayelet Shahar-Kulik), the plasticine-made character came to her on one of her walks with her curly-haired daughter, Naomi. Curly Orli Goes to Vancouver is dedicated to Naomi, as well as to Ella, Lagoonca’s younger sister by almost 16 years, who also has curly hair.

“Curly Orli is a young traveler who loves nature, animals, and shares her experiences and travels in her diary,” explained Lagoonca, who is a graphic designer, author and illustrator.

Born in Riga, Latvia, Lagoonca moved to Israel with her family in 1995. There, she studied visual communications at Askola-Meimad, Tel Aviv’s College of Art and Design. In 1997, she met her husband, Vlad, originally from Ukraine, who was a student at Tel Aviv University. Together with their young daughter they immigrated to Canada four years ago.

“After moving to Vancouver, we fell in love with this beautiful city,” Lagoonca told the Independent. “Living Downtown for several years, we learned all the paths there. Stanley Park, English Bay, Coal Harbor – we were fascinated by what surrounded us. More than anything, my daughter and I love to go out ... [and] we tried to draw what we saw. We started to paint when she was nine months old. When she was one and a half years old, we began sculpting Playdough. We started with the simple geometric shapes, which gradually became more complex.”

She and Naomi would watch the yachts and ships in Coal Harbor and English Bay and then try to create them with Playdough at home, explained Lagoonca. They did the same after encountering raccoons, herons and rabbits in Stanley Park, making the animals from Playdough and then playing with them, staging funny scenes.

“We, parents, can influence our kids’ intelligence development, so I’ve paid, and am still paying, a lot of attention to clay modeling,” said Lagoonca. “Modeling helps children to develop artistic taste, spatial imagination, fine motor skills of hands, and perseverance.”

She recommended that parents, “Let [their] children walk, draw and share their fantasies on the canvas, with plasticine or any other ways that develop their identity.”

As a child herself, said Lagoonca, “I loved to draw and play with dolls in school. I took a regular notebook, where I wrote my stories and I also illustrated them with pens and pencils. After that, I read my stories to the dolls. I continued to draw at older ages too, loved to make holiday greeting cards for my parents, as well as posters for the school holidays and events. At that time, I had no idea how to combine both of my hobbies.

“When I graduated from high school, I went to the College of Pedagogues in Riga.... At age 19, I’d started to teach at the elementary school, also worked as a Latvian language teacher and, in the summer, as an instructor in one of the children’s camps in Jurmala, where I spent every summer when I was a kid.”

When Lagoonca immigrated to Israel, she was almost 25 years old. With the opportunities the country offered, her life entered a new stage. “Caught in the Holy Land, and coming in contact with the religion, I was able to better understand myself,” she said.

Lagoonca remembers her years at Askola-Meimad fondly. “I was fortunate to study with such wonderful artists as Yosi Lemel, Merav Shinn Ben-Alon, Orit and Yoel Gilinsky, and other professionals. There were so many creative projects that we did during these years of study!”

By experimenting with different techniques, Lagoonca discovered what she calls “the magical properties of modeling clay.” For her graduation project, she combined graphic design with her clay art. “Thus, in 1999, my first plasticized book about Israel, Notes for Newcomers, was born,” she said. “The teachers and the public really liked the idea of my plasticine pictures. The exhibition was a success. There was even an article about me and my book project in one of the Israeli newspapers in Russian.”

After college, Lagoonca said she was eager to work in advertising, so she set books aside for the meantime. She designed business cards, logos and advertising flyers, retouched photos and also taught children in an art studio in one of Tel Aviv’s community centres.

“For many years, I was engaged in the production of fashion catalogues for various clothing companies,” she added. “I’ve also participated in other art projects. At some point, I felt that I missed art with modeling clay, but my work kept me busy all the time.”

Then Naomi was born, in 2007, and Lagoonca “discovered the world through a child’s eyes once again.” She said, “I became determined to create bright and educational books for children. I’m enjoying every second of working on new projects, particularly on Curly Orli.”

The story of Curly Orli came first, explained Lagoonca of the creative process that went into the book. “While translator Mar’yana Fisher and editors Joanne Beauchamp and Galina Danilova worked on the text, I created illustrations from clay, which I based on my previous sketches and Vancouver photos. Then, my works were photographed by photographer Leon Shkolnik.... At this time, I also scanned scrap-set pages kindly provided by Canadian firm ScrapMagie, which were used as the backgrounds for my illustrations. In my collages, I’ve used embroidered items provided by machine-embroidery and quilt designer Liubov Tabunidze.” Lagoonca collaborated with Valeriy Orlov to shoot a promo video for the book.

There is also the Curly Orli Lotto Game, targeted to children aged three to eight. It’s like Bingo, said Lagoonca, but played with pictures. These types of games “help children develop memory, language and attention,” she said, adding that they also help them “learn to communicate and play by the rules.”

Curly Orli Lotto Game is currently available in English and Russian. Lagoonca is working on the Hebrew version with Ryvka Goldberg Feigelstock, a Hebrew teacher and rebbetzin of the Bayit in Richmond, where Lagoonca and her family now live.

As examples of other Curly Orli-related material, Lagoonca said that American textile designer Tatiana Lapotko has created a felt board game, Israeli leather and jewelry designer Lera Burshtein is working on a series of leather key chains and an e-book version is in the works. Curly Orli holiday cards can be purchased at and, on the book’s website, Lagoonca has a tutorial section in which she shows visitors how to make plasticine items with which to celebrate the holidays; the first lesson was how to make a tea set and hamantashen to mark Purim.

Lagoonca said there will be more Curly Orli adventures.

“I will not reveal all the secrets ahead of time, but I can say with certainty that one of the books will be devoted to Israel, the country where Curly Orli (Naomi) was born,” said Lagoonca. “But the image of Curly Orli portrays everyone who loves life, loves the city in which they live and, particularly, such a wonderful country as Canada, and Vancouver.”