By Jill Ratzan and Kiera Parrott on April 18, 2016 Leave a Comment Brian Farreya€™s latest middle grade fantasy, The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, has been compared to Lois Lowrya€™s classic The Giver. Therea€™s something unique about your middle grade fantasies (Dreadwillow Carse as well as a€?The Vengekeep Prophesiesa€?): they are at once very classic feeling, yet with a distinctively modern sensibility.
Ia€™m kind of embarrassed to say that as a middle grade reader, I didna€™t read a lot of fantasy.
Unlike many middle grade fantasies, in which most protagonists and secondary characters are white, yours is a realistically diverse world.
A Ia€™d like to think that, as a society, wea€™ve reached a point where ita€™s become impossible not to acknowledge the diversity of our world and reflect that in art.
When Jeniah learns she is the new Queen Ascendant and must take over the Monarchy when her mother dies, she starts training with a rather unusual tutor, who, frustratingly for Jeniah, employs the Socratic method instead of direct instruction. A The thing about the tutor, Skonas, is that, while ita€™s not directly expressed in the book, I always felt that his teaching style varies based on his student. A I actually took a few walks out into swampy land to get a stronger feel for what it was like out there. There is a theme about happiness in this booka€”about what constitutes a€?reala€? happiness. On one hand, direct discussions of emotions seem rare in texts for middle graders; on the other hand, the movie Inside Outa€”which deals openly with these issuesa€”was highly popular this past summer. A Queen Sula has a line in the book where she says, a€?Parents only ever lie to their children to protect them.
Your characters struggle with some heavy moral dilemmas: Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Jill Ratzan writes about children’s and young adult literature for School Library Journal, BookPage magazine, Young Adult Books Central, and other library and literature venues.

About Kiera ParrottKiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian.
Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters.
We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. And while blanket comparisons like that are bandied about with regularity in the book marketing world, this beautifully written, complexly layered tale earns the praise. After that, I embellished using sounds, smells, and sights that personally haunt my own nightmares. As much as we strive to be as happy and content as possible, I feel we all need our sadness.
Where do you think the boundaries lie among happiness, contentment, and just plain ignorance? I have yet to see it actually work.a€? I think the mind-set in the past has always been a€?protect the children!a€? and, for many, that means shielding them from thoughts beyond their ken. There are some adults today (some running for political office, for example) who might have turned out very different if theya€™d been challenged to consider these questions at a younger age. She’s interested in traditions and technologies, communities and collaboration, and the transformative power of storytelling. But I read mainly realistic stories in middle grade: Veronica Ganz by Marilyn Sachs, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Banana Blitz by Florence Parry Heide. I think hea€™s really good at sizing up a student quickly and deciding if this is someone who needs to be spoon-fed information or someone who is up for a challengea€¦.

For the most part, I tried to create something that would give me the wiggins, and if I could do that, I figured others might get on board, too. Ignorance feels like such a loaded word, something that could be a whole other debate or book. The two girls team up to investigate the deeply hidden secrets behind a group of people known as the Crimson Hoods and their connection to the Carse.
I think what I aim for is to make the trappings feel old or a€?classica€? and then infuse them with more contemporary ideas. Ia€™m a firm believer that kids need to see themselves and what they know to be true in books.
Full disclosure: Ia€™m not sure that some of those teachers necessarily set out to influence me, but the majority of them did so knowingly. The trick, of course, is to try to find that balance where we find strength in the sadness and it doesna€™t overwhelm us.
But wea€™re slowly coming around to the notion that kids can be more resilient than we give them credit for. I hope a lot of different kids from many different backgrounds and experiences will get that from Dreadwillow. But acknowledging and honoring our sadness [are small things that] we can do in almost any situation to give ourselves a little bit of power. I like knowing that contemporary kids can find a little more help navigating an increasingly complex emotional landscape.

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