By Laia Feliu.
We are very happy to welcome Claribel A. Ortega to The Reading Corner to discuss her children’s fantasy book “Witchlings“, out now!
Every year, in the magical town of Ravenskill, Witchlings who participate in the Black Moon Ceremony are placed into covens and come into their powers as full-fledged witches. And twelve-year-old Seven Salazar can’t wait to be placed in the most powerful coven with her best friend! But on the night of the ceremony, in front of the entire town, Seven isn’t placed in one of the five covens. She’s a Spare! Spare covens have fewer witches, are less powerful, and are looked down on by everyone. Even worse, when Seven and the other two Spares perform the magic circle to seal their coven and cement themselves as sisters, it doesn’t work! They’re stuck as Witchlings – and will never be able to perform powerful magic. Seven invokes her only option: the impossible task. The three Spares will be assigned an impossible task: If they work together and succeed at it, their coven will be sealed and they’ll gain their full powers. If they fail… Well, the last coven to make the attempt ended up being turned into toads. Forever. But maybe friendship can be the most powerful magic of all…
Hi Claribel! Firstly, thank you so much for your time. I loved “Witchlings”, and I cannot wait for everyone to get their hands on it.
Before diving into the interview, I would like to give you the space to introduce yourself to our readers.
Thank you so much, I’m so happy you loved Witchlings! Hello readers, I’m Claribel Ortega. I’m the author of Ghost Squad and Witchlings, both I’m very proud to say, are New York Times Bestsellers. I grew up in the South Bronx, to Dominican parents, and I currently still reside in New York. I love writing about scrappy underdog characters, funny cute animals and overcoming the odds. In my downtime I love playing video games like Stardew Valley, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Animal Crossing and The Sims.
One of my favourite parts of your book was how you mixed fantastical elements with the internet and current technology. What was the inspiration for the book and this blend?
I wanted kids to feel really welcome to the world of Ravenskill and part of that meant reflecting the world they live in, and technology is such a big part of that. I thought it would be fun to include my own magical spin on electronics, like scrollers instead of tablets. I also wanted to challenge myself! It’s a lot easier to create plot problems when there’s no technology involved, so I had to make sure the issues the Witchlings faced were too big for even their portaphones to solve.
Seven was such an amazing character to read about. She is put under a lot of pressure and has been through a lot in her life. Tell us how she came to life and how her situations shaped her character.
I am so happy that people have loved Seven, so thank you. With Seven I really wanted to create a character who was already confident in herself and her abilities but then challenge both her worldview and her methods for success by making her rely on others, which she’s not used to. I was an overachieving kid, who went through a lot very young so I wanted Seven to reflect both the helplessness and the hope a child can feel during difficult situations.
One of the main things we learn about Seven´s character as we progress through the book is that she struggles to find any place that she truly belongs and through her multiple interactions with other characters we gain a real sense of her estrangement. Could you explain how your own experiences paved the way for you to create such a relatable character for many of us who have experienced feelings of being an outcast in our respective communities?
I’m a diaspora kid and was the first in my family to be born in the States. So many times throughout my life, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, I wasn’t Dominican enough or American enough. As I grew up it was also hard for me to find my place in school, especially when I moved from the South Bronx to Yorktown Height in Westchester. Most of my classmates were so different from me. I once again found myself on the outside and unable to find a lane for myself, which can be so important as a kid. Eventually I found my way, but I channelled those feelings of not belonging, into Seven and into the concept of being a Spare in general. I think feeling like you don’t belong is a pretty universal human experience and I wanted to be as honest as possible about how awful it is and maybe turn it up a notch in my writing for emphasis and drama.
This book doesn’t treat kids in a belittling and patronising way as we often see in literature, but rather treats them with respect and exposes them to many hard situations which will help them develop their character and become strong and capable human beings. What do you hope will be the effect of creating these kind of role models for children?
The kids books I’ve read have all been great about treating children with respect so I had a solid foundation to work and learn from. I wanted to continue that kind of legacy of honesty and respect with my work, especially because as I mentioned, I went through a lot as a kid. Not every kid is sheltered from the harsh realities of life, and I want to always write with them in mind, so that they don’t feel alone and have a safe space to turn to when they do.
I have always loved reading and watching anything witch-related, and I know coming up with spells and magic creatures would be an amazing experience for me. What was your favourite thing to write about in “Witchlings”?
This is hard! The very first thing that came to mind was actually something from Witchlings 2 but I don’t want to spoil that. I will say, it’s racoon related haha. For Witchlings 1 there are two chapters where the girls wear costumes to complete different parts of their mission and I loved writing those scenes. They were both really funny and fun and I love both the banter between the Witchlings and how adults react to them in their disguises.
There are many very powerful messages in your book, what are the messages you hope young people will take away from it?
I want people to know that they are special and loved, no matter who they are and what cards life may have dealt them. I also hope that people who are going through tough times, find the strength to keep going and that the Witchlings bravery and love, extends to them.
What topics that you’ve covered in the book do you hope we’ll be reading more about in the future?
There are a lot of loose ends from the first book that are explored in Witchlings 2 but I can’t say what without spoiling the book! But readers can expect more from the three Witchlings, more about the other covens (including meeting witches from them) and a bigger, more dramatic story for Witchlings 2.
Are there any books within the YA genre or with similar messages to “Witchlings” You could recommend our young readers?
For MG, I would definitely recommend Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa by Julian Randall and for YA I would say Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova.
And last but not least, where can everyone get their hands on this amazing and heart-warming story?
All the buy links for Witchlings are at WitchlingsWorld.com and readers can take the Witchlings quiz to see what coven they’re in at WitchlingsQuiz.com!
Claribel A. Ortega is a former reporter who writes middle-grade and young adult fantasy inspired by her Dominican heritage. When she’s not busy turning her obsession with eighties pop culture, magic, and video games into books, she’s co-hosting her podcast Celebrity Book Club and helping authors navigate publishing with her consulting business GIFGRRL. Claribel has been featured on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Good Morning America and Deadline.
Claribel’s Instagram: @Claribel_Ortega
Claribel’s Website: http://www.claribelortega.com
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