Today we’re thrilled to reveal the cover for The Devouring Wolf by Natalie C. Parker! The cover was illustrated by Karl Kwasny and designed by Jessica Jenkins. The interior illustrations are by Tyler Champion. The book will be released on August 2, 2022 by Razorbill and can be preordered here.
Below, check out Natalie’s exclusive conversation with Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Marvellers (for which we revealed the cover here), about their respective middle grade debuts!
A queer tale about kid werewolves, big bad mistakes, and terrifying creatures in Natalie C. Parker’s exciting middle grade debut.
Little wolf, little wolf, here I come.
They say that the Devouring Wolf isn’t real, just an old legend, a giant creature who consumes the magic inside young werewolves. The elders tell the tale to scare young pups into obedience. It’s a spooky campfire story for fledging wolves. Or is it?
It’s the eve of the first full moon of summer, and twelve-year-old Riley Callahan is ready. This is the year she will finally turn into a wolf. She has to—no one transforms after twelve.
Nothing can ruin her mood: not her little brother Milo’s teasing, not mama N’s smothering, and not even her other mom C’s absence from their pack’s ceremony. But then the unthinkable happens—something that violates every rule of wolf magic: Riley doesn’t shift.
Along with the four other kids who somehow didn’t transform, Riley is left with questions that even the pack leaders don’t have answers to. And to make matters far worse, it appears something was awoken in the woods that same night. A creature with an insatiable hunger . . . has the Devouring Wolf been awakened?
Natalie C. Parker: Dhonielle! Thank you so much for chatting with me on this exciting cover reveal of a day! I’m so excited to finally be able to share this cover and talk about this book! And it is impossible for me to think of my writing career as separate from you. We met just as our debut novels were launched into the world and we went from strangers to friends in the blink of an eye. Now, here we are several years later, both of us launching our debut middle grades into the world, and I could not be less surprised that our paths are dovetailing at this moment.
Dhonielle Clayton: I know! It’s almost like we planned it, when in reality it’s taken us both years to move into writing these novels. We both started off in young adult, but tell me what drew you to middle grade, as both a storyteller and reader?
NCP: Magic. I know, I know, magic isn’t unique to middle grade, but I’m not talking about magicmagic, I’m talking about the reading experience. There is a kind of magic to reading middle grade regardless of the genre. I guess that could be nostalgia, but I think it has more to do with how the stories and authors take care of the reader. Even when tackling difficult topics or taking deep emotional dives, these are stories that manage to guide readers through without feeling pedantic or patronizing. As an author, it was part of what intimidated me most about stepping into middle grade space, and also what I was most excited about. To create a story that felt like magic.
DC: I agree. For me, middle grade was my first love as a writer. I just wasn’t successful enough at writing it for it to be the first book I got published. I believe that I write for the younger reader I was, circling around the age category where I read the most. My imagination exploded around 11 years old, and I remember my parents telling me that I was reading 5 books a week and buried in the worlds of those middle grade novels. There are photos of me and my stack of books and family stories about me tantrum-ing if I had to put my book away. I think middle grade books built me into the adult reader I am today and I’m so drawn to the possibility that this age category holds. Middle grade readers are still on the hunt for magic and as a storyteller it makes it the best possible landscape to build story from. So, what’s your favorite kind of everyday magic?
NCP: I’m in the winter spirit right now, so I have to say baking. Not only do I love the way I can transform patience and effort and ingredients into something delectable that nourishes the people around me, but every recipe I use has been handed down to me by family, many of whom are gone. Reading their words and following their instructions brings them to life in my kitchen for a few moments. I remember the stories they told, the ways they smiled, and usually how easy they made their recipes look. It’s a perfect kind of magic. What about you? What’s your favorite everyday magic?
DC: I love magic that feels like it’s just around the corner. Things that make the ordinary extraordinary and would make 11 year-old me feel like the world around her was a bit more interesting. Hidden doors to other places, tea cups that do more than hold chai but maybe baby elephants too, skies that might contain more than just clouds and give you a peek at a hidden magic school.
But let’s talk about The Devouring Wolf for a moment. This is a novel about an entire werewolf community in which little kids expect to transform before they turn 12-years-old. Of course, that doesn’t exactly go as planned for Riley Callahan. Would you talk a bit more about the significance of community in TDW and why it was important to give Riley an outsider experience inside her own community?
NCP: One of the things I remember most about being a kid was how disappointing it was to feel like I wasn’t experiencing things the way other kids were. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that feeling of being left behind had a lot to do with being queer and not having any kind of queer community. Every representation of queerness I encountered was either played for comedic effect or utterly demonizing. I didn’t even really have language to express what I was trying to untangle inside myself. I wanted to lean into that feeling for Riley and highlight it by keeping her from turning into a werewolf when all her peers do. It’s important to me that kids find the magic inside of themselves even if it doesn’t look the way they expected. You do something similar in The Marvellers—Ella is the first conjurer to attend the magical institute and she’s not exactly welcome. Can you tell us a little about why you made this choice?
DC: Ella Durand’s experience mirrors very much my own being a Black American child growing up in a white suburb with parents who come from a generation that were children desegregating America’s public schools. I wasn’t welcome and I don’t think I realized that as a child. I ran into the teeth of American racism and bigotry, and oftentimes, it was tiny paper cuts that created a gaping wound over time. I wanted to have a deeper conversation about the communities that build us and make us and the communities we enter—and how those things can be in conflict at times. Ella is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors and has a magical tradition that is ostracized from the Marvellian world. But as Ella dives straight into a new world, she also finds others much like herself, a newfound community of misfits who don’t fit neatly either in this magical environment.
NCP: This feels like the perfect moment to talk about world-building. You excel at creating worlds that are utterly transportive. For The Marvellers, did you build from familiar structures, or did you build from scratch? Or is it somewhere in-between?
DC: The infamous magic school in children’s literature is an evergreen, often found in hundreds of beloved books. Imbuing a school setting—where children spend so much of their time—with magic has existed in novels for decades. I wanted to take the familiar and infuse it with all the things I wished I’d found in those books—BIPOC and queer kids. As a former librarian, I discovered that many young readers loved one foot in the old and one thing in the new, so I built the Arcanum Institute from remixed materials to re-envision what a global magic school could be. There, budding young Marvellers can practice their cultural arts, like brewing Indian spice elixirs, bartering with pesky Irish pixies, and more. What about you?
NCP: With The Devouring Wolf, I started with the pack and with the werewolf mythology I was most familiar with—that a bite will turn you into a werewolf no matter what, that wolves turn on the night of the full moon, that a silver bullet will kill a wolf. I wanted to stay in conversation with what was known, but also make it something entirely my own. So much of werewolf myth is wrapped up in having no choice or even control over your body. That certainly makes a lot of sense to me, but I also wanted to break away from the biological essentialism inherent in that idea, so much of my world-building revolves around choice. In the world of The Devouring Wolf, people can’t necessarily choose when or even if they will transform into a wolf for the first time, but they can choose whether or not they will continue. And every piece of the world in the story stems from that tension between what restrains us and what we get to choose.
DC: I know that if it’s an NCP novel, there are going to be layers of themes baked into the world. Which themes did you know you wanted to include in The Devouring Wolf, and which revealed themselves to you over the course of writing?
NCP: Oh, good question. My starting point with TDW was about bodies and “truths.” I wanted to engage with how the way we talk about bodies to young people creates expectations that feel like truth, but aren’t necessarily. At least, they aren’t for all bodies. That has always been the core theme of TDW—that all bodies don’t always follow the same rules. But as I worked my way through the world, I found that it was also a perfect space to examine notions of family. I do this in all of my books, so it wasn’t really a surprise, but with wolves, I was able to play with our expectations of power, gender, and pack/ family dynamics and create room for queer families in a space that traditionally doesn’t. That was a super exciting moment for me—realizing that just because the mythology is rooted in heteronormativity didn’t mean it had to stay that way. How about The Marvellers?
DC: A complicated question! I always start with something I’m angry about or frustrated about. My books center on a big question I’m trying to puzzle out for myself. The Marvellers came out of a frustration I had about how the most popular magic school books required children to give up the magic they may have in their homes in favor of the magic taught at said school. I come from a community that’s full of magic, and I wanted to know what that might look like when all the children of the world are invited to study. Do they always have to give up what they already know to study someone else’s magic? What happens to their own? Also, what does it look like to live in a global magical community—whose rules apply, whose culture dominates as communities come together to exist. How complicated could it get?
NCP: I love that and cannot wait to read! Thank you so much for chatting with me, Dhonielle! And for lending me your name for my “scaredy wolf.” You are an inextricable part of my middle grade journey.
DC: Thank you so much for deep diving with me and telling me all the wolf pack secrets. I’m so glad we’re on this middle grade journey together and I know that the younger readers we were would’ve loved our books. Little Natalie and little Dhonielle would’ve devoured (hehe) these books!
Natalie C. Parker is the author and editor of several books for young adults among them the award winning Seafire trilogy. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. Natalie grew up in a navy family finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan. Now, she lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie.
Dhonielle Clayton is a New York Times Bestselling author of The Belles series, Shattered Midnight, co-author of Blackout, and the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things duology, a Netflix original series. She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs on the Maryland side. She taught secondary school for several years, and is a former elementary and middle school librarian. She is COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books, and President of Cake Creative, an IP story kitchen dedicated to diverse books for all ages. She’s an avid traveler, and always on the hunt for magic and mischief. Up next: The Marvellers, her middle grade fantasy debut. You can find her on social media @brownbookworm.