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When Our Heroes Fail Us: The inspiration behind “The Verdigris Pawn,” a guest post by Alysa Wishingrad

When I was in fourth grade my family moved from the city to the suburbs. As the new kid in town, I had a few friends, but I was also terribly teased and taunted. It was not an easy transition, and I relied on those older and wise than me to help get me through.

One day when we were all trickling back into the classroom from recess, some of the other kids began laughing and pointing at my back. I reached around and could feel the edges of a piece of paper stuck to my shirt, but I couldn’t reach it. So, I went to the teacher, the one person in the room I thought I could trust above all others and asked if there was anything on my shirt.

She replied, “No.” 

Moments later a friend came back into the room and pulled a KICK ME sign off the back of my shirt.

Now, I can’t know why that teacher did what she did. Was she truly being cruel? Maybe she was distracted, somehow didn’t see it, or perhaps this is a false memory. But even if my recollections of the details aren’t accurate, the feeling of having someone who I’d placed my implicit trust in, who I’d thought of as a hero failing– and perhaps even betraying—me was powerful.

A very sad future author in 4th grade

Since then, I’ve had several mentors, professors, and teachers who saw what I was capable of and worked tirelessly to help me come to see it too. They were transformative guides whose influence is woven deeply into who I am and how I strive to move through the world.

But like my 4th grade teacher there have been those who failed me. There were the mentors who turned out to be empty shirts, more interested in self-aggrandizing and collecting acolytes than in teaching or inspiring. There have been those in the public realm who I considered heroes that were unworthy of my admiration. But as painful as it can be to see through your heroes, there’s an important lesson to be learned, one that I set out to explore in my debut middle-grade novel, The Verdigris Pawn.

Tea, work and a massage ball to work the kinks out

In The Verdigris Pawn, Beau and Nate go searching for a hero. Someone who can lead the revolution the Land is so desperately in need of. 

Beau, heir to the despotic leader of the Land, has been raised isolated, cut off from everyone but his tutors and the occasional audience with his father. He knows nothing about the desperate lives the people of the Land lead until he meets Cressi, a clever and wise servant girl with a hidden talent. Cressi sees a strength and courage in Beau and tries to convince him to take up the mantel of power to right the wrongs of his family. But Beau doesn’t believe himself capable of leading anyone.

Nate, an orphan raised in the cruel and hostile environment of Mastery House, has been trying for years to run off to join the rebels. But much like Beau, he’s been conditioned from an early age to look for the leaders, to be a soldier not a commander.

Together they risk everything to find a hero, the one person who can right all the wrongs perpetuated by Beau’s father, a man so feared people only dare refer to him as Himself.

But along the way they learn that not everyone and everything is as it seems. Charlatans and pretenders lurk around every corner professing to hold the key to freedom and happiness when, in truth, their sole interest is in shining their reputation and lining their pockets.

When our role models fail us, we’re left stunned, disillusioned, and questioning ourselves. If this person that I put so much faith in turned out to be a bad actor, what does that say about me? How did I not see them for what they are?

When Beau and Nate realize that their hero is not who or what they thought, they initially have very different reactions. One chooses to try and ignore it, to hold fast to the ideal he held in his head. The other simply thinks he chose the wrong hero and now he must go find the right one.

Encourage kids from an early age to be the hero of their own stories

At that point in the story, neither boy is willing to recognize that they’re the heroes they’ve been looking for.

It’s hard to give up the notion that there’s someone out there with all the answers, someone who can save us. But even when there is that reliable leader, that stalwart of character and purpose, the truth is, none of us can afford to relinquish our power to anyone else. We do a great disservice to both ourselves and the collective by minimizing our ability to have a meaningful impact.

A heroine I can whole heartedly support.
Fun Fact: Lady Liberty, who is made of bronze, is … verdigris!

Beau and Nate learn this lesson the hard way. Had they listened to Cressi early on instead of chasing after a hero, desperate to find the answer outside themselves, they might have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble. She saw their gifts from the beginning, knew what they were capable of. In many ways she was the most meaningful mentor they had—the one who sought to inspire them to find the greatness within rather than emulate someone else. But as in both stories and life, self-discovery is a journey, one that’s shaped by the mentors—both the good and the deeply flawed–we meet along the way.

Meet the author

Alysa Wishingrad once had a whole different career working in theater, tv, and film, but nothing could be better or more exciting than writing stories and crafting worlds for middle-grade readers. 8–12-year-olds are some of the smartest, most open, and inquisitive people around. She’s dedicated to writing stories that help them hold onto that magic as they grow up.

Alysa’s favorite stories are those that meld the historical with the fantastic, and that find ways to shine a light on both the things that divide and unite us all.

When she’s not writing she’s probably out walking her two very demanding rescue dogs, or she might be trying to figure out what to make for dinner – again! – for her family. But, if she’s very lucky, she’s out at the theater getting lost in a wonderful story.

THE VERDIGRIS PAWN is her debut novel and is available now from HarperCollins.

Visit her at www.alysawishingrad.com

On Twitter @agwishingrad

On Instagram @alysawishingradwrites

About The Verdigris Pawn

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION! 

A boy who underestimates his power . . .

A girl with a gift long thought lost . . .

A Land ready for revolution . . .

The heir to the Land should be strong. Fierce. Ruthless. At least, that’s what Beau’s father has been telling him his whole life, since Beau is the exact opposite of what the heir should be. With little control over his future, Beau is kept locked away, just another pawn in his father’s quest for ultimate power.

That is, until Beau meets a girl who shows him the secrets his father has kept hidden. For the first time, Beau begins to question everything he’s ever been told and sets off in search of a rebel who might hold the key to setting things right. 

Teaming up with a fiery runaway boy, their mission quickly turns into something far greater as sinister forces long lurking in the shadows prepare to make their final move—no matter what the cost. But it just might be Beau who wields the power he seeks . . . if he can go from pawn to player before the Land tears itself apart.

ISBN-13: 9780062908056
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/13/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

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