The Magic Behind Boggs Ferry and Ravenskill


Imagine some of the New York river towns like Dobbs Ferry and Peekskill flipped upside down and transformed into magical towns like Boggs Ferry and Ravenskill. Each year, Witchlings are placed into covens at Ravenskill in order to become fully powerful witches. Seven Salazar, a twelve-year-old witchling, is deemed a Spare in front of the entire town. The lowest of them all and looked down upon by everyone.

Seven and her new friends must now complete the impossible, find and stop the Nightbeast spotted at Boggs Ferry who eats witchlings, in order to save their magic. And not end up possibly becoming toads.

This concept in the New York Times bestseller Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega is paralleled in the author’s own life. Ortega was born in the U.S. and grew up in the Bronx after her parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic in their thirties. In spite of not being able to speak English and giving up so much for their children, her parents taught their children that they can do anything. 

Seven had these same types of parents. Parents that give their child support and love unconditionally, against all of society’s perceptions. Despite Seven’s unfortunate given path, her parents remained strong for her. 

Parents become more vulnerable with their children as they get older. This vulnerability became more apparent when Ortega’s brother passed away at a young age. It’s almost impossible to hide the pain and suffering that comes with losing a child. Ortega said, “It was a big role reversal. I would try to make them laugh.”

She had to demonstrate the utmost strength to her parents. Just as Seven must in her circumstances. 

Growing up, Ortega found strength in being the underdog just as Seven seems to be. Society viewed her as different. A sort of antihero just like Seven for being brown and queer. On top of that, her whole family until her was born in the Dominican Republic. It caused her to feel like she never felt in. Just as Seven didn’t fit in with the society in Witchlings. Ortega said, “Not being sort of Dominican enough for the DR or American enough for the Americans. Feeling like I never really had a home.” 

Only when Ortega entered the book world, she finally felt at home. After living in the Bronx she moved to Yorktown during her freshman year of high school. She noted the complete cultural differences between the Bronx and Westchester. Her admiration for the beautiful rich history of the Hudson Valley area stemmed from her childhood. She even worked in Dobbs Ferry early on in her career as a reporter for Rivertowns Enterprise. She presently loves living in Peekskill known in Witchlings as Ravenskill. She said,  “I wanted kids no matter who they were to truly feel safe in Ravenskill.”

Despite how society may have affected her identity in her culture, Ortega always incorporates little bits of her Dominican culture in her books. All of the spells in Witchlings are in Spanish. There is even a chapter where there is a ball and they dance merengue. Growing up with English as her second language, she said, “I was thinking about younger me and how much it would have meant for me to see a book with a protagonist speaking my language.” 

Ortega’s Witchlings has been well received by children and their parents as well. From hearing their children, parents have also begun using the book’s alternative curse words, such as “butt toad.” Children have even dressed up for Halloween as Witchlings characters. From chic witches to green toads to tall mushrooms to furry wolves. Ortega said, “That blew my mind.”

Ortega’s next book will be bigger and more dramatic, casting on sadder emotions. All the coven houses will be seen as the golden frog games take place during a magical tournament and some competitions turn into stone. The book will come out on May 2 of this year. There will be an official meet and greet launch event on April 29 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m. where fans may dress up in appropriate costumes. 

Seven and her friends are growing up. Making new friends, having fallouts with people in their lives, and experiencing crushes. They went from being the underdogs to learning their powers in embracing their independence, similar to Ortega’s own life.  

In a passage from Witchlings, “‘I had a grand total of one good friend at school,’” Seven said, and her stomach turned at the use of the word had.”

Ortega said, “Sometimes you have to be alone in life. Not by your own choice.”