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Year of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

MFA: Children's Literature

Directing Professor

Ellen Kushner


The Boneyard is a middle-grade historical fantasy, set in 18th century St. Mary’s City, Maryland. John Gage his friend Sally, and his sister Ruth are playing a game of snapdragon, which John is very good at, when a family friend, Miles Downing, tells John that his father was killed in a mutiny. When John’s sister succumbs to a bout of her chronic illness a month later, John knows that it will be up to him to get medicine for now that his father is gone. He learns that the magical medicine has been provided by a mermaid as winnings for games of snapdragon. Knowing that he is very good at snapdragon, John thinks that there is no risk of losing, and brings his slave, Ben, as a companion to help retrieve the medicine. The game is not what John expected—it involves stealing the medicine from a real, fire-breathing dragon. The mermaid claims Ben as her winnings when John loses the game. Now John is on a quest not only to rescue his sister but Ben as well. He and Sally are kidnapped by pirates, play more games of mermaid snapdragon, learn that Miles Downing is not a good friend, and finally win both the medicine they need and freedom for Ben.

The following essay identifies The Boneyard as a historical fantasy written during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Discussion includes treatment of enslaved characters by authors of fiction, the need for accuracy in historical representation, and historical fantasy as a learning tool for children. Comparisons are made to The Freedom Maze, The Underground Railroad, Passenger, and the animated film Pocahontas.