An epic fantasy about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her.

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest,

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An epic fantasy about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her.

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

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  • Algonquin
  • Hardcover
  • August 2016
  • 368 Pages
  • 9781616205676

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About Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill writes novels for children and short stories for adults and poetry that she whispers in the dark when no one is listening. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is her most recent novel.

Author Website


Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal & #1 New York Times Bestseller
A Top Ten Fall 16 Kids’ Indie Next Pick!
An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of 2016
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016
Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016
2017 Booklist Youth Editors’ Choice
A New York Public Library Best Book of 2016
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016
An Amazon Top 20 Best Book of 2016

“Impossible to put down . . . The Girl Who Drank the Moon is as exciting and layered as classics like Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz.”The New York Times Book Review

“The swiftly paced, highly imaginative plot draws a myriad of threads together to form a web of characters, magic, and integrated lives . . . expertly woven and enchanting.”School Library Journal, starred review

“Rich with multiple plot lines that culminate in a suspenseful climax, characters of inspiring integrity (as well as characters without any), a world with elements of both whimsy and treachery, and prose that melds into poetry. A sure bet for anyone who enjoys a truly fantastic story.”Booklist, starred review

Discussion Questions

1. “The Witch—that is, the belief in her—made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze . . .” Why do the Elders spread the story of the Witch to the townspeople? Why might the idea of a Witch be as powerful as, or more powerful than, the actual Witch?

2. Who is the speaker of the italicized chapters, and who is the child listening to the stories? What clues led you to your answer? Why might the author have chosen to tell parts of the story through those chapters, and how did that narrative choice change your experience of the story?

3. Antain desperately wants to visit the libraries in the Tower of the Sisters of the Star when he is young, but the Sisters refuse to let him in. What do they hope to accomplish by hoarding their knowledge? Is it right? Why or why not?

4. Xan insists that sorrow is dangerous. Do you agree? What does Xan learn about sorrow by the end of the novel? How are hope and sorrow connected?

5. When Luna’s magic grows out of control, Xan decides to seal it away in Luna’s mind until she turns thirteen. What are the consequences of that decision? Was Xan right to seal off her magic? What would you have done?

6. Many types of birds appear in the novel: the madwoman’s paper birds, the sparrow Xan transforms into when she needs to travel, even the crow Luna befriends. Why do you think the author chose to feature birds? How do the different kinds of birds act similarly and differently in the story?

7. The madwoman is distraught when she realizes she cannot remember her own name. What is the danger of forgetting? What are some other examples of memory loss and its effects in the story? How do those compare to the madwoman’s experience?

8. Xan and Luna’s relationship changes once they start keeping secrets from each other. How do the lies they both tell influence their relationship? Why do they decide to keep those secrets?

9. Fyrian thinks he’s a Simply Enormous dragon, but everyone else thinks he’s a Perfectly Tiny dragon. Who is right? How does Fyrian’s perspective affect his view of the world? What other examples from the story illustrate how a character’s perspective of a particular event changed the way he or she understood the world?

10. Why does the Sorrow Eater feed on people’s sorrow? Why does she choose to wall off her heart? What are the similarities and differences in the ways Xan and the Sorrow Eater use their magic?

11. When Antain begins asking about the Witch’s nature and the Elders’ deceptions, he calls his questions “revolutionary.” Is asking questions important? How can questions be revolutionary?

12. “A story can tell the truth, she knew, but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed.” Why are stories powerful, especially when you control them? On the other hand, what happens when stories are shared? Can you identify an example of the effects of sharing a story from the book?


Favorite books/authors who inspired you?

When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of a reader. I knew that one should be a reader, and I was terribly good at pretending to be a reader, but reading simply didn’t come easily to me. What I did love, though, were stories. I was a listener. My parents—who also loved stories (still do, actually)—fed this love by reading to my siblings and me every night. They read the Narnia books and the adventures in Middle Earth. They read Grimm’s fairy tales and Andersen’s fairy tales and some Dickens. They read Just So Stories and The Jungle Book and condensed Shakespeare plays. What I loved was not the words on the page, but the telling. I loved the story in the mouth and the story in the ear and the story hovering in the space between the teller and the listener. Later, when I did start reading, I read very slowly, and I loved books with beautiful language that I could hang on and puzzle over. I read Shakespeare’s sonnets over and over and over when I was an older child. And Edna St. Vincent Millay. Oscar Wilde’s stories. And the entire Oz canon. I also read pretty much every fairy tale I could get my hands on. I liked the way words sounded. I liked the physicality of language.

What’s your writing routine?

For much of my early career, my writing time (when it was not disrupted by screaming infants or sick toddlers or dogs who didn’t understand that predawn was an inappropriate time for walkies) was from four to six in the morning. Then the kids would wake up and my “real” job would start. I can’t recommend this routine, actually. I will be the first to admit that the stories produced during that period were universally terrible. I refer to them now, affectionately, as my “starter stories,” for my own education, and no one else. Now, though, my kids are in school, and my days are my own. After I’ve made all the lunches and everyone leaves, I usually sit down and write a few longhand pages until my dog’s whining becomes too distracting, at which point he and I will walk until I have the scene I’m writing worked out in my head. Then I return, and write until the kids get home. I don’t really write late at night or early in the morning anymore—unless I’m on deadline. I keep banker’s hours.

What part of your book was the most fun to write?

When I began this book, I knew that I would have an ancient, poetry-quoting, six-limbed swamp monster named Glerk, and I knew that I would have a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who suffered from delusions of grandeur. What I did not know was how much fun I would have writing the relationship between those two characters. Glerk’s long-suffering realism. Fyrian’s overwhelming enthusiasm and lack of social skills. The friendship that those two characters have, and the profound affection they have for one another, despite their many differences, was really a joy to write.

Which part was the most difficult?

This novel has so many moving parts. Political machinations. Characters who intentionally blind themselves to facts. A mind broken by grief. A planned assassination. Woodworking. Puberty. True love. A bright girl insisting on answering her own questions, even when the adults around her are doing their best to obfuscate and deny. Stories that lie. And then everyone’s paths lead them, inexorably, into the Woods, and the Woods changes everything. Just keeping track of everyone’s trajectories was much harder than I realized.

Is there one particular character in your new book that you most relate to? Why?

I am the madwoman in the tower, hanging on to a single, desperate hope.

Wait. That’s not right. I am Xan, the Witch, intent on kindness and willing to help, but who doesn’t always do the right thing right at the beginning.

No, that’s not it. I am Glerk. Slow-moving. Fond of flowers. Insisting on boring everyone around me to death with poetry.

Actually, I take that back. I’m Luna: furious, curious, cantankerous, restless, eager to please, but more eager to annoy. But underneath it all, pulled forward by a deep, deep love.

And I’m Antain: shy, uncertain, anxious, easily broken, but desperate to do the right thing.

And wait, I’m also Ethyne, I think. And the awful Grand Elder Gherland. And even Sister Ignatia. I’m all of them. I am large and contain multitudes—I think it’s part of the job.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Be prepared to write really, really, really crummy stories. Like, the crummiest in the world. One thing that drives creators to create in the first place is our highly tuned sense of what is awesome in stories. We seek it out. We revel in it. We devour words like starving people. But the problem is that it takes a long time to achieve a skill set that allows us to produce work that even comes close to what we value. Which means that, for a long time, your stories will stink. And that’s okay. It’s important to write the stinky stories because that is how you learn. And the more you learn, the more likely it is that you will one day produce a story that touches the heart of another person. And that is a good, good thing.

Cats or dogs?

I grew up with cats. I have a dog. I would have both if my darling husband could tolerate those of the feline persuasion. I love my dog, but I do miss having a cat. Cats both cuddle and sting. They are like having a loveable assassin living in your house: they charm, they play at adoration, but they can always strike. I like it when creatures keep us on our toes.

If writing weren’t part of your daily work, what career would you like to have?

Well, I’ve already had several: teacher and bartender and park ranger and whatever. I thought about being a doctor in my youth, but I fear I lack the brainpower. But if I woke up and realized that the story well had run dry, I’d probably go back to the classroom. And train new writers.

Which author would you most like to spend the day with?

Oscar Wilde. My first true love.

What is your secret superpower?

Oh, I have several. I can run very fast and for a long time and not get tired. I can pick up very hot objects with my bare hands and not get burned. I make amazing soup (though baking is my kryptonite—my cakes are notoriously horrible). I can anticipate when one of my kids is having a bad day even when they’re nowhere near me. I also am in possession of Giant Love Rays, which I can direct at people at will. I am able to make people feel awesome about themselves. It’s a useful skill and I have made a solemn oath to only use my power for good. Also, it’s fun making people feel happy and shiny and amazing.

courtesy of Algonquin Books


Kelly Barnhill on writing The Girl Who Drank The Moon

The last thing I expected, when I finally began this book, was a volcanic eruption. Or a volcanic landscape. Or volcanoes in general. Still, once I began, there it was. Waiting. Building. Right under my feet. Like it had been there all along.

In a lot of ways, the genesis of The Girl Who Drank the Moon was similar to the rest of my books—it began with a little knot of text that unwound in my head while I was out for a run. A sentence that pleased me, that stuck in my ear, that carried me, teasing and twisting and winding around my fingers.

And when the knot of text stuck—when it assembled itself into a shape that felt stable and whole—I knew that I had a story worth thinking on.

Here’s the thing about novel writing: very little of it is actually writing. Indeed, I have to spend much more time thinking about a novel before ever setting a single word down on the page. I got a box (there must always be a box) and I tossed in quotes and thoughts and sometimes little sketches that are so universally terrible that no one will ever see them. I drew little drawings of a house built into a tree and a swing bed with pulleys to hoist it to the ceiling during the day and a pair of seven-league boots and a devilishly complicated tower.

“Poetry,” I wrote on one scrap. “There must be poetry.”

“Every witch worth her salt knows that starlight makes excellent baby food.”

“The baby is being cute on purpose, in an insidious plot to beguile and distract,” I wrote on a notecard, possibly when I was babysitting my infant twin niece and nephew. “What a mean baby.”

I knew I wanted a town sandwiched between a dangerous wood and a massive bog. I knew that I wanted a cabal of cynical men who committed an atrocious act year after year for the sole purpose of keeping themselves rich and powerful. I knew that I wanted a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who believes he is ever so much larger than he is. I knew I wanted a baby raised in an odd and haphazard yet loving family. I knew I wanted a girl growing up with magic that she could not control and could not understand. And an overly keen young man, trying to make things right, but getting things terribly wrong. I knew I wanted a sisterhood of lady assassins. I knew I wanted all of these things.

But I wasn’t ready to start it yet.

I started writing this book, finally, in a small purple notebook at four in the morning in an un-air-conditioned motel room in Costa Rica during my honeymoon. My husband and I had been married for fifteen years, mind you, but we are slow, and it just took us a while. I could feel the story begin to feel loud. And close. And insistent.

I wrote the story on my lap, the ink on the paper finding its way toward Xan, the Witch; and Glerk, the Swamp Monster; and Fyrian, the Dragon; and Luna, the little girl at the center of it all. And as I had Xan moving through the forest—with its boiling streams and treacherous sinkholes and shifting rock—I could see it. The volcano. The day before, my husband and I had spent from sunup to sundown hiking and exploring the national park at Rincón de la Vieja, an active volcano. We chatted with the park rangers and marked on the map the places where we were not allowed. “Bad air,” the rangers warned. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Other points were marked as well. “Thin rock,” they explained. “The water is boiling underneath.” And over here, they told us, “Sinkholes. Bad news.”

We wandered that tricky landscape until the last traces of light left the sky. I went to bed thinking of steam vents and a landscape like the lid of a pot ready to boil over.

The morning I started writing the story, I woke in a fever and wrote in a fever, and the volcano was there, as integral to the story as the girl and her witch and her dragon and her swamp monster. The thing I did not expect. But I think it was probably there all along. Waiting. Building. Getting ready to blow, changing the world forever. I had the story—I could see it—like a bright thread, winding around and around my hands. It had heft and weight and color and promise. I held on tight and began the long, arduous process of following where it led.