Brandt Ricca comes from a writing background, having grown up in a family that runs a newspaper. In high school, his dream was to become a journalist, and as he got older and became an uncle to his sisters’ children, he decided to enter the world of children’s literature.
“After a day of adult stress, I would go home and watch a Disney movie, and that would keep me super grounded,” he says. “That made me explore children’s literature and I fell down this rabbit hole of creativity and storytelling.”
That led to The Barris Books, a series of books designed for third graders and up, which centers on Barris Hart, a nine-year-old transplant from Washington, D.C. living in New Orleans in 1952. In each book, Barris is swept away into his dream universe, where he encounters characters and magic, along with his spirit guide, Gracie, who helps him with what he is dealing with in life.
The three-book series, which claimed the number one spot on Amazon, emphasizes a love for and appreciation of diversity, as well as offering valuable lessons for responding to adversity.
Ricca and his partner in the books, illustrator Matt Miller, are both LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. Ricca owns D.C.-based marketing agency Nora Lee and Miller runs design firm Perspective, which has offices in D.C. and Tampa, Florida.
“We had professionally collaborated prior to the book series; he would draw pictures for my events before they would happen as a marketing promo,” Ricca says. “When COVID-19 hit, and we were all forced into a standstill, I wanted to see the book through fruition and asked him to illustrate for me.”
After the success of the original Barris story, Ricca developed a spin-off series centered on his title character’s younger sister, Bernice Hart.
The first in that series, “Bernice and the Wonder of Pearl,” came out in December, and the newest, “Bernice and the Shadow Witch” picks up a few months after the events of that story.
“Bernice is back in New Orleans after the first book found her in New York for the summer visiting her Aunties,” Ricca says. “It’s the day before New Year’s Eve, and it’s a weird time in New Orleans. It’s oddly cold and snow is falling, and Bernice encounters a new friend who is trying to get her in trouble.”
When Bernice falls asleep that night she wakes up in a Shadow Witch realm, which contains the Witch of Chaos and the Witch of Mischief, who persuade children to perform bad behavior when back in reality.
“I tend to dream about what I’m stressed about, so that’s how the dream world concept came about,” Ricca says.
The parallels between Ricca and his sisters are myriad. Both he and Barris have three sisters, all their names start with the letter B, they are both from New Orleans area and a lot of names of characters have real-life counterparts. Still, the characters inside the books are starting to have a life of their own.
“The characters are definitely easier to write now,” Ricca says. “They have more complex background stories, more nuances and quirks. After going along the fantasy world route, I feel like these books are becoming more dark and grown up.”
With five books completed within a year and a half, Ricca doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon.
A third Bernice book, “Bernice and the Broken Dream” will be coming out later this year, and that will conclude her three-book run. But Ricca and Miller have a new spin-off idea after that, which would focus on the world where all the dream gatekeepers live.
The new book, as with all in the series, can be found online wherever books are sold, plus local bookstores in Virginia and Louisiana.