Prairie Thief
by Melissa Wiley
Illustrations by Erwin Madrid.
Margaret K. McElderry, 2012

Mick and Jade

In the Spotlight:

Featured in "In the Spotlight" column in Library Sparks (April 2013)

Living on the prairie was not an easy life for a young girl in the 1880s. ...But all that changed the day that Mr. Smirch (their only close neighbor) accused Louisa's Pa of stealing.

When Mr. Smirch's and Mrs. Smirch's niece, Jessamine, sees a little creature scamper down a hole in the Hazel Grove, Louisa is not interested - until she begins to make the connection between the creature and the mystery surrounding her Pa's thief charges and the circumstances that just might be enough to get him free.

This prairie fantasy looks back at the tradition of Brownies in Northern England and Scotland -- here's a description of brownies as often described.

Description of Brownies:

Brownies in the United States have immigrated from northern England and Scotland (where they are common characters in folklore). Their role is as helpful household creatures similar to the work the elves did in the "Shoemaker and the Elves." Brownies appear to be small humans-- short in stature, with wrinkled faces and short, curly brown hair all over. Most often they are dressed in a brown cape (mantle) with a brown pointed hood or cone shaped hat. Brownies are most generally attached to a single house or farm where they stay for centuries from generation to generation. They become very protective of their homes do not like their "big folks" to quarrel or treat animals unkindly.
Brownies are hardworking but they do their work--cleaning and normal chores, at night so as not to be seen. The "big people" often leave them a bowl of fresh cream or porridge, and sometimes a little loaf of freshly baked bread. They especially like honey straight from a honey comb. The gifts are never to be regarded as payments or the Brownies will be insulted and leave. The offerings are "gifts" or "thank-you offerings" for the help of the Brownies. The work of the Brownies must not ever be criticized as Brownies are easily insulted and will regard the criticism as rejection of their work--that their help is not needed or wanted, so they will leave and find another family to help. Brownies also like shiny things.

Cover art wrap for Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley is ©Erwin Madrid;
reproduced here with permission of the illustrator. (Check out the illustrator's website at: and his blog at

Compare the composition of the cover wrap art (wrap means the art wraps around the book from front to back). Note the publisher/jacket designer generally decides the placement of the title text. It is not present on the original art. It was only after looking at this cover wrap art that I noticed the little figure in Jessamine's hands -- a foreshadowing of what comes later in the story.

Erwin Madrid is an animator and illustrator--he worked on the Shrek movies for DreamWorks and works extensively in the entertainment world. His art work is astonishing. Visit Madrid's website and his blog to keep up to date on his projects.

Prairie Thief Crossword

Crossword puzzle

Melissa Wiley uses a rich vocabulary in Prairie Thief - test your knowledge of some of those words by completing this crossword puzzle. Download PDF here.

Websites with information related to the content of Prairie Thief --

  • Wiley, Melissa. "How an Aurora, Colorado Wildlife Refuge Inspired My New Fantasy Novel--'Here in the Bonny Glen.'" (WEB) Melissa Wiley's Blog. --A narrative about the background for Wiley's 2012 title, Prairie Thief (Margaret K. McElderry)
  • Wiley, Melissa. "Welcome!--Melissa Wiley: Melissa Wiley Children's Book Author." (WEB) Official website for Melissa Wiley.
  • Peterson, Scott and Melissa Wiley. "Into the Thicklebit." (WEB) --A webcomics site that presents a new comic twice a week.

©2012, McBookwords, LLC  Contact the webkeeper with any questions regarding broken links etc.