Terri Farley has always loved horses, riding, and the wide open sky. She has worked as a waitress, a journalist, and a teacher, and now writes books full time. She is the author of The Phantom Stallion series for young readers and Seven Tears Into The Sea, a contemporary Celtic fantasy YA.
In September, she published Wild at Heart, about the plight of wild horses in the United States and the young activists working to protect and save them. Recently, Farley visited students in Austin to discuss her book.
Meghan Goel, BookPeople’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Buyer, interviewed Farley about Wild at Heart. Read about Farley’s inspiration, message, and passion below!
Meghan Goel: Why did you write this book for kids now?
Terri Farley: I had to write Wild at Heart before it was too late. I’d been writing The Phantom Stallion fiction series since 2002 and young readers fell in love with the West’s wild horses. In my stories, I could write happy endings for mustangs, but if round-ups continue at the current hectic pace, my readers might never see mustangs running free. And oh, do they want to! Kids from all over the world write to me, vowing to come West just to see them.
Like most adults, kids don’t know that mustangs and the lands they roam actually belong to them — the American public. Wild horses captured by the government are not going from homes on the range to greener pastures. Often, they go to Mexican slaughter houses.
So, yes, the story of our wild horses has a lot of dark shadow, but kids aren’t yet afraid of the truth. Faced with facts that hurt, they want to know why. They want to know how they can help. My book got its sub-title – Mustangs and the Young People Fighting to Save Them — because I want to empower kids – not crush their hopes.
Kids are relieved to learn the young people I interviewed for Wild at Heart are not perfect. Some of the featured young people were able to turn their own pain from abuse and bullying to empathy and action for the mustangs. Other kids in the book use their skills – singing, social media skills, and understanding of animals – to make a difference. No matter how much these kids may struggle in other aspects of their lives, when they stand up for wild horses, their courage is contagious.
MG: What do you hope kids will take away from Wild at Heart?
TF: I hope I show them they’re worth having the author of a book come to talk with them. That may sound strange, but just today, in Austin, two little girls asked me why I was so dressed up. When I told them it was because I was coming to see them, they were giddy.
In the best of all possible worlds, my words will help them to be stubbornly devoted to the natural world and each other.
Kids don’t live in the past, so I search for up-to- the-minute facts on everything to do with wild horses. The scientists I interview admit they’re generous with their time because they want to give young readers access to non- politicized facts.
I hope the exhilaration of learning brand new information comes through, too. Who knew an English major like me could be infatuated with paleontology?
This new information inspires kids to ask a lot of questions, like, why do adults believe outdated science? When kids learn countries around the world are re-introducing wild horses because fossil records and DNA indicate they’re a vital part of the natural landscape, students want to know why the U.S. is going the other direction? Invariably, a student will say, “Probably money.”
MG: What do kids like best about your school visit presentations?
TF: They’re fascinated by photographs of wild horse families. It’s still hard for me to believe that I got to work on this book with Pulitzer Prize-winning, National Geographic photojournalist Melissa Farlow. Her images plunge kids into the secret world of wild horses. There, they see wild horses’ very lives depend on family and freedom.
I watch students nod as they see band stallions trail behind to protect the old, young and weak. I hear them laugh at foals racing and bucking for fun, and then go quiet as they see wild horse families divided into gender and age groups before they’re shipped to government pens, never to see each other again.
Still, I’d have to say their favorite book discussion is about horse manure. Let me tell you, fourth grade boys love my poop slide! They totally get that wild horses can’t digest seeds. So, far from ruining the public lands, horses replant their own food. One of the few plants they eat before it sets seeds is cheat grass. So, it’s gone before it becomes tinder for brushfires. A sixth grade girl pointed out that wild horses are both farmers and fire fighters.
P.S. I had no idea the time would be so right for kids to actually get credit for their generous actions. Earlier this year, college admissions deans nationwide announced “Turning the Tide,” a move to de-emphasize test scores and give admissions credit to students who’ve acted on their concern for others. I just gave a workshop at the Texas Library Association called “Backbones, not Wishbones,” helping librarians inspire kids to use their unique interests, skills and talents to change their world for the better.
Signed copies of Wild at Heart, Phantom Stallion: The Wild One, and Phantom Stallion: Mustang Moon are available via bookpeople.com. Just add SIGNED COPY in the comments field when you place your order. BookPeople ships worldwide.