Metro Weekly

The Barris Books Creators Enter the World of Bernice

Brandt Ricca and Matt Miller bring a sense of wonder and inclusion to their series of books for kids.

Bernice Books: Brandt Ricca, Matt Miller -- Photo: Jonathan Thorpe
Bernice Books: Brandt Ricca, Matt Miller — Photo: Jonathan Thorpe

First came Barris Hart, the courageous nine-year-old adventurer introduced in Barris and the Prince of Rappa, the best-selling children’s book written by Brandt Ricca and illustrated by Matt Miller. Now, two Barris Books later, Ricca and Miller have anointed a new star in the series, turning the spotlight on Barris’ sassy, whip-smart younger sister, Bernice.

Like the Barris Books, the recently-published Bernice and the Wonder of Pearl follows Bernice on a magical journey exploring dream universes, guided by Gracie, a Keeper of the Universe. Bernice also explores life outside her family bubble during a summer spent with her two eccentric aunts in Manhattan.

The entire series emphasizes wonder and self-discovery, along with LGBTQ inclusion, but Ricca and Miller, both gay, believe they’ve truly found their voice in their precocious new heroine.

“When we first started, Matt and I knew that Bernice would have her own series,” says Ricca. “Bernice is a much more fun character to write. She’s a dark little girl. She reads Agatha Christie. She’s sarcastic.”

Miller agrees. “Bernice is a little more specific and interesting. She deserves her own series.” The duo’s ghost editor — who happens to be Miller’s mother, Adriane, a former editor and journalist — was an early supporter of the Bernice spinoff concept.

“When she read the first book, she said it reminded her of when she was a little girl,” says Ricca, “and kind of coming into her own, when you’re nine — that’s when you start exploring more of who you are and things. I remember being nine and telling my parents, ‘I’m almost a pre-teen, let me go to the movies by myself!'”

Ricca conceived of Bernice as a fictional amalgam of himself and his sister Breck, with whom he enjoys a sibling rivalry echoed in the dynamic between Barris and Bernice. And while Ricca draws on some of his childhood experiences to inform the text, Miller, for his illustrations of fantastic dreamscapes, draws on the dream worlds he knows best.

“I feel like I have very vivid dreams, and I’ve always wanted to recreate them with drawings,” says Miller, who also owns a design business. “So this is a cool outlet to incorporate some of those things that happen in my own dreams. Also, I’ve incorporated a ton of architecture in almost every illustration, just because that’s one of my top interests.”

Ricca, who runs a marketing and events agency in D.C., had first enlisted Miller, whom he knew socially, to create renderings of events that his agency produced. A couple of years later, when the pandemic hit, their collaboration took a turn toward a dream Ricca had of writing a children’s book.

“When I was, like most business owners during COVID, revisiting projects unfinished, I called Matt and asked if he wanted to draw the children’s books,” says Ricca, who immersed himself in a Judy Blume masterclass for inspiration. “Matt said, ‘I’ve never drawn children’s books before.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve never written them before. So let’s do it.'”

Following up Barris and the Prince of Rappa, published in October 2021, with Barris and the Clown of Trell, then Barris and the Girl of Norizon, the duo released the first of the Bernice Books in December 2022. “Brandt’s almost done with book two of the Bernice Books series, which there will be three of, I think,” says Miller.

Ricca and Miller, who donate their books to schools and libraries around the country, including districts in Ricca’s native Louisiana, have been fortunate enough to meet the audience who eagerly await the future adventures of Bernice.

Bernice Books
Bernice Books

“We went to Claremont Immersion School [in Arlington] to drop off the third book of Barris to them,” says Ricca. “They had read book one and book two. And we walked in, all these little girls ran up to us who knew us from our visit, and they were quoting Bernice to us. I was like, ‘I forgot I wrote that.’ So they were all super excited for the Bernice Books to come out.”

Next month, Ricca will be on hand to meet more young fans of Barris and Bernice at the Rainbow Story Hour, hosted by GLSEN at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, Virginia. Drag performers Megan, Qing Blaze, Sirena Sparkles, and Kimi Mamah will read book excerpts for all ages and families, exemplifying the diversity celebrated in the books.

“I think if kids see this stuff when they’re young, they’ll grow up to be more cultured and accepting and understanding that there’s not just black and white,” says Miller.

“And especially nowadays with everything,” observes Ricca, “it’s also showing you that there’s nothing harmful about LGBTQ people. We’re literally educating, and also providing storytelling in a creative way that the kids are all responsive to.”

Bernice and the Wonder of Pearl and all three of The Barris Books series are available wherever you buy books. Visit

GLSEN Rainbow Library Drag Queen Story Hour is Sunday, March 5, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1000 Blanton Ave. in Richmond, Va. Visit

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!