Hey, Spell Sweeper fans—you deserve a gift for all the love you’ve given this book. So, I’m releasing today a free e-book of “EXTRAS,” which you can download HERE.
(If you’re looking to get a copy of Spell Sweeper itself, then check out HarperCollins’ purchase page.)
Lots of goodies here! First, I’ve got some deleted scenes for you (some of those intervening moments where Cara talks about aspects of her life or Dragonsong Academy). It was a hard decision to cut these scenes; even though they are quite short, they slowed down the pacing of the main narrative or, in some cases, I felt the information was covered well enough elsewhere. But if you were dying to know what kids at Dragonsong like to dress up as for Halloween, you won’t have to wonder any longer!
Second, I have included two of the “wizard fairy tales” that are referenced in Spell Sweeper: The Tale of Eurybia the Eradicator and The Tale of Theradune the Betrayer. These tales present the origin stories of two important talismans that impact the plot of Spell Sweeper, but they’ll also give you a glimpse into Cara’s thinking. I never did intend to include these stories in the main book. I just often conceive these kinds of myths as part of my world-building process.
Third, are some Spell Sweeper inspired recipes and, finally, some of my own sketches of the characters (Maike Plenzke’s versions of these characters on the cover are much better than my own, but at least you can see how I was thinking of them).
Well, how many times have I been asked over the last few months: “Will there be a Spell Sweeper sequel?” I’m thankful so many people want one! But I did pitch this book as a stand-alone, so if I ever return to Cara’s story it won’t be quite yet. However, you can enjoy more of Cara’s voice and world RIGHT NOW!
Of course, if you haven’t read Spell Sweeper yet, these extras will provide you with a glimpse of Cara’s voice and, well, let’s just call it her swagger. Either way . . . enjoy!
Over the past eighteen years, I’ve met thousands of kids at school visits, library events, writing conferences, and creativity workshops—many of them while visiting overseas.
One of the things that has come up, time and time again, is how much they love books about magical schools (hello, Harry Potter!)—but what also comes up is how they can’t see themselves as a part of the story, except maybe as a periphery character.
This was something that played heavily in my mind as I wrote Spell Sweeper. I wanted the kids in my life (including my own son) to see that the “Chosen One” in this type of story can look like them—not just in another time and place where all the characters might look like them, but in the world at large. Does that make sense?
I also liked playing with this idea that you might have the most wonderful thing in the world happen to you, like being chosen to go to wizard school . . . but then you’re NOT the “Chosen One.” How many of us had dreams come true (like being published!), but then don’t become New York Times bestselling authors, and either beat ourselves up or stew in jealousy? But even if you’re not at the top of the ladder, does that mean you should devalue the fact that you made it on the rungs in the first place?
It’s a struggle that I am witness to all the time: in myself, in my friends, in my kids. So, I guess I wanted to say…welcome to the magical world. You’re in it, no matter who you are.
I’ve been posting about books that inspired my new middle-grade book, Spell Sweeper—and an important one is The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. I love an underdog story (obviously!), and I don’t think it’s only my book that owes a lot to this classic series, but every book about magical schools that comes since. (The first one, by the way was published in 1974.)
Mildred is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. She can’t seem to do anything right, whether it’s casting a spell or flying a broom. If she’s going to survive witch school, she’s going to have to do it in a more . . . unconventional way.
I think this enchanting book is perfect for younger readers who aren’t quite ready for the more detailed worlds and problems of a middle-grade book, but who still want all of the magical fun. The Worst Witch includes so many of the classic elements of magic school: broom flying, cats as familiars, and potions class. I especially love all the names of the instructors: Miss Amerlia Cackle, Miss Constance Hardbroom, Miss Davina Bat, Miss Imogen Drill . . .
The books also include beautiful illustrations by the author (the edition in the photo is a special edition with full color throughout). Highly recommended!
My own book, Spell Sweeper, is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.
See if you can find my secret word in the story below and continue the search to the other authors on my team and find their words as well!
Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!
I’m on the ORANGE team, and by participating in BOWS, you can enter to win all of these great books:
Now, onto the text where you can search for my secret word. Below is a “side-story” that I drafted as part of my writing process for my middle-grade book The Secret of Zoone. While staying in the magical multiversal hub of Zoone, it’s mentioned that my main character Ozzie has read a book of Ophidian fairytales. Well, this is one of them . . .
The Delicious Dragon A fairytale from Ophidia
Long ago, when dragons still mined for gold, there lived a princess, high in the mountains of Ophidia, in a magnificent castle lair. Her name was Merigna and she was the same as all princesses: greedy, gold-hoarding, and vile in appearance. Her eyes were pale and blue, her hair was so long that it fell in curls upon her shoulders, and her nails were long and painted a crimson red.
But these were not the worst things about her.
Each night, she awoke with the moon and, after a hasty breakfast, rushed to the royal vault to count her treasure. Every gold coin and gemstone came from the dragons who dwelled in the forests below; it was what they forfeited to the Princess. The dragons toiled day in and day out, mining treasure from the deep earth.
Yes, the dragons had natural weapons, but, like all dragons, they were timid and gentle-hearted beasts. And from her mountain-top lair, the Princess commanded the thunderclouds, so that whenever the dragons pondered revolt, she threatened to destroy them with her power.
The Princess was the master of them; the dragons were her slaves. But there soon came a time when she was not satisfied with merely counting her treasure. She wanted to swim in it, so she demanded that the dragons work even harder. Double the amount of treasure poured into her vault each week. Soon the level of treasure was so high that Merigna could slither and slip through the mounds of gold. She let the coins spill through her fingers and rejoiced in the tickle of the gemstones as they massaged her skin.
For a time, the Princess was satisfied with this nightly routine. But, as she grew in age, so did her indulgences. No longer was swimming in treasure forged by dragon fire enough to placate her greedy heart. She began to demand the egg of a dragon be brought to her once each week, so that she might feast upon it for her breakfast.
Her soldiers ventured into the forests to pluck the eggs from the nests in the dragon villages. The dragons quavered at the approach of the soldiers, and each day they wailed, “Do you not know how precious and rare our dragon eggs are? They are laid only to be our children, not to be the fruit for your Princess’s delight.”
The soldiers brought back the dragon pleas to Merigna, but she was a princess, and, like all princesses, her heart was cold and unyielding. She demanded the soldiers perform her bidding and so it came to pass that each and every week, under the plaintive gaze of the moon, she devoured a dragon egg for her breakfast.
It was not long before the race of dragons began to decline, their numbers becoming sparse, their species rare. Entire villages soon lay abandoned in the forests.
And, yet, Princess Merigna’s ravenous appetite only continued to grow. There came a time when she demanded not only her daily swim in dragon gold, and her weekly dragon egg breakfast, but to dine on a roasted dragon hatchling for her Full-Moon Feast.
Each month the soldiers would escort the gluttonous Princess into the remaining dragon villages, where the dragons were forced to present their young for inspection. Only the tender, most juicy dragon would do for Princess Merigna. Once she had made her choice, the sacrificial hatchling was taken away to her mountain lair and slain for her Full-Moon Feast.
The dragon numbers continued to dwindle until there was only one remaining village left and the species hovered on the knife-edge of extinction. Finally, in desperation, the village elders called for one of their most adventurous citizens. His name was Grust, and he was a handsome creature, with vivid green eyes and a long black tongue.
“Go forth into the mines of Ophidia,” the village elders told Grust, “and search for the ancient dragon-witch known as Estrella the Wise. It is said that she slumbers, sometimes a hundred years at a time, deep below the surface of the earth, deeper than memory. If anyone can save us, it will be the dragon-witch.”
Grust was eager to accept this quest, for there were only eight children left in all the village, and one of them was his own beloved son. With this weighing on his heart, he descended into the mines and began his search for the fabled dragon-witch.
For many weeks did young Grust travel, with each step delving deeper and deeper into the mines. He passed through the Cave of Fangs, where dripping stalagmites rained acid. He navigated the Poison Tunnel, where toxic gasses leached from fissures in the rock. He even crossed the Bridge of Fire, which arched over a bubbling sea of lava. At last, he arrived at a quiet and humble hole, deep within the earth. He could feel heat emanating from this dark cave and knew at once that this was the domain of Estrella the dragon-witch.
Grust was a brave dragon, but now he hesitated, lingering with uncertainty on the dragon-witch’s doorstep.
“I can hear your breathing, and it has awakened me,” rumbled a voice from the hole. “If you mean to enter my cave, then do so now! Otherwise, let me go back to sleep; for I have only slept these past 99 years, and am feeling grouchy.”
Grust swallowed, mustered his courage, and crept into the cave. Even in the darkness, he could catch a glimpse of the dragon-witch. She was thin and bony, with dull scales and ever duller teeth. Only her eyes were sharp; they glinted bright and green with cleverness.
“Tell me, why have you disturbed my slumber?” Estrella boomed.
“There is a princess who vexes our people,” Grust informed the dragon-witch. “I have been sent to ask for your help.”
“There is always a princess,” Estrella grumbled, twitching her long tail, which was crooked and kinked, and missing many of its scales. “What is this one doing?”
Grust told Estrella of the terrible Princess Merigna, and her appetite for baby dragons. Now, Estrella had lived a long time, but even she was horrified to hear such a tale. After Grust was finished talking, Estrella sighed, closed her eyes, and began to think. She thought so long that Grust wondered if she had fallen back asleep.
But, eventually, she opened her luminous green eyes and said, “I have devised a plan to save dragonkind. I will brew a potion, and you must take this back to the village. Whichever child is chosen by Merigna must smuggle this potion into her lair. Then, just before Merigna slays the hatchling, he should down this elixir.”
“What will it do?” Grust wondered.
“It will give him great power to defeat the Princess,” Estrella claimed.
Grust agreed with the plan, and Estrella set to work in her chambers, brewing and concocting her potion. For several days she worked and when at last she was done, she poured a portion of the substance into a small glass vial and thrust it into Grust’s claws.
“My work is done,” she told the dragon hero. “Now, return at once to your people—and let me go back to sleep!”
Grust thanked the dragon-witch and made all haste back to his village. By the time he returned, there were only seven hatchlings remaining—for during his absence, Merigna had come to claim one more of them. And, now, it was the night of the full moon, and the princess was coming any moment to choose her next victim. Grust had returned just in time!
All the hatchlings, including Grust’s own son, were lined up in order to be presented to the evil Princess. When she arrived, she prowled in front of them, surveying their plump bodies, and ravenously licking her lips. Since there were only seven hatchlings, it did not take her long to choose one of them; Grust’s own son.
Just before Merigna’s soldiers loaded the hatchling into her chariot, Grust rushed to his son and embraced him. During this moment, he was able to pass the potion to the hatchling and explain the plan. Grust’s son was a clever and brave dragon and, with a nod of understanding, he hid the vial in the curl of his tail, then went forth with the loathsome Princess.
Now, Merigna was a particularly bloodthirsty princess, and though there was a royal butcher and a royal cook in her employ, she preferred to conduct the deed of killing the chosen hatchlings herself. After the soldiers had deposited Grust’s son in her personal chambers, the Princess unsheathed her knife and smiled maliciously at the innocent hatchling.
The poor dragon was quaking in fear, but he remembered the potion that his father had bestowed upon him. With a quick flick of his tail he tossed the vial into his mouth, gnashed it in his teeth, then swallowed it whole. He felt the liquid drizzle down his throat and prepared for its powers to take effect.
The Princess approached, brandishing her blade. Grust’s son opened his tiny mouth, expecting to gush fire and rage upon dragonkind’s worst enemy.
But only a mere puff of smoke emerged. The potion had failed. Princess Merigna conducted her deed and the dragon hatchling was roasted. Soon the princess was sitting at her royal table to enjoy her meal.
But enjoy it, she did not.
As she took the first sweet taste of dragon, Merigna’s throat constricted. Her eyes bulged; her stomach boiled with fire. She dropped her silver fork and clutched desperately at her neck, gasping for air. She collapsed to the ground, thrashing and writhing in agony. Next, she began to scream—so loudly that her cries thundered down the mountains and into the forests of Ophidia. After a few moments, the cries ceased all together.
Princess Merigna was dead.
Deep down in the mines of Ophidia, Estrella the dragon-witch chuckled in her sleep. She had known all along that the liquid in the vial would not give the hatchling power. She had brewed a deadly poison because she knew that the only way to trick Merigna into ingesting it was by poisoning the hatchling first.
That crafty old witch! Her ruse had worked, and now the dragons were free. Grust mourned for his son, but dragons always know to put the greater good before their own selfish needs. He knew that the sacrifice was a worthy one.
Alas, there always seems to be another princess on the rise, greedy for gold and dragon suffering, but for now, what can we say? Blink of an eye, flick of a tongue, hiss no more—this tale is done!
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small who are stuck at home. Today’s activity: making a moto!
What’s a moto, you ask? It’s a type of robot that wreaks havoc upon Ozzie and friends in my latest middle-grade book, The Guardians of Zoone.
The motos didn’t make it to the cover, but rest assured they play a big part, as their world, Moton, is one where our characters spend a lot of time. Here’s a look at some motos, as depicted on the vintage-style travel sticker that I created for that treacherous realm:
What you will need:
Paper to print out the template below.
Pencils and coloring supplies.
Just download the template sheet and follow the instructions. Of course, I always encourage my students to make their own creations from scratch—but sometimes a little inspiration can go a long way, and maybe this sheet will help!
These are pretty much the same pieces that I used to design the travel sticker above!
There is also a maker-space opportunity here. I love building things, so if you’re like me, and keep every lid and cap from your household products, then you will have a big store of switches and buttons. I recently used a lot of these to build my own moto probe. Admittedly, I also had to draw on some more specialized supplies from the craft store, such as brads, gears, clock hands—but otherwise, a lot of the pieces are just “junk” or bits and bobs such as thumbtacks, paperclips, and plastic lids. The “body” is just a styrofoam ball painted with metallic paint.
Have fun imagining and stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .
Planning a book launch isn’t all that different from planning a wedding—there are invitations, food to organize, giveaways, speeches . . . and all the stress to go with it.
Which is all to say how grateful I am that the launch for my latest book, The Guardians of Zoone, was such an overwhelming success. A big thank you to the Main Street Book Warehouse in Vancouver for hosting. The store was packed wall to wall and we sold out every book in the store emblazoned with the word “Zoone” on the cover!
I am blessed to have friends and family in many talented areas, who helped out with the event. My wife, Marcie, and our friend Stacey made delicious skyger cookies with melted turquoise chocolate. My friend, Jeff, took my drawing of the key to Zoone and turned it into a template to 3D print keys for prizes (by the way, that template is loaded up on my website, so that anyone can print their own key—the template is here). My friend, Jina, took all the amazing photographs you see below (you can check out her Instagram at @jinakimphotography).
I dressed as a portal pirate for the occasion (since they play a big part in the book) and had plenty of freebies to hand out—including keys and stickers. The prizes included the 3D-printed Zoone keys, and some props handmade by me: a dragon egg and a “moto” probe (a robotic spy that flies about the multiverse, gathering information on worlds to “motonize”).
A big thanks to everyone who came out! And, of course, you can check out the order links for the Book of Zoone here.
This is an exquisite dragon door I found in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Alas, I could not get the perfect photo because the light was awkward and the dragon itself was above my eye line.
I call it a wyvern in the headline because a wyvern is typically a dragon with no forearms—just wings, which is what seems to be the case with this creature. However, wyvern is a European word, and I’m sure there is a Japanese word to describe the specific dragon with wings (if you know, please make a comment below)!
Asian dragons, of course, are the opposite of European dragons, representing benign fortunes and positive notions. It’s not often you seem them depicted with wings.
Kamakura is a magical realm where you can explore parks and temples, with many statues or carvings peeking out from the stands of bamboo or the gardens. I found a lot of inspiration in this place.
Of course, Japan holds a special place in my heart because our son Hiro is from there. He was just a few months old when we explored the beautiful temples in the Kamakura area.
I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (pb-Jan28) & The Guardians of Zoone (Feb25)
Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books can be found HERE.
The door (and accompanying sign) to the Old School House in Chipping-Campden does not seem that inviting! I mentioned in a previous post that I found a plethora of doors in this delightful town in the Cotswolds (by the way, is there a collective noun for doors?), which means I still have a few more great ones to come from here . . . so stayed tuned!
I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate releases of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) and The Guardians of Zoone (February 25) with HarperCollins Children’s Books.
In Zoone, as in our world, some doors come with warnings! Do the characters heed them? Rarely! So, head through the nearest portal, and join them in their latest adventure in the multiverse!
Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books can be found HERE.