In the Beginning Was the Name by Adam Gidwitz
In the beginning was the Name.
I was sitting in a hotel room, somewhere in America, during a long stretch of school visits. I was thinking about kids and their reading habits, which was pretty typical. Specifically, I was remembering my days teaching second grade, and a certain type of long, slow walk around the school library. These walks were with kids who were ready to move past their recent obsession with Magic Treehouse or The Secrets of Droon or Captain Underpants (well, no one really moves beyond Captain Underpants; we just take a pause from it). But these kids were not yet ready for long novels with no pictures. They wanted something funny, and exciting, with lots of illustrations. But also a real novel. (Kids are very aware of distinctions like that.) Oh, and please let it be a series? (For both of our sakes.)
When we finally found that right book, the kid came to it shyly, like a horse to a sugar cube in the hand of a stranger. They brought it to the librarian, and endured her enthusiasm, not emotionally ready to commit themselves. And then, up in the classroom, during silent reading, I peered with trepidation over the top of my own novel as they read the first few pages. Would they begin to flag by page two, three, four? Would they gravitate back to classroom books they had read twenty times already, the new book splayed face down on their desk, binding cracking? Or would the book take, and pages steadily, steadily, turn? “How’s the book?” I would ask, when reading period ended. A small smile. “It’s good.” And inside, I was singing.
So, I was reminiscing about these moments, all these years later, and was wondering if any of my books had been that book for a kid. The answer, I knew, was yes—A Tale Dark and Grimm in particular. But I also knew that my books tend to skew a little older, and are too scary for many younger kids, and that many elementary schools don’t even have them on the shelves. I wondered: Could I write a series that would be that series for elementary school students? Funny and exciting and full of wonderful illustrations and not too long but definitely a real novel? Also, could I make it good?
It would need a good title. I find titles very difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I’m often still agonizing over the title when the cover of the book is finished. This title would have to encapsulate everything I wanted in the series: the title itself had to be funny, and exciting, accessible without feeling too young… Something weird and memorable…
Something like… The…Unicorn… (I guess) Rescue… (sure) Society… (or something). For example. But the title should be—
Well… something quite like the Unicorn… Rescue… Society… (or something).
It could be the… well… the…
Actually, something exactly like The Unicorn Rescue Society.
The Unicorn Rescue Society, I thought, sitting in that hotel room somewhere in America. That’s it. I stopped after idea number one.
Like I said, in the beginning was the Name.
The ideas came pretty quickly after that. Two kids. An eccentric mentor (someone like a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis commercials). A global secret society, devoted to rescuing the world’s mythical creatures. For each book, a new place and a new mythical creature.
This idea felt bigger than just me. So I took the idea to two close pals of mine, Jesse Casey and Chris Smith, and together we developed the world, the backstory, potential plot lines.
Then, because you can’t have a global secret society with just three members, I started asking other authors. Would you like to write some of these with me? They said yes. So Joseph Bruchac and I are writing about the Native American legend of Sasquatch. Emma Otheguy and I will travel to Cuba to rescue the madre de aguas. David Bowles and I will scour both banks of the Rio Grande to find, and protect, the chupacabras. And Hena Khan and I will write about the mythical creatures of Pakistan. These are the first members of The Unicorn Rescue Society.
I’ve always believed that kids books should be ambitious. They should challenge children. Stretch their vocabularies. Or their courage. Stretch them emotionally and psychologically. Or stretch their imaginations. Maybe stretch their moral imaginations. But I have also always believed that ambition in kids books (in any book) is useless unless kids are actually reading the book. You can have the genius of James Joyce, but if you write like James Joyce, the kids will never get to experience your genius. The first priority is to get kids turning the pages. All the pages. All the way to the end. The second priority is to make it worth turning the pages.
The Unicorn Rescue Society is pretty darn fun. When I write it, I generally find myself cackling like an idiot.
But The Unicorn Rescue Society is also, I hope, worthwhile.
Oh, and we rescue unicorns.
Adam Gidwitz is the author of the critically acclaimed, New York Time sbestselling Grimm trilogy. He spent six years researching and writing his Newbery Honor-winning The Inquisitor’s Tale, including a year living in Europe. Adam lives with his family in Brooklyn, NY. Find Adam online at adamgidwitz.com or @AdamGidwitz.
THE UNICORN RESCUE SOCIETY: THE CREATURE OF THE PINES
On Sale: April 10, 2018
A fully illustrated, globe-trotting new middle grade fantasy-adventure series about mythical creatures and their cultures of origin, from the Newbery Honor-winning author of The Inquisitor’s Tale.
Elliot Eisner isn’t exactly excited about starting at a brand-new school in a brand-new town; he’d much rather stay at home and read a book. But things take an unexpected turn when he finds out his weird new teacher, Professor Fauna, has planned a field trip for Elliot’s very first day. Along with a new friend–brave, outspoken Uchenna Devereaux–Elliot gets caught up in a secret group of adventurers, The Unicorn Rescue Society, whose goal is to protect and defend the world’s mythical creatures. Together with Professor Fauna, Elliot and Uchenna must help rescue a Jersey Devil from a duo of conniving, greedy billionaires, the Schmoke Brothers.
Unicorn Rescue Society is an exciting and hilarious new series about friendship, adventure, and mythical creatures from around the world by Newbery Honor-winning author Adam Gidwitz teamed up with Mixtape Club founders Jesse Casey and Chris Smith, and Hatem Aly, illustrator of The Inquisitor’s Tale.