We could all use a little more magic in our lives, especially now. If real life does not deliver, a book will always do so. Author Dhonielle Clayton (“The Belles”, “Tiny Pretty Things”) has just the means to escape reality: a magical school in heaven.
It’s the setting for her upcoming amazing YA book in mid-range “The Marvelers” (Henry Holt & Co., 336 pp., For sale May 3). The Arcanum Training Institute attracts Marvelers from all over the world to practice their art – e.g. barter with Irish goblins or brew elixirs. 11-year-old Ella Durand is the school’s first magician, and she discovers that many at the school do not trust her “unnatural” magic.
When a dangerous criminal known as the ace of anarchy escapes prison and her mentor disappears, Ella quickly becomes a suspect and must work quickly to clear her family’s name and save her teacher before it’s too late.
Clayton is the COO of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization that advocates for greater diversity in the publishing industry and children’s literature. That mission is reflected in “The Marvelers,” whose global school pays homage to a wide variety of cultures and different forms of magic.
On Instagram, Clayton calls the book “my love letter to kids who thought there might be nothing magical about them because they didn’t show up in the big worlds that everyone always talks about.”
Clayton has at least one very great champion in the corner of his book: Rick Riordan, USA TODAY bestselling author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.
“‘The Marvelers’ deserves the highest compliment I can give a book: I want to live in this world,” Riordan says. “You can stop looking at admission brochures for all the other magic schools. The Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors is definitely where you want to apply!”
Read an exclusive excerpt from Clayton’s magical new book before it hits the shelves on May 3 here:
The ride to Stardust Pier felt like lightning. One moment Ella and her family frothed across the Gulf of Mexico, and the next they were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, standing on Stardust Pier, waiting for the cloud ferries to arrive for the next stage of their journey. The late September heat clung to her skin.
Plump star lights drifted overhead like huge arcs. Other water zeppelins looked their heads over the water and threw several families down on the ever-growing platform. Ella could have sworn she felt it expand under her feet little by little to make sure everyone fit.
Dressed in all-white, her fellow Level One students were pigeons ready to fly away with their wonder suitcases. She looked at her liquid juju pants, strange in comparison. But she took a deep breath, then smoothed the front of her new uniform and tried to pull the hood up around her long turns. The excitement made her fingers tremble. No more quilted aprons or magic jackets or family cross rings. Something new. Something different.
“I expect weekly star posts, little girl,” Mom demanded.
Ella looked up at her mother, and the moonlight soaked her brown skin. She was still impossibly beautiful, even when she was sad. “Yes mom.”
“It is a great responsibility to be the first. You represent not only yourself, but all of us. ” Dad put a warm hand on Ella’s shoulder.
“I know,” Ella replied.
Winnie pulled at her. “Who are those people?” She pointed to the back of the woman closest to them.
“Safety copper,” Mother whispered.
“What is it?” asked Winnie.
“Som Fewel police.” Ella thought they looked like a bunch of angry toy soldiers. The floating gold shields on their jackets glowed and she wished she could reach out to touch the M symbol.
“Should they be with us?” Winnie leaned closer. “I do not like their strange dogs.” A few grips on the laces of red-eyed wolves. “And their birds also look bad.”
They sent black ravens up into the sky above, and they examined all the arriving water zeppelins.
“Tsk. None of that. Take care of yourself. They are here to make sure everything goes smoothly,” Mama replied.
Ella would not let herself think about how it did not look slick. She had planned every single detail: she chose the outfits her parents and sister wore, made sure Gran twisted her hair and threaded it with charm ribbons, and shoved her best friend Reagan’s faithful root of happiness into her pocket. She kept sliding her hand in to tickle it, and she enjoyed how its leaves reached up to her fingertips. It made her feel like Reagan was holding her hand.
The night was supposed to be perfect. And she would be perfect.
Ella waved to spectators on nearby platforms. She figured that when they stared so badly, she might as well say hello. People held up signs, but oddly enough, she could not see the words on them, even when she squinted. The night air became thicker and more cloudy each time she tried. Strange. Maybe it was a marvelous thing. She still had so much to learn.
“Can you see them?” she asked father.
“No,” he replied. “It must not be something worth repeating.”
Ella gave the crowds her biggest and clearest smile and tried to keep laughing for as long as possible. The press ferries flew overhead with their cameras incessantly flashing as they sent their news boxes out in the minute.
Dad pointed to the moon. “I’m excited to fly!”
The Arcanum Training Institute’s cloud ferries would arrive at any moment. Ready to pick them up. Mom always said that a monitored pot never boils, but Ella was sure the thick clouds would break out of light every second.
The excitement and anticipation bubbled up in her.
The crowd headed for a brown man with a turban on a podium.
“Welcome, welcome! What a wonderful night… Actually a really great evening, if I have to say it myself… And I say it.” The man waved his arms around. “The queue starts here. Right over here. This way. Surnames, please!” A glittering roll hovered just over his shoulder and she knew her name was on it.
“Ella, Ella.” Winnie stuck her hand into Ella’s free.
“Look – there are stars on your dress. When those things” – she pointed to the floating star lanterns – “come close, you can see them.”
“It’s not a dress, it’s a Marvel coat,” Ella corrected, for big sisters did not let little sisters walk around sounding silly.
Winnie reached out to touch her cloak again, but Ella avoided her little fingers. “You get it dirty.”
“I do not want a white on.”
“All Level Ones do,” Ella told her.
“I want blue because it’s my favorite color.” Winnie’s eyes were filled with tears.
“Blue is too level three. Besides, you’re too small to come,” Ella reminded her sister, though this time she was a little sad.
Mostly annoyed Winnie Ella, came into her room or whined about playing or always wanted to do everything she did. But as Ella stared out at the other kids on the platform, she wondered how many new friends she would make and how long it would take. She already missed Reagan, but deep down she thought she might miss her little sister too. She could always count on Winnie to be her best friend forever, no matter what.
A gasp startled Ella and disturbed her thoughts. The whisper crackled in hundreds of different languages.
Mom’s chubby alligator, Gumbo, slipped out of the water and onto the pier, hitting his tail with excitement.
“There you are,” said Gumbo’s mother. “Getting old, right? The deep water is hard on you, old boy? Come here just in time to see our girl free.”
A few children jumped even further away from them while others walked closer to see.
She had read that most Marvelers had pets and sometimes monsters in their homes, but only magicians had peers who were like your animal soul mates. It had always been so normal for Ella. . . until this moment. When she stood on the pier, all the ordinary things about her family seemed so different, even among these very different people.
But she was ready to tell everyone about it all. She just knew everyone would love it.
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