Sultans, magic, Sinbad and sorcerers! Who can resist? With a perfect title, THE BOOK OF WONDERS, readers will find everything they could want in this mystical, fantasy debut by Jasmine Richards. The Brown Bookshelf is honored to present her in our spotlight on Day 18 of the 28 Days Later Program.
Jasmine Richards was born in London, grew up in a library, and was the first in her family to go to a university. After graduating from Oxford, and following a brief stint at New Scotland Yard, Jasmine chose a career in publishing over being the next Sherlock Holmes. Today she’s a senior editor at a leading British publishing house. She now lives in Oxfordshire with her husband in an old wool mill.
I suppose my journey to being published started with my love of reading. Stories undoubtedly shaped me into the person I am today. They raised my aspirations, broadened my horizons and gave me the gift of imagination. Because stories have always been so important to me I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I love telling them as much as I love reading them.
Even as a child, I always knew that I wanted to write a book one day and the idea for my debut novel came from a collection of stories that I read in my childhood called 1001 Nights.
Also called Arabian Nights, this collection of tales feature the famous stories of Sinbad, Aladdin and his magic lamp as well as tales like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
As a kid, it always irked me that by the end of 1001 Nights the sultan, who has been busily beheading his wives with impunity gets a happy ending. That didn’t seem fair to me. I wondered whether there might be a different version of this story and that was when the idea for the Book Wonders was sown.
Who or What is your Inspiration?
I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl’s writing. The Witches, Matilda, The Twits . . . I love them all. Roald Dahl never talks down to children, and he doesn’t pretend that the world is always a nice place. I think it is that honesty that I connected with as a child and which I would like to convey in my own books.
I also greatly admire Phillip Pullman. I absolutely devoured his Sally Lockheart books as a child and when I was older His Dark Materials trilogy. Like Dahl he doesn’t talk down to children and isn’t afraid to tackle big issues.
What About The Back Story?
I live in the UK but I am very lucky to have an amazing agency behind me Stateside called Adams Literary. They sent out The Book of Wonders to a select few publishers and I was delighted when Harper Collins came back and made an offer for my book! A dream come true.
Here’s The Buzz
The Book of Wonders
Jasmine Richards. Harper, $16.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-201007-0
In her skillful debut novel, Richards, an editor of children’s books in the U.K., keeps the novelties coming. The setting is Arribitha, a land with ancient Middle Eastern overtones; the quest is full of danger and magic; and the combative protagonist, known variously as Zardi or Zee, is in fact a 13-year-old Scheherazade. Zardi is the daughter of a vizier serving a cruel sultan who has forbidden magic throughout his realm, and her best friend is Rhidan, a boy whose silver hair and violet eyes are unlike those of anyone else they know. When Zardi’s sister and father are taken by the sultan to be prey in his hunt, Zardi and Rhidan go chasing rumors of rebels who might be persuaded to help. Their escort is an unwilling Sinbad, a pirate-charlatan whose half-djinni mother sets the children on their path of destiny. It’s a fun action-adventure read, unapologetically two-dimensional, and a good challenge for developing readers, who will find the headlong action a worthwhile incentive to master the vocabulary. Ages 8–12. Agent: Adams Literary. (Jan.)
BOOK OF WONDERS
By Jasmine Richards (Author)
Age Range: 8 – 12
Dipping into the deep plot well of Middle Eastern fairy and folk tales, this buoyant debut offers a fresh plot, brisk pacing and engaging characters. Zardi’s 13th birthday celebration is cut short when her sister, Zubeyda, is abducted by the cruel sultan to serve as his praisemaker, an “honor” that in 90 days will end in her death. Zardi (short for Scheherazade) sets off to find the sultan’s enemies and obtain help in rescuing Zubeyda, accompanied by her adopted brother, Rhidan, who is on a quest of his own: tracking down Sinbad the sailor, who has clues to Rhidan’s mysterious heritage. Though not entirely reliable, Sinbad proves an ally, as does his mother, Sula, who defies the sultan’s ban on magic and uses her powers to help Zardi and Rhidan discover their own.
With Sinbad, they head for the Black Isle, home to powerful sorcerers and possibly Rhidan’s birthplace, but fate has other plans for them. These include rocs, a brass giant, trapped djinn and the fearsome Queen of the Serpents in her snake-filled kingdom. Richards deftly borrows from lesser-known tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights to enrich her complex storyline while keeping style and syntax simple and direct. A sprightly, accessible series opener recommended for those ready for a change of venue from standard-issue, middle-grade fantasy.
Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2012
Page count: 416pp
The State of the Industry
Young readers, in fact all readers, want the same thing. Great narratives, characters that you can love and empathize with, vivid settings and a plot that keeps you turning those pages.
It shouldn’t matter what color the characters are who populate these fictional worlds but surely there should be variety?
Our planet and the people who live on it our varied, readerships are varied, characters in children’s fiction should be varied! This is what frustrates me about children’s fiction at times. It all feels so homogenous and not representative of the world we live in.
Also let’s consider this, if you are a child of color and you fail to see people like yourself in novels then there is a danger that you might think you’re not important enough to be described in a book, that maybe you are even invisible . . .
How do we change this state of affairs? Well, I think we need more diversity in the publishing industry at all levels -editorial, marketing and sales. We need more diversity in our booksellers and we need more authors who are keen to write books with characters of color in their narrative landscapes.
No child deserves to be invisible.