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Brandon Mull, Scholastic combine for new multiplatform fantasy Spirit Animal series

Published: Sunday, Sept. 8 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

When Utah author Brandon Mull received a call from Scholastic Corp., it brought back memories of book orders and Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. The company, whose mission is to “encourage the intellectual and personal growth of children,” asked Mull if he would help with its new series titled Spirit Animals.

“That alone made it almost kind of magical,” Mull said during a phone interview. “Scholastic to me just screams kid-friendly book.”

David Levithan, publisher and editorial director of Scholastic, said the company had wonderful success with other multiplatform series. Spirit Animals will be the first fantasy adventure in book and online game form. To build the fantasy world, Levithan knew they needed someone who could take their concept and run with it. That is when they thought of Mull.

“He is the king of kid-friendly fantasies,” Levithan said by phone. “We knew that he could bring this world to life.”

Mull, best-selling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series, is the architect for Spirit Animals. He also wrote the first book “Wild Born” (Scholastic, $12.99), which is scheduled to be released on Sept. 10.

The story is in the fantasy world Erdas, which is similar to Earth. Four children from separate lands each discover they have a spirit animal, “a rare bond between human and beast that bestows great powers to both.”

But these children don’t just summon a regular animal. They each summon a Great Beast of legend.

There are 15 Great Beasts from Erdas' history. Four of those Great Beasts gave their lives to defend the world. Now the four have returned as spirit animals.

The new heroes, along with their spirit animals, must join together to save Erdas from a dark force from the past. Conor’s spirit animal is Briggan the wolf. Abeke calls Uraza the leopard. Meilin has Jhi the giant panda and Rollan summons Essix the falcon.

For Conor, a sheepherder, a wolf is something to defend against. Meilin is the daughter of a great military general. So the panda seems like a great disappointment and in no way helpful as spirit animals are supposed to enhance one's abilities. But that is how the characters learn, and it creates an engaging story.

“It is almost like maybe not what you want but what you need,” Mull said. “The spirit animals that these kids called are helping compensate for some of their weaknesses.

“What we want in a story is to see our characters, through everything they go through, we want to see them learn something,” he said. “We want to see them change and grow and learn. That is part of what the spirit animals will force these characters to do.”

Levithan said that when reading an adventure book, kids may not want to feel like they are being taught. But, he said, it is important that there be a very solid lesson and meaning to the story.

“That is one of the things that Brandon is so great about,” Levithan said. “It is that amazing thing that a book can do. It draws kids into a world that while they are in that world they actually learn valuable things that help them out in our world.”

Mull also hopes that those who read the story will learn things along the way. In “Wild Born,” the four main characters must learn to interact with their spirit animals. This is sometimes funny and teaching.

“As each of these characters try to bond with their spirit animals, they end up having to face some of their own strengths and weaknesses,” Mull said. “I think for everybody as we go through life, with relationships, you have to figure out how to get along with people. In this case, these kids are compelled to get along with their spirit animals.”

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