Princess Magnolia does things a proper princess should do — she sits primly and is polite while receiving an unexpected visit from the nosy Duchess Wigtower.
But when her glitterstone ring goes off, it’s an alarm that a monster is getting too close to the entrance to Monster Land, which is located in a goat field not far from the castle.
The princess quickly changes from her pink frilly dress into black clothes and, as the Princess in Black, jumps onto her steed, Blacky, and they race to the entrance to Monster Land so the monsters don’t eat the goats that are being tended by Duff the goat boy.
However, Princess Magnolia has to be careful to get back in time so that Duchess Wigtower doesn’t discover her secret in the “The Princess in Black” (Candlewick Press, $14.99, ages 5-9), which was released Oct. 14.
“One thing that was important for me with her is that she is equally comfortable being Princess Magnolia as she is the Princess in Black,” said Shannon Hale, who co-authored the book with her husband, Dean Hale.
Sometimes, she said, books for younger readers will focus on one personality trait and make it seem like children have to choose one.
“We know from our own children, our daughters are just as likely to be dressed as princesses and having a tea party as they are picking up toy swords and attacking monsters,” Hale said. “We’re saying, ‘It’s OK, you can be both, you don’t have to choose — you can be a princess and an action hero, too.’ ”
The idea for the series came from a conversation Hale had with then 4-year-old Maggie, one of her young daughters, as Maggie was pointing out the different colors on a skirt with butterflies and said, “Pink is a girl color, and purple and yellow. But not black.”
Hale answered, “Girls can wear black. What about Batgirl?”
“Princesses don’t wear black,” Maggie said.
Hale said that as she went to exercise, “The idea kind of possessed me. I couldn’t listen to music or an audiobook because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
The premise became the story of a princess who wears frilly dresses and glass slippers and is very proper — her "Clark Kent" identity — but is really a superhero who dresses in black to help save her kingdom from monsters and other potential enemies.
Shannon and Dean collaborated on the storyline for “The Princess in Black,” drawing inspiration from stories such as "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "Zorro." They wanted to format it like the Mercy Watson books, which they are fans of.
“The Princess in Black” is an illustrated chapter book designed to be read aloud that is targeted at children who are transitioning from picture books to chapter books.
“The benefit, as parents, it’s hard to find books that entertain our 10-year-old along with our 3-year-old,” Shannon Hale said. That's why “The Princess in Black” has a few more characters as well as action, such as monster fighting, for older children with full-color illustrations on every page for younger children.
“Another important thing to me is that boys are allowed to read it. There’s nothing in this book that boys can’t enjoy just as much as girls,” Hale said. She said as she and illustrator LeUyen Pham have visited elementary schools and read parts of it, “boys are just as excited about it as girls.”
Hale said that many times, while girls can read any book, boys are given books to read that are just about boys.
“One of the best ways to develop empathy for fellow human beings is by reading literature,” she said. “If boys are only reading about other boys, they are only developing empathy for half of the human race. I’m hoping they will read this and not think two things about it and think that they can read books about girls and that’s OK,” she said.
As the Hales work together and discuss storylines, one will write a draft and leave parts for the other to fill in. With "The Princess in Black," it was usually Dean Hale who wrote the parts about the monsters.
“That’s who I identify with,” Dean Hale said with a laugh. And the big blue monster — who Princess Magnolia fights — is one of his favorite characters in the series, especially the way Pham portrays him in the illustrations.
As they go through and edit, “we’re not precious with each others’ stuff,” Shannon Hale said.
“And if it’s good, I’ll claim that I wrote it initially,” Dean Hale added.
Sometimes, the Hales said, they play a game where one of them will throw out a word and they come up with a Princess in Black storyline.
“Writing is like shoveling sand in the sandbox to make sand castles later,” Dean Hale said, citing a phrase Shannon uses. “I feel like I’m the shoveler,” he added.
They have written three more books that are scheduled to be published in the next two years, and they have ideas for many more.
“We would love to do this forever,” Shannon Hale said.
The Utahns have previously co-authored “Rapunzel’s Revenge” and “Calamity Jack,” and Dean helped with the Ever After High books Shannon wrote. Two of them, “The Unfairest of Them All” and “A Wonderlandiful World,” were published this year. The Ever After High “Once Upon a Time: A Story Collection” is scheduled to be released on Oct. 21. Shannon's “Dangerous,” a young adult science fiction novel, and “Spirit Animals, Book 4: Fire and Ice” were also published this year.
“Dean is my secret weapon,” said Shannon Hale, who has had six books published in the same year. Next year, a third Princess Academy book, “The Forgotten Sisters,” is scheduled to be released in the spring, along with another Princess in Black book in the fall (watch out for Princess Sneezewort in the second book). Two more Princess in Black books are scheduled for 2016.
“A Wonderlandiful World” is the conclusion of the Hales’ work in the Ever After High series. Other authors will also be writing stories in that world.
In “A Wonderlandiful World,” magic from Wonderland has turned things sideways and backward at Ever After High — to the way they might have been in Wonderland. Lizzie Hearts, daughter of the Queen of Hearts; Kitty Cheshire; and Madeline Hatter, daughter of the Mad Hatter, are immune to the magic. With the help of Cedar Wood, Pinocchio's daughter, they work to try to find a way to restore the school and their classmates to normal.
“I love what we got to do with that,” Shannon Hale said.
“Once Upon a Time: A Story Collection” includes short background stories about many of the characters.
The Hales are also working on other books and projects, including a mystery/science fiction series for middle grade readers.
If you go ...
What: Shannon and Dean Hale book signing and "Princess in Black" launch party
When: Wednesday, Oct. 29, 6:30 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East
Note: Halloween costumes encouraged. Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
What: Shannon and Dean Hale book signing
When: Saturday, Nov. 29, 11 a.m.
Where: Deseret Book, Salt Lake Downtown, 45 W. South Temple
When: Saturday, Nov. 29, 2 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book, University Village, 1076 S. 750 East, Orem
Email: [email protected] Twitter: CTRappleye