'Skandar and the unicorn thief' starts as the new youth literature phenomenon
The writer Annabel Steadman with her book.
The writer Annabel Steadman with her book.Simon & Schuster

British writer Annabel Steadman never liked unicorns. “I thought they were ridiculous even as a child. I preferred dragons,” she confesses over Zoom. Who would have thought that many years later these mythological creatures would be the protagonists of Skandar and the Unicorn Thief (Salamandra), the first of five novels in a saga of children’s literature for which Steadman received a millionaire advance. Before the publication of the first book, the production company Sony Pictures bought the rights for a film adaptation, with a script already underway. The phenomenon of this franchise whose boom it has happened in its first steps it has suddenly caught publishers, bookstores and the author herself.

The highly anticipated story follows teenager Skandar Smith, whose greatest ambition has always been to be the rider of a unicorn. In Steadman’s imaginary world, these creatures have little to do with glitter fantasy animals. They are wild, powerful and even terrifying beings that inhabit an island where only those who pass a difficult exam will be able to tame them. “I wanted to present a scenario in which they do exist but they are not what we expected. In the end, I think something like this could happen if unicorns were found to be real.”

Fantastic animals, magic, adventures and unlikely heroes are recurring elements in children’s literature. The appeal of this formula has been more than proven with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Eragon and Artemis Fowl, names that have enjoyed great success in recent decades in bookstores. But Steadman points to an earthsea mage, by Úrsula K. Le Guin, as its main reference. “I love her style and it has always inspired me to write fantasy, because she has this wonderful intrigue style that I like to emulate,” says the writer. She also cites Chilean Isabel Allende as an inspiration, whose books she says she read a lot in college.

Illustration on the cover of 'Skandar and the unicorn thief'.
Illustration on the cover of ‘Skandar and the unicorn thief’.Salamander

In addition to external references, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief it has some elements imported directly from the personal experience of its author. “I grew up in a single-parent family with my mother, my brothers and me. After my parents’ divorce, we didn’t have a lot of money. Skandar has a bit of the same thing,” says Steadman. The writer has no qualms about admitting that one of the greatest joys that the phenomenon of her novel has given her is “not having to worry about money in the same way” and in turn “being able to help the family financially” . Although from the age of 12 she was clear that her thing was to write, she decided to become a lawyer to provide a greater livelihood for her environment.

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But what is so special about Steadman’s novel that there has been so much interest even before it was published? The editorial director and founder of Salamandra, Sigrid Kraus, considers that there are factors in this story that deserve attention. “I was prejudiced that it was just going to be the concept of wizards and magic school again, but I was positively surprised. It puts the focus on other things, talks about the bonds with our loved ones and when these are not formed. I think that through this story she knows how to explain quite abstract concepts to children”, summarizes the editor. Although she considers it “bold” to present him as the new Harry Potter, whose books Kraus also edited in Spanish, the editor highlights the enthusiastic reception that Steadman is receiving in Spanish bookstores. The Spanish translation is one of the 40 hired for the saga, but according to the author she is especially excited about it. “I studied in Salamanca for a while. One of my characters has the name of my Spanish teacher”, she tells with a laugh.

Steadman is directly involved as an executive producer on the film for Sony Pictures and says she’s confident the project will come to fruition with screenwriter Jon Croker and the rest of the team. That youth novels enter the market this strong, with large contracts, transfers to the cinema and translations into dozens of languages ​​is not usual, although Sigrid Kraus recalls that “there is a general growth” in sales of this type of stories that has been enhanced in pandemic. The editor expresses, however, some concern about the continuity of children’s books that are a little more demanding with the reader and that do not receive as much attention. “We must prevent them from disappearing, because there is a niche of children who do seek this type of content. They also have to be taken care of”, concludes Kraus.

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