The princess and the witch are two of the most familiar archetypes in all of literature, and are fairly predictably mortal enemies. But what would happen if they were given the chance to switch lives? That’s one of the questions that director and screenwriter Soman Chainani says spurred him to write The School for Good and Evil (HarperCollins, May), his debut children’s book and the first title in a trilogy.
As Chainani’s fairy-tale spin goes, Sophie, who dreams of princes and has a complicated beauty routine, hopes with all her might that she’ll be selected for the School for Good. Sophie’s best friend, Agatha, who lives in a cemetery and dresses all in black, is considered a top candidate for the School for Evil. But when the big recruitment day arrives, the girls’ destinations are reversed. They spend the rest of the book in various intense competitions.
“When I read the first sentence of The School for Good and Evil, I knew in my gut that we were going to have a winner on our hands,” said Phoebe Yeh, editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books. “I was blown away by the originality of Chainani’s premise, his irrepressible characters, the breadth of the world-building, and the astonishing language. I loved that Soman was writing an epic novel that offered a new way to define friendship and fairy tales, with such hilarity and irreverence.” Yeh’s enthusiasm inspired her to pre-empt the trilogy from Jane Startz of Jane Startz Productions.
The School for Good and Evil launched on May 14 with a 150,000-copy first printing, and the publisher expects to go back to press soon. A trailer for the book has popped up on numerous sites, including Entertainment Weekly, the book’s own dedicated site, MTV.com, and USAToday.com.
HarperCollins Children’s Books distributed “Ever” and “Never” buttons at conferences in recent months, allowing early readers to show their allegiance for one school or the other. The title has received positive reviews and will debut at #7 on the June 2 New York Times bestseller list for its first week in release.
Chainani has just completed an eight-city national tour, which included a stop at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma, Calif. “We can’t keep it in stock,” said Patty Norman, who along with partner Grace Bogart is a children’s event planner for Copperfield’s several locations. “Considering it’s got two princesses on the jacket, and it’s selling equally well to boys and girls, we are surprised and super pleased with how it’s doing,” she added, noting that they’ve sold more than 100 copies of the book so far, and are eagerly awaiting more stock. She credits part of the big surge to Chainani’s appearance at a Bookstormer Dinner hosted by Copperfield’s the night before his store and school events. The dinners, a project begun this spring, are held at a nearby pizza parlor and gather together local librarians, the booksellers, and a group of fourth-to-sixth graders who are serious readers – and who are likely to talk up books to their friends and classmates. “It’s another way to get the word out about books,” Norman said. “This is our fourth one and the difference it has made is amazing.”
Chainani’s book has captured Hollywood’s attention as well. On May 23, Deadline.com announced that Universal Pictures will produce a film version of The School for Good and Evil with Joe Roth (Roth Films) and Jane Startz. Chainani will pen the screenplay with Malia Scotch Marmo.
And there’s more to come: the second volume in Chainani’s trilogy is called A World Without Princes, and is slated for May 2014. According to Yeh, “The title offers a hint of what’s to come – it’s no longer the School for Good and Evil. Now it’s the School for Girls vs. the School for Boys.”
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. HarperCollins, $16.99 May ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2