A trailblazer in multi-platform children’s publishing, Scholastic announces a new addition to that genre. Entitled Horizon, this seven-book series, aimed at readers ages nine and up, will intertwine novels and an immersive digital game. Due in January 2017, Horizon, the inaugural novel, is penned by the series’ architect, Scott Westerfeld, and will be published simultaneously in the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The still untitled second Horizon installment, written by Jennifer A. Nielsen, will be released in September 2017. The authors of subsequent books will be announced at a future date.

Scholastic has an impressive track record in the multi-platform genre, which the publisher initially explored in 2008 with The 39 Clues. Anchored by Rick Riordan, that series spawned three spin-offs, one spearheaded by Gordon Korman and two by Jude Watson. Subsequent series and the authors at the helm are Infinity Ring (2012, James Dashner), Spirit Animals (2013, Brandon Mull), and TombQuest (2015, Michael Northrop). There are 22 million copies in print across all of Scholastic's multi-platform properties (including Scholastic’s global subsidiaries in North America, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand), and the various series have been translated into more than 30 languages.

David Levithan, Scholastic’s v-p, publisher, and editorial director, noted that his team spent considerable time brainstorming ideas for “our next big multi-platform project, which would be different from what we’d done before.” When the notion of a supernatural survival story clicked, along with an enhanced digital component, Levithan recalled, “contacting Scott was a very easy phone call to make.”

Westerfeld, whose earlier series include Midnighters, Uglies, and Leviathan, was eager to tackle the new challenge. “When David asked me, ‘If you were to create a new multi-platform series, what would it be?’ I went away for a weekend, and started thinking about this idea that had been in the back of my head for quite a while,” Westerfeld said. “Sometimes the best ideas are ones that you have had for a long time, since the back-of-your head works without you even telling it to!” His long-simmering idea became Horizon, which opens as a diverse group of kids step from the wreckage of a plane crash to find themselves stranded, at odds with one another, and threatened by curious and terrifying creatures.

Westerfeld recognized that Horizon’s premise was well suited to a multi-book, and multi-author, treatment. “It is one of those big ideas that takes a number of books to fully explore, and I hadn’t had the time to do it myself,” he observed. “And I wasn’t sure that I could do the idea justice alone. So to have various writers, coming from different directions, contribute to this world and the characters, is very exciting to me.”

As he created the overall series arc and outlines for each novel, Westerfeld found comfort in knowing that other authors would be fleshing out the details. “I think that makes you braver with what you put in the story,” he said. “It’s nice to know that other writers are there to pick up the threads and run with them, and that you aren’t the only one responsible for solving all the challenges. And it’s also great to see authors step out of the genres they are accustomed to and try something new.”

From Printed Page to Screen

Westerfeld’s gaming background and prowess also made Horizons a good creative fit for him. The first series anchor author to be instrumental in creating (with Scholastic’s technology team) the digital component, he was an avid fan of role-playing games as a child, and was drawn to the notion of the multi-platform series from the genre’s inception. “I’ve always liked that these series incorporate gaming into the storytelling,” he said. “I feel as though my roots as a storyteller are in gaming. Games like Dungeons & Dragons are shared story times – there are rules, but you’re also creating characters and plots. That’s how I first learned to tell stories, and to return to gaming as a creator is a very exciting thing.”

In another multi-platform first for Scholastic, the Horizon digital experience will launch simultaneously for desktop and mobile. The game play catapults readers into a race for survival within a continuously shifting landscape, and combines altered physics, the ability to build lifesaving gadgets, an eerie soundscape, and antigravity modes that enable players to fly – and run the risk of crashing.

“In all due respect, the Horizon digital component makes the gaming aspect of The 39 Clues game, at its start, almost look like cave drawings!” Levithan joked. “In 2008, loading a game on a mobile phone would have likely crashed the phone and used up all its memory. With today’s technology, we can give kids the experience across all digital platforms – to access wherever they are. It is all about giving kids the chance to let their imaginations run wild.”

Yet the publisher emphasizes that the core of Horizon, like its multi-platform predecessors, is the reading experience. “For us, the gaming is really about expanding the story – moving from reading to actively exploring the gaming world,” said Levithan. “Most kids like to do both, and to read about a world and then get to be part of it. That never gets old. But none of the success we’ve had with 39 Clues, Spirit Animals, and the other series could have happened if we didn’t have great books by great authors. It’s wonderful to take the reading experience to another level, but the books absolutely stand alone.”

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld. Scholastic, $16.99 Jan. 2017 ISBN 978-0-545-91677-6