For Mariko Tamaki, getting the chance to write original chapter books about the campers of Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types has been pretty dreamy: "I was a massive fan of the comic since issue 1. I loved the characters and the whole concept." Tamaki describes the Lumberjanes as "a series about five kids at the coolest camp ever. It's fantastical, but also very much grounded in what it's actually like to be at camp, with badges and campfires and ghost stories and wilderness and the odd Greek deity and/or magical creature thrown into the mix." Unicorn Power, the first chapter book in the series (published by Amulet), released in 2017; the second book, The Moon Is Up, hit the shelves last month.
Brooklyn Allen is the original illustrator and cocreator—with Grace Ellis and Shannon Watters—of the Lumberjanes comics (published by Boom! Studios). Illustrating in the chapter book format has been an adjustment for Allen, but a happy one: "It's a bit of a 180 from comics, where the story relies 100% on the illustrations, to carefully picking moments out of a 200-page book to visually emphasize," Allen says. "It's been a lot of fun to sort of slow down and approach everything at a more thoughtful pace." Allen often describes the Lumberjanes as " ‘Girl Scouts with monsters,' and then I stumble over whether or not any of the fantastical beasts really are monsters—they're almost always just misunderstood or a soon-to-be-friend."
When it comes to inventing these fantastical creatures, rules are pretty much off the table: "The camp is only limited by our imaginations, so in many ways it's whatever strikes our fancy. Sometimes there are creatures that work really nicely to develop a character—for example, challenging Mal's fear of water with a lake monster, or teaching April lessons about compromise and friendship via discovering mermaids," says Allen.
Tamaki pulls from vast sources, wherever her reading takes her: "I try to mix it up so in each books it's never just one thing." For the first book, she immersed herself in reading about weather and mountains. For the second, in which the camp holds a Galaxy Wars competition, Tamaki sought out all things astronomical. She also has a go-to "massive book of Greek, Egyptian, Viking, and Norse mythology, which is way interesting."
So far, Tamaki and Allen have seen the chapter books draw a lot of readers already familiar with the comics. "There's definitely comics fans in there. I think we're getting a really diverse group," says Tamaki. Allen adds, "There seems to be quite a bit of crossover, but the hope is to bring the world of Lumberjanes to people who haven't picked up the comic or aren't into reading comics—yet."
What's next for the Lumberjanes? "The third book is going to focus on Ripley, and it's going to be all about theater, biology, and very mysterious eggs and the mysterious people who love them," Tamaki says.
And after that? According to Allen, "The mysteries of the universe are vast, and Lumberjanes are always down for adventure, so, truly, who can say?"