Shannon Hale would probably feel right at home in a superhero costume right about now. After all, this mother of four young children has five books coming out in 2014, and the one she’ll be signing this morning, The Princess in Black (Candlewick, Oct.), is the first title in a new early reader series about a proper princess who has a secret monster-fighting identity. Co-written with her husband, Dean Hale, the book is illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

“This all started about three years ago, when my then-four-year-old daughter was pointing to the colors on her butterfly skirt, saying, ‘pink is a girl color, purple is a girl color, yellow is a girl color, but not black,’” says Shannon. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. I wear black.’ And I pointed out other women and girls who wear black. Then she said, ‘Mama, princesses don’t wear black.’ That was my aha moment.”

Hale says she quickly became consumed with ideas for the character and story, and drew some additional inspiration from classic heroes like the Scarlett Pimpernel and Zorro. “I loved writing a character who seems to be the ideal of what a princess should be with pretty dresses and glass slippers, but when there’s trouble, she slides down the chute to become the Princess in Black and fights monsters.” The Hales have completed four books in the series, and plans are to release one title each fall.

“We modeled the style of the Mercy Watson books [by Kate DiCamillo],” says Shannon. “I can read them with two different ages of children side by side. We wanted enough of a story to keep older children engaged and full-color illustrations on each spread for the younger ones.” Pham was Hale’s dream choice of an illustrator, noting, “We were so lucky that she immediately said ‘yes’ when she heard about the book, even though she wasn’t taking on any new projects.”

Shannon Hale signs copies of Princess in Black this morning, 10–11 a.m., at Table 4 in the Autographing Area.

Charting a New Course

Changing writing gears a bit, Hale took on two projects that are part of ongoing series. “I’ve written in someone else’s universe twice this year,” she says. The second of Hale’s novels in Little, Brown’s Ever After High series, about a school for the children of fairy tale characters (and tied to the Mattel line of merchandise), Ever After High: The Unfairest of Them All hit shelves in March. “With this kind of book, it’s a real benefit for me to be able to reach kids who aren’t always readers,” says the author. “They may get hooked by the videos or the dolls. But I put a lot of pressure on myself to write a book that’s captivating enough that they want to come back.”

Hale has also penned Spirit Animals: Book 4: Fire and Ice (Scholastic, June) in the popular multiplatform, fantasy-adventure series. “It’s set in the Arctic with polar bears and seals and walruses,” Hale says. “I did a lot of research and read about Shackleton’s expedition. I was able to repurpose facts into a fantasy environment. When I was finished, I realized [the story] a tragedy, which is a first for me, and it’s been an interesting experience.” She signs copies of The Unfairest of Them All and ARCs of Fire and Ice today, 2:30–3:30 p.m., at Table 18 in the Autographing Area.

Hale just wrapped up a tour for her YA sci-fi adventure, Dangerous (Bloomsbury, Mar.) and has just finished the final draft of the third and final Princess Academy book, called Forgotten Sisters. The novel is due out next March from Bloomsbury. Musing on the time it took to end the series, she says, “I think the success of Princess Academy was a little daunting to me. I didn’t want to disappoint fans, if what I thought happened next wasn’t what they imagined happened next. It was a challenging story to tackle—but that’s when I get excited about writing.”

Talking up so many projects will keep Hale hopping at BEA, but one of her favorite things about this year’s conference was the opportunity to cut up with her children’s author and illustrator pals in last night’s variety show during the Children’s Book Art Auction, whose proceeds benefit the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. Following her signings today, Hale heads home to Utah. “I try to be home as much as I can,” she adds. “So my travel schedule is never padded. We love family time, just reading books and playing games.” If only she had a cape...