‘The Ickabog’: a Surprise Serialized Kids’ Book from J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter creator to donate all proceeds to COVID-19 charities

First there was Stephenie Meyer announcing Midnight Sun, the long-teased version of Twilight from brooding teen vampire Edward’s perspective. Then there was Suzanne Collins, releasing her eagerly awaited prequel to The Hunger Games last week.

Now comes Harry Potter juggernaut J.K. Rowling, dropping a surprise serial fairytale right into our first week of summer. The first two chapters of The Ickabog arrived May 26, accompanied by its origin story on Rowling’s website and an illustration contest from Scholastic. New chapters will post each weekday for the next seven weeks.

First things first: “This is not a Harry Potter spin-off,” Rowling tweeted as The Ickabog went live.

“The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power,” she wrote in a blog post. “To forestall one obvious question: the idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now.”

Except for parents’ desperate need to find slam-dunk new reads for their locked-down kids, of course.

Ickabog

The first chapter introduces us to the country of Cornucopia, newly ruled by King Fred the Fearless. Cornucopia seems like a decent enough place, with notable food-producing regions including the pastry heaven of Chouxville, cheese-centric Kurdsburg and the wine region of Jeroboam.

Yet there be monsters here. Rowling’s second chapter hammers home that like every enduring folktale horror lurking near the edge of where you must never ever go, the Ickabog is a hungry beast.

“The monster was said to eat children and sheep,” she writes. “Sometimes it even carried off grown men and women who strayed too close to the marsh at night.”

The Ickabog started as a break from Harry Potter, Rowling explains in her blog post. She wrote it in between volumes of her best-selling series, intending to publish it post-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Instead, she turned to writing for adults, publishing The Casual Vacancy and, under a pseudonym, The Cuckoo’s Calling.

“A few weeks ago at dinner,” she floated the idea of publishing it for children stuck at home due to the spread of COVID-19, to hearty support from her now-teenagers who remembered her sharing The Ickabog with them as kids.

You can read the story for free now. Scholastic will publish the collected chapters in traditional book form in November, and Rowling says she’ll donate all author royalties to “help groups who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic.”

Scholastic is also overseeing an illustration contest for kids aged 7-12, who can submit their renderings of the Ickabog, Cornucopia, or other characters. Winners will have their art included in the finished book, and Rowling has already started retweeting selected favorites.

So is it any good? Does it matter? Rowling has the magic touch, as one early reader from India wrote in a now-deleted tweet with the mightiest of understatements: “I am done with the first two chapters. Interesting read. Kids would love it.”

Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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