Have you heard the happy Lumberjanes news? Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! is on shelves now from New York Times bestselling author Mariko Tamaki. She has adapted the comic book series to novel format for middle-grade readers, complete with spot illustrations from Brooke Allen. I chatted, very briefly, with Tamaki, who is excited about this new project. But then, for the love of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, it occurs to me that some of you may need an explanation as to who in the Joan Jett the Lumberjanes are. So, let me do that first.
It is my pleasure, in fact, to tell you about Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo.
The Lumberjanes began its life, and still gloriously thrives, as a comic book series; it’s an all-ages series that is especially loved by young girls. (Tara Marie at ComicsAlliance called it “one of the most girl-centric comics ever made.”) Born in single magazine form in 2014, the series was created by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke Allen. Thus far, six volumes of the comic have been published by BOOM! Box, and the seventh is set to be released this December. Various artists have contributed over the years to these handsomely-designed volumes.
In 2015, the comic won two Eisner Awards (Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens), as well as a 2016 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book. Currently, a live-action film adaptation from 20th Century Fox is being directed by Emily Carmichael. This means you’ll likely hear a whole lot more about the Lumberjanes when the movie hits theaters. So, you can spend your time in advance of the movie’s release getting caught on the comics, as well as this new novel. It will be time well-spent.
And why is that? Because the comic book series is not only entertaining, but it also features five smart, strong, and fearless tight-knit friends, whose motto is “Friendship to the Max!” Their experiences in coming-of-age are authentic and often poignant, all the while highlighting the value of strong female friendships (complete with a bad-ass pledge). Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo are what are referred to as Lumberjanes Scouts. If you are such a lucky girl, this means you attend a summer camp, called Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. And it also means you’re likely to run into some supernatural beings at this camp. The girls go on many breathtaking magical quests. If you’re thinking they meet creatures like three-eyed foxes, who collapse into dust when defeated, you’d be right.
The series is queer-friendly (in issue #17, Jo comes out—and subtly so—as a transgender girl, not to mention that Mal and Molly have crushes on one another) and, needless to say at this point, is mighty empowering for young girls to read. (Feminists to the max!) The girls often use the names of pioneering women from all fields as exclamations, if you were wondering why I dramatically called forth the names of Tharpe and Jett above. The series is one of my favorite things in the world of comics.
That’s my enthusiastic introduction to the Lumberjanes, and now we’re back to the novel adaptation, which the Kirkus review calls “a winning reversal” from graphic novel to prose. Unicorn Power! is book one and just arrived on shelves. Here, Tamaki takes the girls, back at camp, into the mysterious woods again. This time, they meet a “flagrantly noxious” but “positively adorable” unicorn. And, Holy Junko Tabei! The unicorn is near a humongous mountain, where they head on a grand adventure.
It’s a kick to read the new novel, as Tamaki brings us the types of descriptions not spelled out in the graphic novel format. ("Ripley, incidentally, gave the best hugs, and when she liked things, she liked them A LOT.") Tamaki had fun with this. “I get so much joy reading the comics,” she tells me, “that I tried to just pour that into the books.”
The project came to her by way of her agent. “I got an email from my agent, and I jumped up and down. I have been and am still a huge fan of the series. I adore it. The characters, the setting, everything.” That same devotion, however, can put a bit of pressure on an author—to get everything just right, that is. But Tamaki found pleasure in the writing, despite this. “I wanted to get the tone right, the characters right, all of it,” she tells me. “At the same time, writing this series has been an absolute joy. I love writing these characters.”
To see Brooke Allen’s cover art and spot illustrations is also thrilling for Tamaki. Allen was the original artist for the comics, though over the years, a whole host of artists have brought their own interpretation to the characters. (The Lumberjanes volumes close with “cover galleries,” a series of images featuring Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, and Jo, as envisioned by various artists.) “I am a huge fan of the many artists and writers that have worked on this series, and still do,” Tamaki says. “And the editors. The whole team is amazing. And I am in love with Brooklyn’s illustrations. They are an incredible artist.”
Although Tamaki has “been doing a bit of superhero writing these days” and is working on her next YA novel, as yet unnamed, she still has the Lumberjanes Scouts in mind. Amulet Books plans to publish more in the Lumberjanes series, Tamaki keeping a larger narrative in mind for the books. “They will all fit into a big picture, focusing on one/two characters per book,” she explains. “I don’t know the actual schedule offhand, but I know I just handed in the second book a few weeks ago and I’m dreaming about the third now.”
And, for the love of the Lumberjanes, we fans can’t wait.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
Image: THE LUMBERJANES: UNICORN POWER! Text and illustrations copyright © 2017 BOOM! Studios. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, New York.