The Unicorn Quest Interview and Review

An enchanting, exciting fantasy about a real-world girl searching for her sister in a land full of magic and strange creatures, blending the timeless feel of A Wrinkle in Time with Frozen's powerful themes of identity, enchantment, and sisterhood.
Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor . . . until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden.
There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other, the beloved unicorns have disappeared, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes in the night, it will take all of Claire's courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns' greatest secret.
A Kids' Indie Next Selection
A Mighty Girl Best Book of the Year
An ALA Top Ten First Novel for Youth

"Hand to readers who love Narnia." --School Library Journal on The Unicorn Quest

* "Those who love Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time or . . . Neil Gaiman's Coraline, can't miss this debut." --Booklist, starred review, on The Unicorn Quest

The second book in an enchanting fantasy series The Unicorn Quest, about a real-world girl and her sister in a land full of magic and strange creatures.
Claire Martinson and her sister Sophie have decided to stay in Arden--the magical land they discovered by climbing up a chimney in their great-aunt's manor. If what they've learned is true, the sisters are the last descendants of the royal family, and only a true heir of Arden--with magic in her blood--can awaken the unicorns.
Since Sophie has does not have magic, the land's last hope rests on Claire. The sisters journey to Stonehaven, a famed Gemmer school high in the mountains of Arden, so Claire can train in the magic of stone. As Claire struggles through classes, Sophie uncovers dangerous secrets about the people they thought they could trust. With Arden on the brink of crumbling, can Claire prove she is the prophesied heir and unlock the magic of the unicorns before it's too late?
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Kamilla Benko spent most of her childhood climbing into wardrobes, trying to step through mirrors, and plotting to run away to an art museum. Now, she visits other worlds as a children’s book editor. Originally from Indiana, she currently lives in New York with her bookshelves, teapot, and hiking boots.

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the title.
A: The Unicorn Quest trilogy is about two sisters—one brave, and one not-so-brave—who discover another world when they climb up a ladder in the fireplace of their great-aunt’s manor. In this world, magic is done through art and tension is rising between the four guilds of magic—a tension that can only be stopped by the return of the unicorns.

In Book 2, the sisters—Sophie and Claire—have arrived at Stonehaven, the capital of the guild who can release the magic from stone. This guild can carve an army of stone statues that can crush the bones of your enemies or craft glass spectacles that can allow you to see miles and miles away. And so the secret in the stone refers to the many qualities found in rock, but it is also a nod to the many great and dangerous secrets that some of the characters are keeping. . .and when those secrets are discovered, they will change Sophie and Claire’s lives forever.

Q; How do you make it where you think one thing is going to happen in the story and then another occurs;  yet it still makes sense? (This craft is amazing!)
A; Before I set out to write a story, I always think about what each every single character wants in life. What is X Character’s ultimate goal? Is it finding a sister? Living life to the fullest? Taking over the world? And when I’m determining what characters want, I get a little mean. I purposefully seek out character that want the opposite of another character’s goals or at least, their want is going to make it harder for the other character. And out of this tension, you have a lot character keeping secrets, and so then the twists and turns in the plot feel organic to the story, but are still surprising because—like with real people—you don’t know their entire life story. And it’s that discovery that keeps things interesting!
Q; What are some challenges unique to writing fantasy?
A; The biggest challenge about fantasy is that anything can happen. Literally. If you want the sky to be purple, it can be purple. If you want everyone to have wings, everyone can have wings. So the challenge is to sift through all those fun possibilities and streamline them down into one cohesive—and coherent!—story. And you have to streamline! All tales begin with some sort of problem and the story is the steps taken to fix that problem. So if you have a world where magic can do everything, then it’s almost impossible to have a plot because the solution is so easy. Making up your own rules and sticking to them is what makes fantasy so fun! 
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A: There’s a lot of layers to it – just like a middle grader! There’s the top layer with unicorns and magic, wish fulfillment and epic danger. But then underneath all the fantasy, The Unicorn Quest trilogy is really a story about two sisters from our world, who are dealing with growing up and apartIt’s a story about how change can be good and how it can be bad, and how one can find the bravery face it or accept it. 
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A; You can find kindred spirits more easily! As a reader, sometimes I’ve read a sentence that makes me say, “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel! I didn’t know anyone else felt the same way as me.” And then I feel a little less alone.

And so to be on the writer side of it, to craft a sentence that makes another person feel seen and heard and felt, has been an unexpected joyful side-effect of becoming a published author. By putting my heart on paper for others to see, I’ve been able to make new friends in unexpected places.

Q: How do you get started on your writing, and what advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?
A; Funnily enough, I never wanted to be a writer – I always wanted to be an editor! And that’s because I was convinced I didn’t have good enough ideas to stick with something all the way through. But then I became a children’s book editor, and I saw up close and personal how books don’t come out as shiny finished projects—they come out page by page, sentence by sentence, word by messy word. By watching other people write, the process became less mysterious, and I realized that maybe I could give it a try, too. My advice to middle schoolers is two-fold. 1) Be brave! It’s not easy for the professionals to face the blank page, but all it takes is that initial sentence to get you moving somewhere. 2)Read! Read everything and anything, and you’re already 2/3 of the way there to being a fantastic writer. The other third is being brave, of course. 

Q: What else would you like us to know?
A: I’ve known the ending of the series for a long time, and I’m so excited that in book two, Secret in the Stone, readers are able to start seeing my overall masterplan!  In addition to The Unicorn Quest, I’ve also been hard at work on another book with some very familiar and beloved characters: Anna and Elsa of Arendelle! I’ve been working with Disney on a middle grade book that bridges the events of FROZEN and FROZEN II. I still can’t say much, only that it’s a dream come true.

Straight from the mouth of my babes:
"When is book three coming out?"
"I could NOT stop reading. I know that our mascot is a unicorn, but this just made the unicorn so much more magical with all of the action. I want SO badly to be alongside Anna and Elsa." 
"Again. Book two, Mrs. Thomas. WOW."

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