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Childhood Wellness

Soman Chainani Discusses the Power of Literature

Photo: Courtesy of Chad Wagner and Steven Trumon Gray

The best-selling author discusses the upcoming “The School for Good and Evil” movie as well as the importance of reading for children and teens.

“The School for Good and Evil” took the world by storm! What has that been like for you? Did you ever imagine this level of success?

I’m answering this while on set of “The School for Good and Evil” movie, and I can safely say it’s an intensely surreal experience. The last eight years have been a strange, fantastic dream. The series always felt intensely personal and highly specific to my own imagination, so to have others embrace it the way they have seems almost impossible. But the readers of this series are unfailingly kind, thoughtful, and generous, and over the years, they’ve been such a wonderful source of joy. I can’t imagine my life without them and how much they’ve taught me about the power of art and imagination. 

What were some of your favorite books growing up? What got you interested in literature?

I loved books about mysteries, as well as children solving problems on their own. These were books like “The Westing Game” and “From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler.” It’s no surprise, then, that “The School for Good and Evil” has both elements, as well as the fantasy spin of “The Wizard of Oz” series by Frank L. Baum, which I read compulsively. But perhaps the books I read most of all were Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles,” which just dazzled me with language, sensuality, and fun, amidst a rollicking story. She is perhaps my greatest influence and the reason I fell in love with literature. 

How do you hope to keep young people engaged in and excited about reading through your work?

I’m lucky enough to tour quite a bit and meet over 100,000 children a year (in pre-COVID times, at least). On those tours, I tell kids at school that reading should be as fun as playing a video game or watching a movie. It’s just about finding the right book, the book that speaks to you intensely and activates your deepest feelings. At the same time, reading is perhaps the most powerful way to flex the muscles of your imagination, and it’s those muscles which allow you to create art and content in the world that is unique to you and not a copy of anyone else. 

Talk to us about your upcoming projects. 

I’m most excited about “Beasts and Beauty,” coming September 28th from HarperCollins. It’s my collection of dangerous fairy tales that reinvent the familiar stories we grew up with. They’re dark, scary, funny, sensual, edgy, and truly meant for every age the way that primal stories are. It’s a book I’m so deeply proud of. 

And then, in 2022, the “School for Good and Evil” movie will be released by Netflix, starring Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Yeoh, and a cast of talented teenagers, including Sofia Wylie and Sophie Anne Caruso.

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