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Breakthrough children’s novel set in Papua New Guinea makes a splash at Usborne

Usborne continues to build its booming middle-grade list with a spell-binding story of friendship, forgiveness and bravery from author Zillah Bethell.

Becky Walker, commissioning editor at Usborne Publishing, acquired World Rights to The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell, from Julia Churchill at A.M. Heath. Walker, who won the Branford Boase Award for her work on Mitch Johnson’s Kick, secured The Shark Caller and a second standalone novel from Bethell in a heated auction. The Shark Caller will publish in summer 2020.

Inspired by Bethell’s childhood, The Shark Caller is set against the evocatively-rendered backdrop of the islands of the South Pacific, and their traditional practice of shark-calling. Zillah was born in the shadow of the volcano Mount Lamington in Papua New Guinea. She grew up without shoes, toys or technology, and consequently spent a lot of time swimming and canoeing in the sea. Zillah’s family returned to the UK when she was ten, she went on to study at Oxford University and now lives in South Wales, but vivid memories of Oceania stayed with her.

Zillah Bethell
Zillah Bethell

“The sea is always there,” I say. “It always has been. It always will be. People are born and people die. All the taim they are being born and dying, and all the taim in between, the sea is moving up and down, up and down. All the taim. It never ever stops. Never in all taim.”

Blue Wing lives with her guardian Siringen, a shark-caller, on the outskirts of her village. She’s desperate to become a shark-caller herself to avenge the death of her parents, who were killed by a notorious shark, Xok. But it’s against tradition for a girl to become one, and Siringen believes Blue Wing still harbours too much anger in her heart.

When two Americans arrive on the island – Professor Atlas Hamelin and his daughter Maple – Blue Wing is charged with looking after the prickly and infuriating Maple. But, slowly, Blue Wing finds that Maple might be the one person who can understand what she’s going through, having recently lost her own mother. And when they discover that Professor Hamelin is secretly searching for an ancient treasure: an ancient Japanese scroll that contains the secret to immortality, they find themselves on a journey to depths of the ocean, where Xok lies waiting…

Of the acquisition, Usborne’s Becky Walker said: “From the first glimpse of a shark’s fin, The Shark Caller bewitched the whole of the Usborne office, transporting us straight to New Ireland, and taking us on the journey of a lifetime. At once a brilliantly-woven adventure, The Shark Caller is also the story of the extraordinary power of friendship, of courage and of what home is and can be."

I am absolutely over the new, waxing, waning, gibbous, crescent and honey moon joining the brilliant Usborne team! It's an astonishing honour and I am tru tru grateful. Zillah Bethell, author

Tags: Children's fiction acquisitions

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