J K Rowling is releasing a standalone fairytale called The Ickabog for free online and is asking children to illustrate the published edition for her. Hachette Children's Group imprint Little, Brown for Young Readers will be the book's UK publisher, publishing the title in November.
The 60,000-word story is first being released online, with at least one chapter to be published every weekday, starting from 3 p.m. today (26th May), on a dedicated Ickabog website. There will be 34 instalments in total.
Rowling originally wrote the tale — which is not Harry Potter-connected — over 10 years ago as a bedtime story for her younger children. On Twitter, the author said she had always intended to complete it but got sidetracked by her adult novels.
She wrote: “Over the last few weeks I’ve done a bit of rewriting and I’ve decided to publish The Ickabog for free online, so children on lockdown, or even those back at school during these strange, unsettling times, can read it or have it read to them."
The book and e-book will be published in November 2020 in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and India by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and in the US and Canada by Scholastic. International editions will publish from November onwards in France by Gallimard Jeunesse, in Italy by Adriano Salani Editore, in Germany by Carlsen Verlag, in Spain by Ediciones Salamandra and in Brazil by Editora Rocco. An audiobook will be published by Audible in November.
Written to be read aloud, The Ickabog is a fairytale set in an imaginary land, aimed at children between the ages of seven and nine. Rowling said of the book in a blog: "The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power. 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. The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country."
Keen for children to be involved as the story unfolds, Rowling is inviting budding young artists to illustrate her story. Parents and guardians are encouraged to enter their children’s artwork into an official illustration competition being run by Rowling’s publishers around the world, to win a place in the published book in each territory.
By using the hashtag #TheIckabog, children are encouraged to post paintings and drawings on social media platforms, with Rowling dropping in on Twitter occasionally to pick out some of her favourites. A selection of images will also be posted on a gallery on the Ickabog website.
Rowling, who has pledged her royalties to projects assisting groups particularly affected by the pandemic, said: “Having decided to publish, I thought how wonderful it would be if children in lockdown, or otherwise needing distraction during the strange and difficult time we’re passing through, illustrated the story for me. There will be suggestions about the illustrations we might need for each chapter on The Ickabog website, but nobody should feel constrained by these ideas. I want to see imaginations run wild! Creativity, inventiveness and effort are the most important things: we aren’t necessarily looking for the most technical skill!"