Simon & Schuster Children’s Books is to publish a middle-grade duology featuring Onyeka and The Academy of the Sun, plus two standalone picture books, from Tola Okogwu, after triumphing in what is said to have been a hotly contested acquisition.
Onyeka and The Academy of the Sun follows 12-year-old British-Nigerian girl Onyeka who discovers that her hair has psychokinetic powers when trying to save her friend from drowning in a pool. Her mother reveals that she is a Solari, part of a secretive group of mutants unique to Nigeria. Onyeka is taken from London to a futuristic Nigeria, where she can train at the Academy of the Sun—a school where the Solari are taught to harness their powers and use them to protect their country. The second title is yet to be confirmed.
The series will be edited by Melissa Gitari and Amina Youssef who recently joined the S&S fiction team, and will launch simultaneously in the UK and US in June 2022, supported by a major marketing and PR campaign. The first picture book will publish in 2023.
The global co-publication deal was led by Ali Dougal, publishing director, Melissa Gitari, assistant editor, and Kate Prosswimmer at Margaret McElderry Books, with the team acquiring world rights from Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge & White.
Okogwu is a journalist, author and hair care educator. She has written for multiple publications, including Black Ballad, Metro UK, Huffington Post and Refinery29. Born in Lagos, Nigeria but raised in London, she writes children's books, including the Daddy Do My Hair series and, under the pen name Lola Morayo, the Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door series.
Commenting on the deal, she said: "I have always wanted superpowers, so when the idea of a girl with mutant powers and a kick-ass head of hair came to me, I knew her story needed to be told. Not enough children know how magical and beautiful their Afro-textured hair is and through Onyeka, I wanted to show them that magic, as well as an epic adventure full of gadgets, action and danger. I'm incredibly grateful to be working with the team at S&S. From the very beginning they have shown so much love and enthusiasm for a world that has existed only in my mind for far too long."
Dougal added: "Tola’s vision, passion and ideas are consistently impressive and exciting. She is an exceptional ambassador for children’s books and accessibility, and the opportunity to build her as a star across our fiction and picture book lists is a privilege and a thrill."
Gitari said: "Onyeka’s incredible story will resonate with so many people—it’s about a girl trying to feel comfortable in her own skin, the importance of friendship and the painful family secrets we carry. On a personal level, I am so excited to be working on a series that celebrates Afro hair and will be a source of pride and positive representation for so many Black children. Tola is without a doubt a star in the making."