Juli Cragg Hilliard

Will the Next Harry Potter Be a Mormon?

His first book has sold almost 72,000 copies in hardcover since its August release. His small publisher retained famed Creative Arts Agency in reaction to what his editor calls an "intense amount of interest" in movie rights. Crowds swarm the rookie author's appearances.

As Harry Potter ends, publishers compete to give fantasy enthusiasts the next big family-friendly series. Brandon Mull's Fablehaven books, set on a preserve for magical creatures in Connecticut, are so hot that he represented Borders at this past Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the nation's largest.

"Fablehaven" (2006) and "Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star" (May)-- published by Shadow Mountain, a general-trade imprint of Deseret Book, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints --track the adventures of Kendra and her younger brother Seth. On Mull's "Imagination Can Take You Places" tour of stores and schools, he urges children to pick books over video games (the tour schedule is at www.fablehaven.com).

Mike Gibbs, a Borders district manager, suggested Mull for the fest after the writer attracted 400 people each to signings in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, Calif., in March. "It's very unusual to get this kind of turnout for an author from a small publisher," Gibbs said.

Chris Schoebinger, Shadow Mountain children's publishing director, said the Fablehaven books are not inherently religious but do provide moral lessons. He asked Mull, who is Mormon, to create a series for ages 9 and up after a survey of 2,000 LDS readers found Potter atop their "favorite reading" lists. Shadow Mountain also publishes Obert Skye's Leven Thumps fantasy series.

Simon & Schuster has worldwide paperback rights and issued the first book in paper in April. Schoebinger expects movie rights to be optioned soon. This fall, Shadow Mountain will release a separate Mull fantasy, "The Candy Shop War"; Mull also is at work on a third Fablehaven volume. And he's got book-signings every night this week, with large turnouts expected. Fablehaven will be featured on end caps at many national retailers this summer promoting "What to read now that Harry Potter series is ending," Schoebinger said.

"When Fablehaven became very successful and he decided to try to write full time, I actually tried to talk him out of it," Schoebinger marveled.

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