Title: THE GREAT WOODS
Word count: 37,000
Genre: Middle grade contemporary fantasy
Eleven-year-old Jenny is spending the summer with her grandparents in Maine while her parents settle the details of their divorce. To escape the family turmoil, Jenny runs to the forbidden woods behind the house. She discovers a world of magic and music, of elves and unicorns. In the woods, there is no fighting, and Jenny can solve every problem. She frees a trapped unicorn. She helps birth a foal. So Jenny returns to the woods despite warnings from her family and the elves to stay away.
But Jenny is wrong. She exposes the unicorns to a virus, and they begin dying. To get the medicine they need, she must pass a lion and steal a giant’s blood. Her grandfather gives her his beloved horse, and Jenny sets off. Along the way, she’ll face hunger, injury, and her greatest fear. Jenny’s hardest challenge, though, will be returning to her splintering family.
It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lazy, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.
“Jen-ny,” Billy’s voice echoed through the trees. Jenny smiled. He was worse than Gran. That night, though, Jenny wouldn’t be bothered about Billy and his fretting. Or about her grumpy grandparents and their boring old house, or her parents a million miles away in Evanston. She scanned the woods like a prowling jaguar. She wanted that flashing light, and she was going to get it.
The light flared to her left. Jenny crept up to it. She had her special blue jar, the one her dad gave her right before she left, tight in her hands. She lunged for the firefly, but it darted past a thin beech. Jenny pursed her lips and blew her bangs out of her eyes. You’re not getting away that easy, mister.
Little sticks and sharp pebbles replaced the soft July grass under her bare feet as she got deeper into the woods. That should have been a sign – the woods knew Jenny didn’t belong there, and tried to urge her away. Jenny didn’t notice the warning, though. She only had eyes for that small and magical glow.
The firefly lit beyond a low bush, and Jenny’s eyes lit with it. It was close. She could get it. She tiptoed toward it.