Penumbras blog tourWELCOME BRADEN!!

Why I Think Contemporary Adolescents Like Books with Magic—And Why I Think It’s Important…


I directed my first play with the middle school students twenty-six years ago. This fall, I’ll begin my thirteenth year of teaching full-time in middle schools. The age group fascinates me partly because trying to understand and reach them provides a constant challenge.

One of the most intriguing things about adolescents is the way they straddle childhood and adulthood. Poised as they are between these two worlds, middle school students occupy a unique developmental space.

At its best, this unique situation means that they still have a childish sense of wonder, but they also have the ability to express it in more sophisticated ways. Adolescence can be a magical—if brief—time when the joy and wonder of childhood overlap with increased not-yet-jaded maturity.

At its worst, however, this also means that they often confront problems that seem almost impossibly large, and to them, completely unique—unheard of in their lives to that point.

I’ve noticed that adolescents tend to experience their lives in colorful, heightened terms. Villains can lurk anywhere, and heroes can emerge from the most unlikely places. Events that might seem minor, even trivial, to an adult can have great significance to students of that age. Most young teens can relate to feeling that their lives are over because of some embarrassment. Or, feeling as if nothing could ever be bad again because a particular boy or girl smiles at them.

I think that all of these aspects of adolescent experience help explain why this age group embraces books and movies that feature magic. Books with magic tap into both their childlike wonder as well as their awareness of constant, lurking danger.

I suspect adolescents relate to stories of young heroes fighting monsters and evil wizards or witches because they often feel that each day is a battle for them. That may sound hyperbolic, but for many young people of this age, each day is a battle as they navigate their highly-complex, highly-fraught worlds. Social standing, of course, is one of the major quests. But each day they walk through swamps and thickets of changing bodies, changing friends, changing emotions, as well as the changing expectations of their parents and themselves. If we consider the increasing pressures of school, budding romantic relationships, as well as extra-curricular activities, we get a sense of their lives—the blend of tragedy and triumph mixed with the new and wonderful, with loyal friends and evil villains thrown in to the mix.

Books with magic in them often show young protagonists overcoming great difficulties—vanquishing foes and saving the world. With all today’s adolescents balance and confront, I’m not surprised that they are drawn to magical stories—and I believe the fact that they are gives us, as their parents and teachers, some clues about how to reach them and helps us understand how they see their lives. If we are to be the kind of guides they need—like Gandalf, Obi-Wan, or Dumbledore (to name three famous examples of the archetype)—then we need to be aware of how they see their situation. We cannot help them slay monsters until we know what monster inhabit their world. And we cannot help their full powers burst into bloom until we know exactly what holds them back from reaching those powers.

 Thank you Braden, for taking a few moments of your time to visit with us today!


Braden headshot 2012Author Bio:

Braden Bell grew up in Farmington, Utah and graduated from Davis High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theatre from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in educational theatre from New York University. He and his wife, Meredith live  with their five children on a quiet, wooded lot outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he teaches theatre and music at a private school. An experienced performer, Braden enjoys singing, acting, reading, gardening, and long walks with the dog.

Penumbras Website (trailers, photos, sample chapters):http://www.bradenbell.com/penumbras.html
Author Twitter: @bradenbellcom
Publisher Cedar Fort, Inc. (July 9, 2013)
Language English
ISBN-10 146211220X
ISBN-13 978-1462112203


Conner Dell didn’t meant to blow up the school bus.

Or the bathrooms.

In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.

But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.


Conner Dell wants to be good–he really does. But he is terrified that he might be turning into a Darkhand, especially when new powers start to surface. What’s worse, the Stalker is following Conner, but no one else seems to be able to see him. The Magi think he might be hallucinating, the guilt of what happened in the Shadowbox keeps weighing on him, and his relationship with Melanie Stephens is complicating things. Even for a Magi, Conner knows his life is anything but normal. 

Purchase links:

Note: I will be selling both Penumbras and The Kindling through my website for a steep discount–$9.99 (plus s/h)

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/penumbras-braden-bell/1114516270?ean=9781462112203




Conner Dell didn’t mean to blow up the school bus.

Or the bathrooms.

In fact, he only wanted to go to sleep and possibly dream about Melanie Stephens.

But explosions had a funny way of happening when Conner and his friends were around.

It all started on the annual seventh grade science trip to the Sea Lab at Dauphin Island, Alabama. Fifty-four thirteen-year-olds on a five-day field trip. What could go wrong?

Especially when three of them happened to be Magi.


For a fraction of a second, Conner thought he saw shadows slithering along the base of the cinderblock walls. Tensing, he blinked and looked again.

Nothing. He was alone in the darkness of his dorm room.

Well, except for his friend and fieldtrip roommate, Pilaf.

                Across the room, Pilaf disturbed the darkness by turning his flashlight on and digging through a giant floral print suitcase. Fishing a book out, Pilaf hunched over, tucked the flashlight under his chin, and read.

                “What are you reading?” Conner asked.

                 “Sorry. Did I wake you up?” Pilaf squeaked. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess I slept too much on the bus.”

                “No worries.” Conner burrowed into his sleeping bag. He didn’t like messing with sheets on these trips. The springs of the ancient bed creaked beneath him. “I’m not sleepy either.” Lexa? Can you hear me? Conner reached out in his thoughts, wondering if his twin sister was awake in her room on the girls’s floor. Head-talking was a cool benefit of being one of the Magi—a secret group of warriors who used the power of Light to battle evil.

No answer from Lexa. Her allergy medicine must have knocked her out.

Melanie? He tried Lexa’s best friend, Melanie Stephens—also one of the Magi-in-training. Conner listened for her response, trying to ignore the backflip in his chest that came when he thought of her. No answer. Melanie had taken something for motion sickness on the bus. She must be knocked out too.

                Conner jerked up as something skittered across the ceiling right above him. No doubt this time. He grabbed his own flashlight, raking the beam across the ceiling tiles as someone whispered his name.


                “What?” Conner pointed his flashlight at Pilaf, who looked up from his book, blinking behind his thick glasses. Pilaf’s blinks always reminded Conner of the way a light on a computer blinked when it processed data.

                “What?” Pilaf squinted back at him.

                “Why did you call me?” Conner asked.

                “I didn’t.” Pilaf looked down at his book.

                On edge now, Conner lay back down, scanning the room for more shadowy movement, his fingers ready to snap his flashlight back on at any second.

Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l.

                A whispered, hissing sort of growl sounded in his head as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He whipped his head around in time to see a shadowy tail vanish under Pilaf’s bed. Flipping his flashlight on, he investigated the space under the metal frame.

Nothing there.

                “What are you doing, Conner?” Pilaf managed to blink and stare at the same time.

Trying to protect you from slithery shadow monsters that could slurp your soul like a slushie, Conner thought. How could he keep the flashlight on without alarming Pilaf? Out loud, he said, “Uh, it’s a game. Flashlight tag. You’re it.” He shined the flashlight at Pilaf.

                “How do you play?”

                “Well . . . one person’s it and he shines a flashlight all over the room.”

                “That’s all?” Pilaf blinked until Conner wondered if he was broadcasting the telephone book in Morse code. “It seems kind of pointless.”

                “Uh, yeah.” Conner said. “You’re right. Lame. How about shadow puppets?” He slipped his hand in front of the flashlight, wiggling his fingers until the shadow resembled a horse.

                “Cool!” Pilaf shouted.

                A knock at the door interrupted them and a tired-looking science teacher poked his head in, glaring beneath tousled red hair. “What’s going on in here?”

                “Sorry, Mr. Keller,” Pilaf said. “We slept on the bus ride, so we’re not tired. Conner’s making shadows with his hands. Look, a horse!”

“Neeeiiiiggghhh.” Conner threw in sound effects as a special feature.

                Apparently unimpressed with great art, Mr. Keller frowned. “Get some sleep. We have a full day tomorrow.”

                “Yes, sir.” Conner swallowed his depression at the thought of a five-day science class. Five days of plankton, ocean salinity, salt marshes, and beach ecology. Five days of science, 24/7. At least they were close to the beach. That might be fun.

                “Do another one,” Pilaf whispered as the sound of Mr. Keller’s footsteps retreated down the hall.

                “Okay, but be quiet this time.” Conner opened his fingers, making a snake’s mouth, complete with a flickering tongue.

It seemed so real that Conner thought he heard a hiss. Unsettled, he dropped his hands, but the hissing noise continued, twisting into words.

Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l—

Trying to squash the sound, Conner raised his voice. “Here’s another one.” He cupped his hands on top of each other, stuck his thumb up, and opened his fingers slightly.

“Wow!” Pilaf yelled. “A wolf!” He giggled as Conner opened the mouth and growled. “Little pig, little pig let me come in.” Conner prayed that none of the other seventh-grade boys heard he’d been doing Three Little Pigs shadow plays. That would not be cool.

Co-n-n-e-r-r-r-r-r-r D-e-l-l-l-l-l—

The weird voice came louder. Conner dropped his hands away from the flashlight.

The wolf head stayed there.

Fighting panic, Conner switched the flashlight off, but the wolf head remained, darker than the darkest shadows on the wall.

It stretched and grew bigger, becoming life-sized within seconds. It turned and stared at Conner, a three-dimensional head sticking out of the wall like some kind of freaky hunting souvenir.

The wolf growled, then jumped off the wall, and sailed across the room toward Conner.



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