MacKids Spotlight: Dhonielle Clayton

MacKids Spotlight: Dhonielle Clayton 3

Bestselling author, former teacher and librarian, COO of We Need Diverse Books, and owner of CAKE literary Dhonielle Clayton makes her magical middle grade debut in The Marvellers! This fantasy adventure set in a global magic school in the sky completely redefines the genre — the Arcanum Institute is like no magic school you’ve ever visited before! This is an inclusive, global celebration of the unique magic that lives within each us. ✨

#1 New York Times bestselling–author Rick Riordan says, “The Marvellers deserves the highest compliment I can give a book: I want to live in this world. You can stop looking at admissions brochures for all those other schools of magic. The Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors is definitely where you want to apply.”

Dhonielle shares more about her inspiration for the story and the enchanting world of The Marvellers here! Plus, request a digital review copy of The Marvellers on NetGalley!

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When describing The Marvellers, what’s your elevator pitch?

Dhonielle Clayton: The future of magic school, a global Harry Potter where the world’s magical kids attend an institute in the sky and they practice their cultural marvels. 

What inspired you to write The Marvellers?

Dhonielle: I was inspired by so many things when creating the world of The Marvellers from my global travels around the world to the everyday magic I found in my household growing up. I wanted to find a way to have a deep discussion about magic in different communities and the complexities of living in global societies.  

I started to write The Marvellers back when I was an elementary and middle school librarian at a charter school in Harlem, New York, and serving a completely BIPOC population. I watched my young students struggle to develop a relationship with literature due to not seeing themselves outside of topical fiction and non-fiction related to the histories of their various communities – immigration, slavery, Civil Rights, etc. Although, these are very important books, what happens when they’re the only places where you see representation on the pages. What happens when you don’t get the opportunity to see yourself reflected as magical and important in fiction?

So, I started the world of the Marvellers – a place where the magical people of the world lived together in the skies, practicing their magical traditions — because I wanted to remind all readers that there’s something marvelous about them. That even the BIPOC and queer kids missing from those huge magical franchises that dominate the movie world and the bookshelves have a place at the Arcanum Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors.

Do you have a favorite character in your book or one that you relate to most? 

Dhonielle: I think I relate the most to my main character, Ella Durand. She’s an outsider at the Arcanum Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors because she’s the first Conjuror to attend. She’s wide-eyed and excited about going to this magic school, despite the fact that her father had to petition for her to be there because people from her community have been banned for decades. Both of my parents were children in the segregation era of the American South and on the frontlines of school integration. They were the first generation to be able to attend pre-dominantly white institutions. Ella’s struggle is not unlike that of my mother’s, and I drew a lot on her childhood stories of struggle with being the only Black kid in an all-white school. 

If I have to play favorites with characters in The Marvellers, then I’m going to go with Ella’s mentor, Masterji Thakur. He’s a Paragon of Taste with a powerful spice marvel. He’s the type of teacher who asks the question – Are you okay today? – and cares about all the other things aside from just the homework and grades. He is a teacher who also is committed to telling the truth, even when that’s hard and might showcase they he isn’t perfect. He’s flawed and warm and shows Ella a deep well of kindness and desires to make sure she knows that she belongs at the Arcanum Institute and that she is welcomed. 

The students at Arcanum Training Institute all practice their own unique cultural arts. What type of Marveller would you want to be? 

Dhonielle: It’s so hard to pick just one type of Marveller to be. Some days, I want to be a Paragon of Vision and with a timesight marvel so I can see the future or be a Paragon of Touch with a gem marvel so I can work with magical gems and stones. Other days I want to be a Paragon of Taste with a confectionary marvel so I can make the world’s best magic candy or a Paragon of Sound with a kindred marvel so I can talk to animals. There are endless possibilities, but I think if forced, I’d want to be a Paragon of Spirit with a conjure marvel and the ability to mind-walk.

What do you hope young readers will learn or take away from this story? 

Dhonielle: I hope readers are able to find themselves in the world of The Marvellers and remember that there’s something marvelous about them if they only focus on the light within. 

Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you.

Dhonielle: All of the librarians at my childhood school library and public library were rock stars. I visited every day – much like Matilda – and they were ready for all my questions, peculiar interests, and reading demands. Their impact is immeasurable because they helped build my imagination and are the reason why I am a lifelong storyteller. 

What is the first step in your creative process?

Dhonielle: A chaotic brainstorm. I’m often struck by a question that usually has no answer or an answer that I don’t like. This leads to a snowball spiral of creativity from which I build a story. I use a lot of notebooks and collaging and brainstorming maps as I circle the story and try to build its foundation. 

What advice would you give to young writers?

Dhonielle: Commit to revision and learn to love it. Writing is rewriting. There’s no such thing as a perfect draft. Don’t avoid the delete button. Sometimes the first version of a thing you write is just the starting off place for the real story.  

What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?

Dhonielle: Ten year old Dhonielle was obsessed with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time and desperately wishing I could meet Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. 


Dhonielle Clayton spent most of her childhood under her grandmother’s table with a stack of books. She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs on the Maryland side. She is the co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series (recently adapted by Netflix) and The Belles series, and the co-author of Blackout. She taught secondary school for several years and is a former elementary and middle school librarian. She is COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books, and owner of CAKE, a creative story kitchen and IP content company. She runs the science fiction and fantasy book club Black Girls with Magic & Books and is co-host of the Deadline City podcast. She’s an avid traveler, and always on the hunt for magic and mischief.


MacKids Spotlight: Dhonielle Clayton

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
On Sale May 3, 2022
Ages 8-12

New York Times-bestselling author Dhonielle Clayton makes her middle-grade debut with a fantasy adventure set in a global magic school in the sky, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan, Soman Chainani, and Philip Pullman.

The Marvellers deserves the highest compliment I can give a book: I want to live in this world.” —Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling–author

Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, a magic school in the clouds where Marvellers from around the world practice their cultural arts, like brewing Indian spice elixirs and bartering with pesky Irish pixies.

Despite her excitement, Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy—some Marvellers mistrust her magic, which they deem “bad and unnatural.” But eventually, she finds friends in elixirs teacher, Masterji Thakur, and fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, a boy with a fondness for magical creatures.

When a dangerous criminal known as the Ace of Anarchy escapes prison, supposedly with a Conjuror’s aid, tensions grow in the Marvellian world and Ella becomes the target of suspicion. Worse, Masterji Thakur mysteriously disappears while away on a research trip. With the help of her friends and her own growing powers, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her mentor before it’s too late.

Praise for The Marvellers:

The Marvellers deserves the highest compliment I can give a book: I want to live in this world. You can stop looking at admissions brochures for all those other schools of magic. The Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors is definitely where you want to apply.” —#1 New York Times bestselling–author Rick Riordan

“A gorgeous world filled with enchanting characters, The Marvellers will dazzle readers from beginning to end!” —Kwame MbaliaNew York Times-bestselling author of Tristan Strong series

“A marvelous gift of a novel! With fantastical twists at every turn, Clayton has created a world that readers won’t want to leave.” —Angie Thomas, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Hate U Give and Concrete Rose

The Marvellers is a rich, enchanted melting pot of magic, thrills, and color . . . filled with heart, wit, and humor. A tantalizing introduction to an exhilarating fantasy universe.” —Soman ChainaniNew York Times-bestselling author of The School for Good and Evil series

“Never in all my years of reading have I encountered a book that so seamlessly weaves together mind-bending marvels, cultural relevance and powerful historical themes . . . all in richly imagined world I would give anything to live in. The Marvellers fully reignited my belief in magic.” —Nic Stone, #1 New York Times-bestelling author of Dear Martin

“A ‘Marvellerous’ middle-grade debut! Delightful, charming, exceptionally clever, and filled with suspense and humor. Fantasy fans will be entranced by Ella’s magical journey.” —Lisa McMannNew York Times–bestselling author of the Forgotten Five Series

“A fresh, intricately imagined world paired with a clever, endearing cast of characters. I can’t wait for every reader to find themselves in this story and dream of becoming a Marveller.” —Shannon MessengerNew York Times-bestselling author of Keeper of the Lost Cities

“An exquisite and star-filled world of wonder. Dhonielle Clayton’s beautiful prose showcases how honoring differences and sharing gifts can build the strongest friendships. Most of all, The Marvellers illuminates stellar storytelling through the lens of a Black girl learning to embrace the full potential of her magic.” —Karen Strong, author of Just South of Home and Eden’s Everdark

“This is the fantasy adventure the world needs. The Marvellers is a cultural reset, the kind of thorny, exciting, and magical story that I’ve needed my whole life. Clayton’s detailed and heartfelt world—all seen through the eyes of the brilliant Ella Durand—is going to capture the imagination of readers in an instant. Where’s book two? I already need it!” —Mark Oshiro, author of The Insiders

Read more author Q&As here!