What would you do if your school had to temporarily close? Well, that’s actually a real question kids and parents are having to answer right now, but it was surely a coincidence when Steve Behling wrote Onward: The Search for the Phoenix Gem, a new book that ties into the Pixar animated feature now playing in theaters. It tells the story of a student at New Mushroomton High School who uses her school closure as an opportunity to exercise her journalistic skills to uncover the truth of what happened on the day her school broke apart and turned into a dragon.
If you’ve seen the film, then you’ve already met Sadalia Brushthorn, you just didn’t know she had a name. She’s one of Ian Lightfoot’s classmates who was invited to his cancelled birthday party. She’s also on her own quest to become the youngest editor in chief at “The Fortnightly Dragon,” the school newspaper. So when she witnesses her school transform as if by magic, she realizes that she’s sitting on the story of the century.
Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ll learn the story in bits and parts as Sadalia follows the trail that Ian and Barley went on during their quest to find the Phoenix Gem and to discover why they were on the quest to begin with. They’re in police interrogation during the few days this story takes place, so she has to find and meet with other characters from the film, like the Manticore, police officers, pixies, and Grecklin, the pawn shop owner. As a reader, you’ll actually get to know these tertiary characters better than the film allows, which gives fans of the film some incentive to read it, even if they already know how it ends.
Throughout Sadalia’s journalistic adventure, she creates a profile of who Ian and his brother Barley are, learns about magic and the real inspirations behind the “Quests of Yore” game, and discovers if the destruction of her school was Ian’s fault or not. She’s on a race against time to not only be the first journalist to answer all of these questions, but to get her story ready before the next issue of “The Fortnightly Dragon” needs to go to the presses.
Onward: The Search for the Phoenix Gem may include Ian and Barley’s story from the film, but is really Sadalia’s story. It’s about a teenagier with drive and ambition who makes the most out of a bad situation and could be an inspiration to kids currently without a school to go to as the world works together to stop the spread of Coronavirus. It could inspire them, but if nothing else, it will get them to read for fun and take a break from screens.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.