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Out of the Ashes

Eighth-grade novelist takes flight.


After 9/11, many kids turned their fear and anger about terrorism into painful drawings, intense discussions, and heartbreaking writing. Ten-year-old Nancy Yi Fan went a little further: Her novel, Swordbird, hits bookstores this week. As a new immigrant from China, Nancy had been to the World Trade Center’s observatory early in the summer of 2001. Two years after the attacks, she was still having dreams about war. “I was shocked that a place that felt so solid and majestic was gone,” says Fan, now 13 and a Florida eighth-grader. Her story, about warring feathered factions and a muscular supernatural hero who saves their society, retains a good-versus-evil innocence, coming alive through the vividly depicted warblers and their dialogue—especially surprising given that the young author was still polishing her English at the time. (What’s more, she e-mailed it blind into the slush pile at HarperCollins, without an agent.) Despite her uncanny achievement, she is not a jaded child. “Peace is wonderful, freedom is sacred,” she says. And getting a second book deal is pretty nifty as well: HarperCollins has signed her to write a Swordbird prequel, which could go on sale before she enters high school.


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