age range: 9-12
genre: lightly spooky sci-fi
Summer Rachel Short’s website
Packed to the gills with fun.
— Kirkus Reviews
A fun debut novel with an action-packed climax that will leave readers eager to scope out the weirder side of nature.
— School Library Journal
Please tell us about your book.
The Mutant Mushroom Takeover is a lightly spooky novel about eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist, Magnolia Stone, and her best friend Nate, a conspiracy theorist and wannabe YouTube star. The story takes place in the small town of Shady Pines, Texas and kicks off when Maggie and Nate discover a strange bioluminescent fungus growing in the woods outside of town. At first the mushrooms seem like a natural wonder, but after animals around town start sprouting unusual growths and Maggie’s brother develops a bluish glow and hacking cough, Maggie and Nate wonder what they’ve really stumbled onto.
As things in Shady Pines become stranger and more dangerous, Maggie must use her scientific smarts and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things paranormal to put things back in order and prevent these peculiar glowing mushrooms from taking over their home.
What inspired you to write this story?
A couple happenings got me started––one was an idea my son had for a pirate named Root Beard whose beard was made of living tree roots. I started imagining what a character who was part human, part something else might be like which eventually inspired the creation of an important character in the book. The other was an old documentary my kids and I watched called Fungi: The Rotten World About Us. It had all sorts of creepy, fascinating facts about fungi and was a starting point for more research and imagining.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I watched videos, checked out library books, and read lots of articles about the unique properties of fungus—there are many! Though it is all around us, it’s a life form most people don’t know much about. The more I read, the more intrigued I became by what I was learning. To illustrate, here are few fun facts about fungus:
- The largest living organism in the world is a fungus located in Malheur National Forest, Oregon and is nicknamed the Humongous Fungus. It spreads over 2,385 acres and is estimated to weigh between 7,567 and 35,000 tons!
- Bioluminescent fungi produce their own light and glow neon green, blue, or yellow. They can be found in forests around the world. The phenomenon is also known as Foxfire.
- Fungi help trees communicate with one another through a vast underground fungal network. Through the fungus, trees warn each other about diseases and droughts and even direct their roots toward better soil. The network is nicknamed the wood-wide-web.
- Radiation-loving mushrooms have been used to clean up nuclear disasters in places like Fukushima, Japan. The mushrooms feast on the radiation, thereby absorbing some of the harmful effects of the radiation.
What are some special challenges associated with mixing real science with fiction?
There are so many fascinating and bizarre happenings in nature but unless we do some digging we don’t always find out about them. In The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, I really wanted to share my own wonder and excitement about all the strange things right under our noses. I know science topics can seem intimidating so my goal was to make this story as accessible as possible. I think one thing that helped with that was the differing interests of my two main characters. Maggie is very into all things sciency, while her best friend Nate wants to discover aliens or Bigfoot and be a big-time YouTube star. They each have their own perspective about the things they bump into––kind of like a middle grade X-Files where one character is sure everything is a paranormal encounter and the other is convinced there’s a scientific explanation. That dynamic brought a lot of humor to the story which helps make the science more relatable and fun.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
I think The Mutant Mushroom Takeover can inspire kids to find out more about the amazing and often bizarre natural world around them. There are real-life creatures that are as creepy and fascinating as any monster or alien from TV. I hope that after kids finish reading my book, they’ll have an appetite to discover more about nature’s many mysteries. Maybe some will even take up investigations of their own like Maggie and Nate.
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