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Kòkú Àkànbí and the Heart of Midnight - Maria Motúnráyọ̀ Adébísí


A brilliant mix of contemporary teens and African folklore, this is a funny, action -packed thrill of a read, with a dramatic plot, sassy characters, and important messages about self belief and self discovery. Brilliant fun, I loved this: the mix of modern teen slang, African setting and culture, and the dramatic adventure storyline all combining in one thrilling package.

When Koku accidentally unleashes an ancient demon, he must enter the magical world of Olori to claim his power. Full of action, magic, and eye-catching comic book-style illustrations, this 9+ series draws on West African mythology and is perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers, Percy Jackson, and Dragon Mountain.
Koku has always felt like he was cursed with a weird name and an illness to match. He thinks life can’t get any worse – until he unleashes a demon on a school trip. He expects detention, but instead he’s hurled into an impossible quest filled with MAGICAL TRIBES, MAN-EATING MONSTERS and VENGEFUL MERMAIDS.
When an ASSASSIN is sent to hunt him down, Koku’s only hope is to team up with a clumsy shapeshifter and a moody warrior-in-training. Together they enter the JUJULAND JUNGLE, a place filled with DANGEROUS SECRETS.
Can Koku discover his own power, before it’s too late?
A Jujuland adventure story.


Describe the story of Koku Akanbi and the Heart of Midnight in 5 words

Ancient magical legacy, forbidden adventure

What inspired you to write the book?

It’s more of a who, and that person is my little sister.

How much did your upbringing influence your writing?

My grandad (My Mum’s father) owned a bookshop in Ibadan in Nigeria, he died before I was born but I’ve always felt an affinity with him and his love of books. When my sister was born I was so excited to have someone to tell stories to. I would tell her stories I made up most nights and I would also write other stories for my friends at school so story-telling always came naturally to me.

Also I’m a British Nigerian who has struggled with her dual identity. I loved coming of age stories growing up but I could never find children’s stories where black children explored their identity without it having some element of trauma attached to it.

What came first- the characters or the story? Is there a character who is particularly dear to you?

The characters came first. I love them all - I love Moremi’s sharp wit and resourcefulness combined with a badass attitude and martial arts skills. Osoosi’s bravery and loyalty is inspired by my little sister and her clumsy shapeshifting provides a lot of light relief from her moody counterparts that was needed for the Jujuland friendship dynamic to work. But ultimately, Koku is my favourite. He hides his insecurity beneath a veil of humour and sarcastic comments which is something I used to do as a kid, but by the end of the book he learns that he is worthy and becomes proud of who he is and where he comes from.

Self-acceptance is a strong theme in the book, and we see Koku go through this process in several ways with his Sickle Cell, discovering his powers and also with his familial relationships. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I wanted a protagonist who had sickle cell as it’s something that particularly affects the black community and it’s a very serious illness that gets very little attention. When I was 21 my best friend’s close friend, an extraordinarily bright and extremely bubbly girl died from complications related to her sickle cell. It had stuck with me as I had never experienced loss from someone so young before.

Have you always loved magical fantasy stories? What made you want to write in this genre?

I had a difficult childhood, I experienced some bullying and I had a few issues at home as well, so I read for escapism as a lot of troubled children do. I wanted to be as far away as possible from my everyday life, and magical places made me feel like I could be anything I wanted to be, even if that thing wasn’t quite human.

What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?

You ARE worthy!

What’s your writing process like- are you a morning writer, do you have any writing ‘quirks’?

I like writing in the dark with an anime soundtrack on, or a moody playlist to get started. I have a habit of curling my lip under my nose whenever I’m conjuring a really good idea, or a Koku joke.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write, write and re-write! I’m a perfectionist by nature and I struggle with anxiety so I make up excuses and judge myself before I even get to writing a single word. My mentor encouraged me to write even when I didn’t believe I could and pushed me to complete each chapter until I had a full manuscript. The first step to being an author is a first manuscript, it won’t be perfect, it will be messy and it may not even make any sense - my first one was a car crash of episodic chapters that had no connection to each other but once you’ve finished that, you have somewhere to start. I’ve learned that novel writing actually begins at the end.

Check out other stops for more content related to this fantastic tale and it's author!


Maria Motunrayo Adebisi

Maria Motunrayo Adebisi graduated from the University of Oxford in 2017 with a degree in English Literature, although she currently works in tech. As part of her degree she focused on post-colonial literature from Nigeria and West Africa, and on graduating she realised that she wanted to write a novel that would speak to children straddling British and African identities and make them proud of both.

Thanks to Lucy at Hachette for the copy of the book to read and review and to Maria for the Q and A

Rich Simpson ( @richreadalot) August 2023

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