Cover Reveal: The Woods by R. L. Toalson


About R. L. Toalson

R.L.Toalson has always been captivated by woods, particularly the piney woods of Texas. Her visits to woods have taken her to dark places, hopeful places, and humorous places (she once watched her husband try to tackle the above-ground tree roots in the woods of Huntsville State Park and, instead, fly over the handlebars of his bike). Woods are magical, mysterious places that often find their way into her stories. She is the author of the middle grade novel in verse, The Colors of the Rain, and silly kid poetry that has published online and in print publications around the world.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

It is often difficult to pinpoint exactly when the idea for a story penetrates an author’s mind with the insistent urge, Please write me. The genesis of The Woods happened because of several serendipitous things. First it was the resurfacing of an old photo of my husband and me visiting the piney woods of Huntsville State Park in Huntsville, Texas, where we would bike paths strewn with tree roots that reached above the earth like oversized arthritic fingers. In those woods, I imagined a girl who had lost her family — a mother, a father, two brothers, a sister — in a fire.

Around the same time, a passing mention of the Texas City Disaster, which was a 1947 tragedy — one of the worst in the nation and certainly in Texas — that killed almost six-hundred people (and many officials say the death count is much higher but impossible to definitively determine), caught my attention. I had never heard of the Texas City Disaster, though I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I fell into a research hole so fascinating I had trouble climbing out of it.

And then: a dream that showed me a presence in the woods — virtuous or malevolent?

Thus began Lenora Cole’s story.

I knew I could not tell such a tragic story for children (one where a girl loses her entire family in a historically accurate disaster) without capturing the sorrow and containing it, so to speak, in some sort of fantastical imaginary world that would help the main character approach her grief, her healing, the redemptive process of persisting in a way that invited the necessary distance for young readers. So while The Woods is a story that begins with historically accurate facts, it blends both fact and fiction to create a world in the woods that is very much like Alice’s Wonderland. Inside the woods darkness battles with light — but is there such a stark difference between the two?

I hope readers will love brave, resilient, heroic Lenora as much as I do.


Cover design by David DeWitt, Cover art by James Firnhaber

Title The Woods
Author R. L. Toalson
Pages 480 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Publication Date September 17 2019 by Yellow Jacket
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon

Eleven-year-old Lenora’s world is turned upside down after a explosion makes her the lone surviving member of her immediate family. She has nowhere to go, until her estranged Uncle Richard shows up and takes her away to live with him in his lonely mansion. Quiet and stern, he spends most of his time in his study conducting research and experimenting. Lenora is able to explore parts of the mansion and its lovely gardens, but Uncle Richard has one rule for her: Stay out of the woods.

Years ago, Lenora’s cousin Bobby went into Gilgevnah Woods and never came out. Now, Uncle Richard will do anything he can to destroy them. Lenora knows she is meant to stay away, but her grief and loneliness draw her in. Upon entering, she finds a world full of enchantment and beauty! Lenora befriends Bela the Scorlaman, keeper of Gilgevnah Woods, who shows her the wonder and the mystery of the place, but also makes promises to reunite her with her family. Is it too good to be true?

Will Lenora find peace in the magic of Gilgevnah Woods, or will she find something darker? The Woods is an entrancing magical realism novel from author R.L. Toalson that tackles profound loss, grief, and finally, acceptance.

“Who are you?” Lenora said. “Why have you brought me here? What do you want? Where is my family?”

“So many questions,” the voice said. It was not unkind; it was merely strange. A purring kind of voice. “And they will be answered, in time. But first we must find out if you can see me. So look.”

Lenora looked. She saw nothing.

“Down at your feet,” the voice said.

She dropped her eyes. There was no person, not even a little one — which would have made Lenora think she was dreaming — but there was what looked like an unusually colored salamander — which made her think even more certainly that she was dreaming. Its skin was an opaque pink color, its eyes like beads of gold with a black circle pressed into the middle, and it wore a crown of pink fur around its neck, similar to a lion’s mane.

Lenora felt a laugh bubble into her throat, and it was so unexpected she could not stop it.

The creature frowned, its tiny pale eyebrows drawing low over its golden eyes. The golden light in the woods dimmed. “Now, that’s no way to greet a Scorlaman,” it said.

“A Scorlaman?” Lenora said. She had never heard of such a thing. She didn’t think she could conjure up a creature like this, not even in her dreams. Charles was the imagination in the Cole family, not Lenora.

The creature rose up on its hind legs and gestured with its spindly arms. “I bet you have never seen anything like me before.” He seemed proud of this.

Lenora pressed a hand to her lips, to keep another giggle trapped inside. He was only as tall as her ankle, and she had been afraid of him! “No,” Lenora said, when she was certain the laugh would not escape along with words. “I haven’t.”

That’s when the Scorlaman did something astonishing. He grew before Lenora’s eyes, becoming as tall — no, somewhat taller — than she was. She gasped, terror rippling through her chest. “That’s because I am native to these woods,” the Scorlaman said. And when he saw that Lenora was about to run, he said, “Don’t worry. I am no danger to you. You don’t have to be afraid of me.”

And for some reason, Lenora believed him. “You live here, in Stonewall Woods?”

The Scorlaman tilted his head. “Is that what you call them?”

“It is their name,” Lenora said. That’s what Uncle Richard had called them, at least, and this land had never belonged to anyone but the Cole family.

“No,” the Scorlaman said. “They have a different name.” His eyes flashed, and Lenora wondered what it meant. Was he angry with her for some reason? “These woods do not belong to the Cole family. They belong to the earth.”

“My uncle calls them Stonewall Woods,” Lenora said.

“He would, wouldn’t he?” The Scorlaman tilted his head. “He is a Cole.”

Lenora said nothing.

“Your uncle is mistaken about a great many things,” the Scorlaman said.

Lenora folded her arms across her chest, feeling the urge, again, to defend her uncle. “Like what?” Her voice was sharp, challenging.

The Scorlaman also folded his arms across his chest. “Tell me,” he said. His voice was smooth and calm. “Has your uncle told you these woods are dangerous?”

Lenora jolted. “Yes.” She paused. “Are they?”

“No.” The Scorlaman’s gaze glowed. “And I will show you, as I did his son.”

“Bobby? You knew him? He came here?”

“Yes,” the Scorlaman said.

“He was lost in these woods,” Lenora said.

“Not lost,” the Scorlaman said. “He was found.”

“But he has been missing for many years.”

“He had no desire to return.”

Lenora pressed a hand to her forehead. Her other hand fluttered to her mother’s necklace.

“What is that?” the Scorlaman said.

Lenora’s hand stuffed the necklace under her dress. “Nothing.” Her head was spinning. “If Bobby is here, I must take him home.”

“He is content to remain here,” the Scorlaman said.

Lenora looked at the strange creature for a long time. She said, “I would like to see him.”

“That could be arranged,” the Scorlaman said. “But first I must know that I can trust you.”

Lenora frowned. “Of course you can.”

“But I do not know you.”

“I am Lenora,” she said.

The trees rustled.

The Scorlaman smiled, his golden eyes brightening. “And I am Bela the Scorlaman, keeper of Gilgevnah Woods.” The creature held out one hand. Lenora noticed he had only four fingers on it.

4 responses to “Cover Reveal: The Woods by R. L. Toalson”

  1. Cherie Robinson says:

    I’m already hooked!

  2. Colleen says:

    AMAZING!!! Beautiful job children.

  3. Sally Friedli says:

    I want to read more!!! Very intriguing…a real page turner! Well done!

  4. What a beautiful cover! Thanks so much for sharing, Jen!
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