“We’re almost at the school!” exclaimed Sophia, seeing a sign just ahead. The swirly gold writing on it said Unicorn AcAdemy beside a painting of a snow-white unicorn with a rainbow arching over its head. An arrow pointed up a long, tree- lined drive.
“Race you!” called Harry, Sophia’s seven-year- old brother.
Sophia couldn’t wait to see the school after five hours of riding, and she would have loved to gallop, but she slid from her shaggy gray pony’s back and patted his neck fondly. “Sorry, Harry, but Clover’s tired. I’m not going to make him race.”
Clover, who was old and couldn’t go fast anymore, pushed his nose gratefully into Sophia’s hair. Her wavy black curls hung over his muzzle like a droopy mustache. Sophia giggled, but there was a heavy weight in her stomach. Now that she was ten, she was thrilled to be old enough to attend Unicorn Academy and finally get a unicorn of her own. But she was really going to miss Clover! “All right, sweetie?” asked her mom, trotting up alongside. Solitaire, her mom’s unicorn, was fully grown and looked very elegant compared to short- legged Clover. “You’re going to have a fantastic time here at the school, but I expect it feels quite strange at the moment. Remember to be polite and please try to think first before rushing into things.”
Sophia grinned. “As if I’d do that, Mom!” “Hmm,” her mom said, raising her eyebrows.
Then her expression softened. “Remember that all the other girls and boys will probably be feeling as nervous as you. But it won’t be long before you get to know each other.”
“I am a little bit nervous about making friends,” admitted Sophia, “but I’m more worried about Clover.” She stroked Clover’s neck. “Do you think he’ll be okay without me?”
“He’ll be fine,” said her mom. “He’s getting old, and he’ll be happy having a quieter life. Harry and I will make sure he gets lots of cuddles. Don’t worry about Clover. Just enjoy getting to know your own special unicorn, bonding and learning to work together to protect our island.”
Sophia’s heart swelled. She loved the thought of protecting Unicorn Island, their beautiful home. “I wonder what my unicorn will be like and what its magical power will be. I hope it can heal like Solitaire.”
Each unicorn was born with its own special magical power. There were many different powers, and young unicorns usually found out what they could do in their first year at Unicorn Academy.
Sophia’s mom leaned down to push a stray black curl out of Sophia’s eyes. “I’m sure you’ll love your unicorn, whatever power it has.”
Sophia fell quiet as she climbed back onto Clover and rode him through the green tunnel of trees toward the school. She really wanted her unicorn to be able to heal. With healing magic, maybe she could take away some of Clover’s aches and pains. The tunnel ended, and Sophia rode Clover out into the pale January sunlight. Excitement rushed inside her as she stared at the enormous building of marble and glass with a fountain sparkling in front of it. She’d dreamed of this moment for years.
“It’s beautiful.” She could hardly tear her eyes away from the majestic towers of the school and the perfectly kept gardens surrounding it that were filled with plants and flowers, even in winter. In the distance, the multicolored, magical water of the famous Sparkle Lake glittered in the sunshine. “I wish I was old enough to come here,” said
Girls and boys were rushing in all directions. Teachers called out instructions. A group of girls stood together at the bottom of the steps that swept up to the school’s front door. They looked like they’d just arrived. Sophia took a deep breath. This was it. Time to say goodbye to Clover and her family! She wrapped her arms around Clover’s neck, burying her face and tears in his soft mane. “Goodbye, Clover darling. Have a nice rest grazing in the field.”
Mom touched her arm. “Shall I walk you over to the others?”
“No, I’ll be fine.” Sophia dried her eyes in Clover’s mane before giving Mom and Harry a hug. “Bye!”
Sophia approached the girls. She particularly liked the look of a girl with a sprig of blue forget- me-nots in her dark, chin-length bob, and she gave her a shy smile. The girl grinned back. Sophia was about to ask her name when a tall lady came toward them. She had a thin, pale face and a long nose with tiny glasses balanced on the end. A girl with wavy brown hair walked confidently by her side. She had sharp green eyes and a long, thin nose just like the teacher’s. Sophia smiled at her, but the girl just glared, her nose twitching as if she had smelled something bad.
“Girls,” said the teacher abruptly. “I’m Ms. Nettles, your geography and culture teacher. Follow me. You’re the last to arrive, and Ms. Primrose is waiting in the hall to pair you with your unicorns. Hurry up. No dawdling.”
Sophia fell into step with the dark-haired girl. “Hi, I’m Sophia,” she whispered.“I’m Ava,” the girl replied. She nodded at Ms.
Nettles. “She looks a bit scary, doesn’t she?”
Ms. Nettles’s head whipped around. Her skinny neck and mean eyes made her look like a bad- tempered tortoise. “No talking!” she snapped.
Copyright © 2019 by Julie Sykes; illustrated by Lucy Truman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.