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Utah authors Shannon and Dean Hale share the story of an unexpected superhero in 'The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl'

One of the things that makes Doreen Green powerful as Squirrel Girl is that people underestimate her, said Shannon Hale, who is the co-author with her husband, Dean Hale, of “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World” (Marvel, $13.99, ages 9-12).

“As we did our squirrel research, we found that someone with the proportional speed, strength and agility of a squirrel would be really powerful,” Shannon Hale said in an interview with the Deseret News. “But people underestimate her because she’s kind of silly and she’s kind of goofy, so they don’t think she’s actually that powerful.

“She can surprise them.”

Squirrel Girl’s first appearance in the Marvel comics was in the early 1990s when she has an encounter with Tony Stark’s Iron Man and she ends up defeating Dr. Doom with her squirrel army, Dean Hale said.

She was later part of the Great Lakes Avengers. Then, she was the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby.

“That brought her right into the forefront of the universe,” he said. “She was really cool. She was subverting expectations even there, where she was single-handedly defending the baby against at giant robot attack on the Avengers' mansion.”

Then, her series by Brian North started and is set during her college years.

“If she was like this in college, what would she be like when she was 14?” Shannon Hale said.

In “Squirrel Meets World,” which is scheduled to be released Feb. 7, Doreen’s family has moved from California to New Jersey and she is starting at Union Junior High, with all of the inherent difficulties of making friends and navigating the social structure.

“We really wanted to show her in middle school," Shannon Hale said. “It just feels like it’s an in-between place where she has to hide her squirrel tail and her squirrel powers.”

She befriends Ana Sofia, who uses hearing aids and has noticed some odd occurrences in their quiet town.

Doreen, who can communicate with squirrels and makes friends with one named Tippy Toe, also learns about several unusual things in their community, including some traps and other mechanical devices, which do more harm than good. As she helps deal with these, along with stopping a group of troublemakers, she becomes Squirrel Girl and is also a bigger target for a villain.

“She’s a delightful character, but she’s a little clueless in some ways,” Shannon Hale said. “She’s so optimistic and really a loving and very accepting person.”

The novel also includes other characters from the Marvel universe, as Tippy Toe goes to New York, sneaks into the Avengers’ mansion and gets their phone numbers. Doreen texts several of them for advice on how to handle the growing problems and their text conversations are included.

“It’s fun to write a character who is optimistic (and) doesn’t need a tragic back story to motivate her,” Shannon Hale said. “She can do cool things, so she goes out and does cool things.”

The novel is told from the perspectives of Doreen, Ana Sofia, Tippy Toe, Squirrel Girl and, later in the book, the villain.

In collaborating on the novel, Shannon and Dean Hale created a more specific outline and did more “plotting out the specific beats of the story” than they would have if they were writing individually, Dean Hale said.

They divided up the different chapters: Shannon Hale wrote those for Doreen and Ana Sofia, Dean wrote Tippy Toe and the villain and they collaborated on the ones for Squirrel Girl.

“Even though she’s not a super well-known in the general public, in the comic fandom and in the Marvel universe, she’s this really, really loved character,” Shannon Hale said. “We wanted it to be accessible for those who haven’t read the Marvel comics and wanted it accessible for those who have read all of the comics.”

For Dean Hale, who has been reading Marvel comics since he was a kid, writing Squirrel Girl’s story is exciting.

“I’ve been a Marvel fan since I was kid, and to be able to play in that sandbox is so great,” he said. “Then also to be able to capture (in a novel) those things that I felt that made me a fan — the wonder, the possibility and the hope.”

The Hales are also the authors of the Princess in Black illustrated chapter books, and the fifth one is scheduled to be released this fall. Shannon Hales’ “Real Friends,” an autobiographical graphic novel, is scheduled to be released in May, along with another middle grade novel scheduled for this fall.

If you go ...

What: Shannon and Dean Hale book signing

When: Tuesday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Note: The signing line is for those who buy a copy of the featured book from The King’s English.

Email: rappleye@deseretnews.com Twitter: CTRappleye