Undergrad’s second children’s book a ‘feathery folk tale’

Michael Gayle pictured with his two books.
Third-year psychology student Michael Gayle has published two children's books during his undergrad. (Photos by Alexa Battler)

Alexa Battler

Deep in an undiscovered place lived a Quaroo, a bird with magical feathers that grant eternal luck when touched. The Quaroo was first excited when explorers came, but they didn’t just touch its feathers — they plucked them, until the Quaroo had only one left.

An image of The Very Unluckily Lucky Quaroo.
Michael Gayle is a self-taught illustrator and designs his own art for his books. 

This is the plot of third-year psychology student Michael Gayle’s second children’s book, The Very Unluckily Lucky Quaroo. It is Gayle’s first printed book, now on shelves in Chapters and Indigo stores in Scarborough, North York, Ottawa and Montreal.

“The idea is about people who look at another person’s success or gift as something to exploit, and what you can do as the person in the middle of that to protect yourself,” he says.

Much like the Quaroo’s feathers, Gayle is captivated by magic. He says it began in high school where students were asked to read for the first 20 minutes of their home class.

It was implied that students read a novel, but Gayle chose a thesaurus instead. He wrote down interesting words in a journal until a teacher told him he had to pick a book. Gayle was sent to the library where he found The Alchemist, a story about a shepherd who travels to Egypt in search of treasure.

He says he had never read a book so quickly.   

“I experienced a sort of displacement from my world,” he says. “This book did something to me that I’d never experienced before and I didn’t have the words to articulate, so I just described it as magic.”

This inspired the name of his company, Magic Way, and his penname, Magic Mike.

Gayle created Magic Way to publish his first book in 2016, titled You’re a Thinking Thing. The idea came to him while he was finishing a transfer program between Seneca College and U of T Scarborough. After a philosophy class Rene Descartes’ famous concept, “I think, therefore I am,” stuck with him.

He felt compelled to write his interpretation of the existential idea and eventually created a poem about the magic of positive thinking. He showed the short piece to his mom, who told him to sell it. Gayle began teaching himself to use Adobe Illustrator, then designed the 58 pages of colourful pictures through the book.  

“It was spontaneous. I’d written and drawn something and I thought it was cool, so I put it together and that kickstarted it,” he says. “It was really organic and innocuous, in a way.”

Gayle says his first book was primarily intended for family and friends, but his second has led to new opportunities, including book signings in stores in Scarborough, North York and Montreal.

“That inspired me in a new way, because I could see the faces that I’m writing to,” he says.

When he first began writing, a rush of creativity left him with a collection of story ideas, one of which became The Very Unluckily Lucky Quaroo.

As a self-taught author, illustrator and publisher, Gayle says his journey has involved a lot of research, learning and growth. While exploring children’s books, he noticed many were overtly focused on teaching kids a specific lesson. He says this is why authors like Lewis Carol, Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl inspire him.

“These people are pioneers, because they found a way to mesh having a meta lesson and writing a really compelling story,” he says. “They are stories that, when you read as a kid, it’s about a cat in a hat causing havoc, but when you read it as an adult, you can glean more.”

Gayle says his next steps are to resume book signings in January, work on finding an agent and continue trying to give others the magic he felt after reading The Alchemist though his own work.

“That’s part of the goal, to give people that experience” he says.

Starting Dec. 19, he is also selling personally addressed copies of The Very Unluckily Lucky Quaroo.