Posts Tagged Donna Galanti

Interview & giveaway: Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island 2: Secret Beneath the Sand

I’m thrilled to have author Donna Galanti here with me today. We’re both unicorn lovers, and she has another delightful book in her Unicorn Island series to share with us. We’re both so glad this book has finally arrived after its long journey.

Book summary

Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Volume 2)
By Donna Galanti
Illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe
Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster)

Unicorn Island is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts. School Library Journal says that “Fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy this adventure,” and Foreword Reviews claims it’s “An all-too-human, enchanting middle grade fantasy novel.”

In Volume 2 of the Unicorn Island series, Secret Beneath the Sand, Sam and Tuck are on their way to becoming unicorn protectors when they discover new secrets about the island that threaten unicorns’ existence!

Sam can’t believe how much her life and luck have changed since she came to Foggy Harbor: First, she discovered that unicorns are real, and now she’s on her way to becoming an actual unicorn protector! With her new friend, Tuck, by her side during Uncle Mitch’s lessons, Sam finally feels like she’s home.

But as the long-buried dangers of Unicorn Island begin to surface and a mysterious scourge spreads throughout the herd, Sam learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Donna is giving away one hardcover copy of Secret Beneath the Sand that Kirkus Reviews says is “A sweet but not overly sugary treat for unicorn devotees.” Open to U.S residents only please. Enter below!

Interview with Donna and Laurie:

Laurie: What was the inspiration behind this second Unicorn Island story idea for Secret Beneath the Sand?

Donna: I wanted to continue Sam’s story of becoming a full-fledged unicorn protector while also adding a new layer of mystery to the unicorn magic and solving the mystery presented in book one. I also wanted the characters to explore more of the island itself on their adventures so its mysteries—and challenges—are revealed. With these elements in mind, the story grew. I also knew I wanted to add in new fantastical creatures, and they were fun to create!

L: In the story, a mysterious disease threatens the unicorns. Even though unicorns are mythical, was there any research involved in writing this story?

D: Absolutely! My research was based on real-life science. I looked to the plight of elephants with their tusks being poached as a source of inspiration in relation to unicorn horns and their dire situation in the story. The atrocities that still plague elephants deeply affect me. Recent studies even suggest that as a result of widespread poaching, elephants are rapidly evolving to have no tusks.

L: Throughout the series, you introduce both science and magic. What was your purpose in combining these?

D: I love combining both science and magic in this story as I like to think we can have our feet in both worlds—and together, they can do wonders. It also adds to the conflict of the story as some characters view science as the answer and some view magic as the answer. Together, they discover that maybe both are necessary.

L: The story centers around not just unicorns but family and a sense of home. How does this change for Sam, the main character, in this second book?

Unicorn book coversD: Sam discovered new family in book one, but she is still drawn to solving another family mystery. This drives her to take high-risk actions in Secret Beneath the Sand to uncover the truth in the hope of benefiting those she loves. Through her choices, she comes to strengthen the foundation of her sense of home as she navigates this mystery.

L: You have other fantastical creatures in Unicorn Island besides unicorns. What influenced you to create them and add them into the story?

D: One of my favorite little wild animals are chipmunks. I grew up with them and loved to discover them in the woods. For years, I was sad to not live in chipmunk territory, but since moving last year, I was ecstatic to discover I am now back in chipmunk land! Hence, why they had an influence on me creating a similar creature in Secret Beneath the Sand. As a young reader in school, I was also fascinated with the mythical character of Grendel from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, “Beowulf.” I’m drawn to tragic characters, and his was quite tragic—and why I’ve included a nod to him in this story. I’ve also been super lucky to have had the amazing illustrator, Bethany Stancliffe, bring these creatures to life!

L: I love chipmunks too! What a fun animal to include with your unicorns! And now that we’ve heard a bit about books one and two, I hope you’ll give us a sneak peek into what we can expect when the third volume of Unicorn Island releases in winter of 2023. Can you share some of what’s next for Sam and her best friend, Tuck, and the unicorns in this final installment of the series?

D: In the working title, Beyond the Portal, Sam is inspired to solve the final mystery of her family and save the unicorns. Once again, she puts herself in dire danger to do so, accompanied by her friend, Tuck. I won’t give too much away, except to say that much of this story takes place in a new and perilous setting. Tuck and Sam face the unknown again in a much more impactful way that has far-reaching consequences for all. 😊

Purchase the Unicorn Island series at your favorite bookseller here:

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Unicorn-Island-Secret-Beneath-the-Sand/Donna-Galanti/Unicorn-Island/9781524871970

 Watch the book trailer for Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand here:

Download fun Secret Beneath the Sand activities and check out an excerpt from Secret Beneath the Sand below:

Sam frowned. A month ago, it had seemed that Mel, Foggy Harbor’s veterinarian and Tuck’s mom, had cured Barloc of a strange illness. But now that Sam thought about it, the young unicorn had seemed more tired this past week. He was running more slowly and sleeping a lot more.

She knelt in front of Barloc, looking into his violet eyes. I won’t let anything bad happen to you. I promise. She gripped the necklace that Verny had given to her. Made from a unicorn tail, it was a symbol of his trust.

Barloc closed his eyes. I’m just tired. I have been since I got back to the island.

Sam bent her head to his and laid a hand on his horn. It felt warm against her fingers. She frowned and held the back of her hand against his horn to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. It was definitely radiating heat.

“Uncle Mitch,” Sam said, her voice quavering, “I think something’s wrong with Barloc.”

Uncle Mitch quickly knelt down next to her. He checked the young unicorn’s eyes and breathing, then stroked his horn.

“His horn is warm,” Sam whispered. “What does it mean?”

Uncle Mitch shook his head and bit his lip as he continued his inspection. Barloc whinnied softly, looking into Sam’s eyes.

“I know you don’t want to think about this, but . . . it could be the sign of another disease,” Tuck said.

“No!” Sam shook her head and jumped up. As she did, the ground beneath her suddenly rocked. She fell to her knees as the earth buckled. Uncle Mitch grabbed both her and Tuck, pulling them in close as Verny screeched and took to the skies, circling overhead with frenzied dips.

The herd bolted across the meadow in confusion and fear as Barloc bowed his head, digging his hooves into the quaking earth.

 

Donna Galanti is the author of the middle grade adventure Joshua and the Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish.” She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, the popular Unicorn Island series, and the Element Trilogy thrillers for adults. Donna is a member of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog, regularly presents as a guest author at schools, and teaches writers through her online Udemy courses. She’s lived in fun locations including England, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and in Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer for Fleet Intelligence Pacific. Donna is represented by Liza Fleissig of the LRA Agency. Visit her at donnagalanti.com.

 

Enter to win a copy of Secret Beneath the Sand below! Runs 3/11/22 – 3/18/22

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New Release Unicorn Island: Interview with Donna Galanti (S&S) + Book Giveaway!

Movement caught Sam’s eye. Farther down the beach, a shadowy figure walked along the dock that jutted out from the shore. A small boat rocked on the water. The figure climbed in, untied the boat, and rowed away, disappearing into the fog.”

Goose bumps courtesy of Samantha Sea Wells and Donna Galanti! Donna’s new book, Unicorn Island, takes readers on a mystery adventure that blends vivid settings, cool characters, rich sensory detail, and mythological magic. What’s not to love?

I had a chance to catch up with Mixed Up Files member and accomplished MG writer Donna G. to talk about Unicorn Island, learn how it came to be, and discover the author’s fave creature from the realms of myth! Check out Donna’s giveaway at the bottom where she is giving away one copy of the illustrated hardcover of Unicorn Island by Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster). Enter by Feb. 16th. U.S./Canada only.

Sean McCollum: Hi Donna! I loved Unicorn Island and it hit all my feels … the displaced young heroine, the budding friendship, the brooding uncle, the mystery to be solved. (And the illustrations are fantastic!) Most stories have a seed, that moment when the idea first sprouted. Do you remember when that happened with this book? And how long did it take to grow?

Donna Galanti: I’m so glad it hit the feels for you, Sean!  The idea actually came over lunch with my publisher! He threw out there that he’d like me to write a book “about a girl who has to take care of a unicorn.” From that, we spent six months bashing around the concept and then my amazing editor helped me polish it more. We wanted to write a story with a strong girl character but one that appealed to all genders. I love stories that are magical but also set in the real world—and that’s what guided me.

SM: The setting plays a big part in this story. Why did you set it in this coastal community—Foggy Harbor, South Carolina? Is it based in any places that are near and dear to you?

DG: I actually had first conceived it being off the coast of Maine (one of my favorite places to visit!) but with other potential seasonal book ideas in mind for the series, I didn’t think that would work so much with the cold season up north. The characters definitely couldn’t cross the sea to an island in a freezing November wind! My dad lives in North Carolina not far from the border of South Carolina, a similar setting, and so that’s what changed it. I loved the idea of placing the story in a sultry climate with mysterious live oak trees added in (they always remind me of ancient wizards with their dripping beards and gnarled branches).

SM: Sam has got some serious spunk and a sense of adventure. How much of Donna G. is in her fearless nature and love of the outdoors?

DG: Oh, so much of Donna G. in Sam! I am an avid outdoors person. Biking, kayaking, hiking. I find peace and inspiration in nature. I’m lucky to have an old growth forest nearby and miles of trails through meadows, woods, and along creeks. As an only child growing up on a mountain in Upstate New York, my playground was the forest. I spent my days roaming along old rock walls with my dogs, gazing up at the sky from secret spots, and writing my poems and stories in the nooks of old oaks. I also used to sing songs to the woods. I still walk in the woods nearly every day alone for hours with my Irish blackthorn walking stick, but listen to the trees sing now.

Hiking with my blackthorn walking stick at The Highlights Foundation!

SM: Hope it’s not a spoiler, but there be unicorns in this book. Why do you think we’re fascinated by mythical creatures and their realms? And what do they mean to you? (Oh, and if you could be a mythical character or creature, what would you choose and why?)

DG: I love mythology! Whether it’s unicorns or Greek mythology, which plays a bit part in my Lightning Road series. I think stories that are grounded in mythology and folklore resonate so much with younger readers because they are ageless. They deal with universal truths that tweens are experiencing themselves in both painful and wonderful ways: conflict, love, loss, and friendship. Kids can totally relate to these topics!

I also think, authors can turn to folklore and mythology to write with diversity in mind. I turn to mythic story structure and archetypes to help shape my characters’ journey. I’m especially drawn to the Hero, the Sage, the Warrior, and the Destroyer. Quest stories with these characters are among my favorites, like with King Arthur and Beowulf but also in modern times, like with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. I love reading and writing about the archetypal hero on a quest, to follow them through a transformative journey that tests them and witness them re-emerge changed on the other side.

As far as being a mythical creature, I would choose to be a phoenix from Greek folklore. How amazing it would be to obtain new life and arise from the ashes once more!

SM: I often find I learn something about myself or the process of writing when I write. Did Unicorn Island reveal anything new to you about yourself or your work?

DG: Absolutely! It taught me that I can write a story fast when I need to under deadline—and still be immersed in the story and fall in love with the characters. To write it quickly I escaped on retreat for a week to do it. In doing this, I returned to the time when I first fell in love with writing and had no distractions. It brought back that time when I wasn’t part of a greater writing world—I just wanted to be a storyteller. I didn’t know much about craft then, and it was just me and the page. A special place. 😊

SM: Tell us about your journey as a writer. Why did you gravitate toward writing for young readers, and what inspires you now?

DG: I wanted to be a writer ever since I fell in love with the world of Narnia at seven with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My hero in it was Aslan, and I even got a lion ring to honor him. I think because of this, I mostly turned to writing fantasy. My first short story was about a flying ship, a Dodo bird, and a wizard. I still have all my childhood stories today. But funny enough when it came to writing books, I started out writing thrillers for adults. I had a young voice in my first thriller and my editor at the time told me that I had a wonderful young voice—so I decided to explore this. I took a class on writing a children’s book in seven months, and did just that! This book, Joshua and the Lightning Road, got me my first agent and book deal. I quickly fell back in love with middle grade and that’s where I’ve been ever since! And actually, I’ve applied what I learned to write thrillers for adults to write thrilling adventures for kids.

Me wearing my lion ring as a tribute to Narnia!

SM: I remember so many of the MG books I loved as a kid and the worlds and ideas they opened to me. Is there something special about this age group that appeals to you as a writer? And do you have a favorite MG book or author that you return too for inspiration?

DG: Middle grade readers tend to live life more in the moment than other readers and that appeals to me. It can seem vivid and intense when you experience life this way. I love that kids read to make strong, lasting bonds with characters and stories, which is why series are so popular. I still re-read my favorite childhood books that are on my shelf like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (my mom made me a prairie dress outfit!) and Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. A favorite book I re-read every Christmas is The Children of Green Knowe by L.M Boston. It has all things I love: a castle, ghosts, adventure, medieval flavor. Plus, it appeals to me as the main character is an only child seeking adventure on his own—which was me growing up.

Here I am wearing my Laura Ingalls outfit.

SM: I need to know—will there be more books in the Unicorn Island series?

DG: Yes! The next book, Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand, comes out digitally in a 5-part serial this May on the Epic! platform with the hardcover compilation to follow in winter 2022. I won’t give anything away, but it’s full of new mysteries, characters, and creatures. It was so fun to write!

SM: Can’t wait to see where your imagination takes us, Donna. Thanks so much for sharing, and good luck to you … and Sam … and the creatures of Unicorn Island!

DG: Thanks for chatting with me about Unicorn Island!

SUMMARY OF UNICORN ISLAND:
Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered. Unicorn Island is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts and darker dangers!  When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse. But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

“An accessible and fast-paced magical adventure.” – Kirkus Reviews

“An all-too-human, enchanting middle grade fantasy novel.” – Forward Reviews

“What begins as realistic fiction turns to a fantastical tale of magical rescue. Fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy this adventure.” – School Library Journal

Book information:
Grade Level: 4 – 6
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster)
Available through booksellers here

Donna Galanti is the author of the fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series for Epic, the leading digital platform for kids 12 and under. Donna loves to present as a guest author at schools and teach writers at conferences and through her online courses. Donna has lived in England, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Visit her here: Twitter Instagram Facebook donnagalanti.com

 

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Mourning the Middle Grade Years and Finding Them Again by Donna Galanti

It struck me recently that I couldn’t remember the very last time I read a goodnight book to my son, Joshua. I asked him if he knew. As a teenager now, he couldn’t remember either.

“There was probably a night where you couldn’t read to me, Mom, because you were busy,” he said. “And then the next night we forgot about it. And the next.”

“So, it just faded away?”

“Yup.” *Mom choke-up*

Since then, I’ve been bothered by the fact that:
1. I desperately want to remember when and what that last goodnight book was.
2. If I’d known it was the last time, I would have cherished it.
3. Bedtime reading to my son is forever gone and I’m just realizing the significance of this now.

I mourn something now long disappeared that I had not even known was gone.

Along with bedtime reading gone of current children’s books with my son, so has the reading of books to him that I received as a child over 40 years ago. My mother wrote my name in mine, the year I received it, and who gave me the book. The Tooth Fairy brought me books from Beatrix Potter to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Roald Dahl. These books have now long been collecting dust on my son’s shelves.

“Mom, can we pack these books up now?” he asked, pointing to his bookshelf of old and new.

“Never!” I protested and gently dusted of books, taking them to my office where children’s books will never die.

These included my son’s best-loved books like Wonder, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Warriors, Flat Stanley, Goosebumps, Genius Files, Joshua Dread, Captain Underpants (the lunch signs are the BEST!), and Charlie Bone (Mom, this is THE best series EVER! You have to read it). And I’ll never forget my son’s excitement when he found out that the Charlie Bone series author, Jenny Nimmo, was blurbing my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road.

All too soon for me, my son left the middle grade world. He moved on to reading dark, dystopian young adult novels.

And I realized, sadly, he also moved on from all of our kid shows: iCarly, Big Time Rush, Good Luck Charlie, Pair of Kings, Drake and Josh, Sponge Bob Square Pants. Watching them with him made me nostalgic for my own shows I grew up with like Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Benson, Greatest American Hero, and re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show and Leave it to Beaver.

Occasionally, I bring up our shared favorite episodes to him of middle grade shows buried in tv-land dust.

“Can’t we just watch a Sponge Bob episode tonight? How about the Frankendoodle one or Pizza Delivery or Best Day Ever?” I asked.

“No, Mom,” he laughed. “That’s kid stuff.”

“What about iCarly where Spencer pranks everyone and does the prank song?” I started bopping around.

“No, Mom.” He gave me an eye roll.

“Okay,” I said with a sigh.

It’s true that I’ve grown with my son as he’s grown, but in doing so I’ve also relived many of my own childhood paths through his middle grade books and shows – and I don’t want them to end. I’ve returned home to a place where I will always be young, laughing myself silly, on magical adventures, and experiencing so many wondrous ‘firsts’.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s there weren’t books categorized “middle grade” and so I downed Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Jack London, Paul Zindel, and V.C. Andrews (all soooo not kid-friendly). They were my “middle grade” then, but now I have my son’s books, too (and age-appropriate!). And someday, I hope he’ll come back around to them just like I did. Maybe with his own children. He doesn’t need to relive his childhood now. He’s living it. And I realized, my son and his book world set me on my own journey as a middle grade author. What a wonderful legacy he gave me, even though he’s moved on.

He also doesn’t need me to be home anymore after school. He has his own business and drives to his restaurant job. He doesn’t need me to read him bedtime stories or cut up his meat. He doesn’t need me to do his laundry. He can do that simply fine (good!).

Don’t misunderstand me; I am enjoying the new phase of things. Watching him go to work, open a bank account, clean his room because he wants to (faint!), and calm his frazzled mom down when writing deadlines loom.

“It’ll be okay Mom,” he now says. “You’ll get it done. You always do.” He even helped me years ago in writing my first book when I got stuck on plot and character.

He may have said goodbye to middle grade for now, but I love sharing in the continued new wonders with him. I just won’t ever stop loving middle grade, not since I fell in love with it again through my son. I’ll keep writing it and reading it—and waiting for the day he comes back to it. *fingers crossed*

Have you ever mourned moving on from a phase in your child’s middle grade life? What were some of your favorite books as a child? What are some new favorite children’s books now?