Posts Tagged magic

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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Zatanna and the House of Secrets Interview and Giveaway

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHi Mixed-Up Filers!

Today, I have the privilege to be talking to both Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani, whose graphic novel, Zatanna and the House of Secrets,  is available now from DC Comics.

Hi Matthew and Yoshi. Thank you for joining us today.

My first question is for both of you. Can you tell us a little bit about Zatanna and the House of Secrets?

Matthew: Zatanna and the House of Secrets is about a normal tween girl, Zatanna, who discovers that just about nothing in her life is what it appears to be – not her dad, not the house she grew up in, not even the family pet rabbit. There are magical secrets afoot, and more to Zatanna than she ever imagined!

YoshiIt’s a story of a girl growing up and trying to figure out her identity as the world and people around her change—figuratively and literally! And of course, lots of magic

Matthew, you’re books are, for the most part, a mix of fantasy and superheros. So, Zatanna’s story seems like a natural fit for you. Did you choose the character?

Matthew: I did. When this opportunity to work with DC came along, they asked me to pitch them three or four characters I’d like to write. Zatanna was a no-brainer, because she’s never been your typical superhero. She’s a magician! The story of how she became a magician – how she discovered her powers – was such a joy to conjure up (see what I did there?)

Not gonna lie, Zatanna is one of my favorite DC characters, and my go-to for cosplay. Yoshi, I love the new character design. I’m already planning on rocking this as my next cosplay. How did you approach the character design?

Yoshi: Yes! Zatanna is one of my absolute favorites too! Zatanna’s fully grown costume is over the top and confident, so it was fun to work backwards and consider what her pre-evolution outfits would be. Maybe some vintage finds, maybe her dad’s old shirts – she has a style but has yet to nail down her look. I really wanted to capture that transition.

One of the things that I really liked about this story is how it explored the relationship between Zatanna and her father and the idea that our parents aren’t always the heroes we expect them to be. Matthew, was that something that you wanted to focus on early on?

Matthew: Definitely. Middle school is hard for a lot of reasons, but one of the toughest aspects of it is that push/pull between still needing your parents tremendously, while at the same time feeling like you need to separate yourself in some ways. So, we took fantasy and did what the genre does best – we externalized that conflict. At its heart, this is a very family focused story about the mistakes we make both as kids and adults. And how we deal with them.

Another thing that I particularly loved was that the House of Secrets is like a character itself in the story. So, another question for both of you: How did you approach the world-building?

Matthew: The House of Secrets has been around in DC Comics lore for a long, long time. It’s been interpreted and reinterpreted in a many different ways, so I kind of took that meta-fact and applied it to the house in our story. Our House of Secrets has been passed down from Caretaker to Caretaker for centuries, and each one left their mark. Poor Yoshi then had to being all that to life on the page (btw, she knocked it out of the park)

Yoshi: Matthew had the idea that the House of Secrets had been passed through many different owners in different parts of the world and different eras. I absolutely loved that, and I personally relish any opportunity to kit-bash multiple cultural influences. Plus those huge stylistic changes really gave the impression of a magical unpredictable house—one you were just dying to run around yourself!

We see Teekl throughout the illustrations before we’re ever introduced to the character. Yoshi, was this an easter egg or is Teekl spying on the Zataras?

Yoshi: I was hoping someone would notice! And yes, Teekl is definitely a warning that Klarion and his mother are nearby, not that Zatanna understands that at the time. Its an Easter egg that’s fun on the reread.

Are there any other easter eggs that fans should keep an eye out for?

Matthew: Oh yeah! Yoshi’s art has a ton of clever hints and nods, but if you want to look for one in particular that might excite old school DC fans, pay special attention to the stone busts and portraits throughout the house to get a glimpse of the house’s original “caretakers”.

Yoshi: There are a few visual Easter Eggs for those who are familiar with the DC universe. I won’t give anything away, but definitely check out the school dance. Also, those in the know will recognize the Witch Queen’s assistants for what they are.

Speaking of fans, I’m going to geek out for a little bit here. In DC canon, Zatanna was the caretaker of the House of Mystery, which is similar to, the House of Secrets. Can we expect to see another story featuring the House of Mystery, perhaps a different caretaker?

Matthew: Huh. That’s a great idea! 😉

Is there anything else about the story that either of you would like to share?

Matthew: It’s really, really good!

What’s the best piece of creative advice that both of you have received and would like to pass on to other writers and artists?

Matthew: For writers, read more than you write – but write a lot.

Yoshi: Breaks are important to creative flow, and pursue a creative process that brings you joy.

What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?

Matthew: I tried to break into comics as a writer before I became a published novelist.

Yoshi: I’m allergic to coconut.

What are you working on next?

Matthew: I’m finishing up a novel for older readers and am working on a couple of kids comics projects that I’m really excited about.

Yoshi: Something else with DC!

How can people follow you on social media?

Matthew: On twitter I’m at @mattcodywrites. I tweet rarely but always respond!

Yoshi: Twitter @yoshisquared. Insta @yoshiyoshitani  Website Yoshiyoshitani.com

Thank you so much for the interview!

Zatanna and the House of Secrets is out now, and here at The Mixed-Up Files, we’re giving away a copy. Enter our giveaway below.

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The winner will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World by Karen Rivers

Ever read the title of a book and know instantly that you must find out more about the story?

When I first saw the title of our next spotlight, I couldn’t help being filled with all sorts of questions. What’s up with this mole rat? Why did the day have to be saved? And how does he do it?

And wait! A mole rat?

Haha! I know. I’m being a little overly dramatic, but this goes to show how much value a title can hold. Let’s meet this mole rat.

Can Kit’s super-weird superpower save her world?

Kit-with-a-small-k is navigating middle school with a really big, really strange secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat.

It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening—whether kit wants them to or not. Kit can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem just hasn’t been herself. She’s sad and mad and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.

A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed—both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, the best friends get into a big fight. Somehow, kit has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower. Or is it?

“A warm coming-of-age story populated with a cast of memorable characters.”
—Kirkus Reviews

The book releases on October 15, 2019 by Algonquin.

 

It’s wonderful to have you visit us here again, Karen. Welcome!

Kit is such an intriguing and endearing character. What characteristics did you know you had to include within her?

Kit, like most of my characters, came to me fully formed as herself, right from the beginning. I knew she had to be stronger than she knew, but I also knew that she was going to have occasionally overwhelming anxiety herself, that would be secondary (in her mind) to her mum’s more paralyzing version. I also wanted her to be brave, in particular brave to be herself, even when others might think it’s “weird” (to rollerskate, to believe in magic, to tie ribbons to trees in the park, to blow bubbles). And I knew she would be funny, of course.

Just hearing you describe her in your own words makes me like her even more.

We all know how important it is for young readers to relate to the characters they read. How will young readers relate to Kit?

I think a lot of kids around the age that kit is in the book are on the cusp of young adulthood, while also still wanting to stay kids. Kit very much wants to hold on to her kid-like qualities. I know some kids like this, who feel like they are being left behind because their friends are more like teenagers already, even when they aren’t quite ready.

That’s a very important reality during the transformation between tween and teen, and it’s not talked about enough. Glad you’ve mentioned it here. What is your favorite part of the world you’ve created for Kit and why?

I love the magic more than anything — all of it, from the literal to the metaphorical. I also love the way both kit and Clem find their power in surprising ways. Both of them are exploring the scarier, darker sides of their realities in these brave and surprising ways.

Was there anything about Kit that surprised you?

When I started writing, I didn’t realize that sometimes she was going to be angry or that she was going to show her anger on the page, that she could be unforgiving. I happen to have a twelve year old of my own now (although she was younger when I was writing this story) and this ability to flip back and forth between joy and fury turns out to be very real. It felt true on the page, too, but I hadn’t necessarily anticipated it.

Would you have been friends with Kit as a middle schooler?

Oh, definitely. She’s kind and fierce and funny and loyal AND she roller skates!

She definitely sounds like fun! What’s the most important element from this story you hope readers take with them once they’ve finished the book?

That everyone has something going on beyond the version of themselves that they present and that you see at school. You don’t have to scratch the surface very deeply to realize that we all have many, many layers. You never know what someone else is going through, and you definitely can easily underestimate what they are capable of if you forget to look beyond their outward appearance. And of course it’s also a book about forgiveness, about acknowledging that not everyone always does the right thing.

Another hidden truth during those middle grade years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Kit and Clem’s story and for helping young readers explore who they are through them. All the best from your Mixed-Up Files family . . .

Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usu­ally be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds.

Find her online at karenrivers.com and on Twitter: @karenrivers.