Here is a sweet and exciting fantasy for kids bridging up from early chapter books.
by Donna Galanti.
Epic!/Andrews McMeel, 2021. ISBN 978-1524864705.
Review copy received from the publisher.
As the story opens, our heroine Sam is preparing to use her very limited cooking skills to make a special meal for her mother to celebrate them living in the same place for a year, only to find out that her flutist mother has taken a short-term, no kids gig in Europe.
Sam is sent off to stay with her grouchy Uncle Mitch in Foggy Harbor, and the elements of a classic fantasy-mystery are introduced. There is an old house full of character and secrets, the aforementioned grouchy and reticent uncle (who shares her affinity for burning food as well as her hair color), a local kid her age to befriend, and an unchanging fog bank off the coast, into which Uncle Mitch regularly rows deep into the night.
The large text size and numerous full-color illustrations put this at the chapter book or not quite middle grade level for me, but despite all the main characters having single-syllable names, the text includes good descriptive language and a mystery that isn’t quite wrapped up in this book. Though her friend Tuck is only shown in the pictures as Black, not described as such, I did appreciate that his veterinarian mother plays a key role. The illustrations are in a crisp digital style, with pictures that contrast happy and tense moments, as in Sam and her mother first shown dancing with cheerfully steaming pots and then both sadly looking at a burned mess. A picture of her talking with Tuck becomes more than just talking heads with a misty beach setting, and Sam’s always-flowing hair adds to the fantasy feel of it all.
The unicorns advertised on the cover don’t make their appearance until halfway through the book, but the action builds enough to keep things moving pleasantly along. I am personally hoping that Sam’s long-lost aunt will be rediscovered in the next book. We can always use more fantasy books at younger levels to engage those readers who aren’t interested in realism, and this is a lovely choice, particularly for readers who enjoyed books like the Kingdom of Wrenly and Zoe and Sassafras series or Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures.
Katy, thank you so much for reading and reviewing Unicorn Island! Yes, it is a good fit to bridge young readers to middle grade and I think also good for read-alouds. Glad you enjoyed it! Book 2, Secret Beneath the Sand, releases digitally on Epic! this May with hardcover to follow next winter. Watch for new characters, new mysteries–and mysteries solved. 🙂
Thank you, Donna! it was a pleasure to read, and we’ll be keeping our eyes open for the sequel!
I’ve been hearing great things about Donna’s new fantasy series. I agree with you that we need some shorter ones for younger middle grade readers. I can’t wait to read it. I just requested that my library buy it.
Thanks for being such a big supporter, Natalie! I think Unicorn Island is also a good book for read alouds with younger kids, too. 🙂
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