The Transylvanian Express

The Transylvanian Express

The Transylvanian Express











Solve Your Own Mystery: The Transylvanian Express

Gareth P. Jones

Louise Forshaw

Walker Books, 2023

224pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Haventry is a town where the ordinary and extraordinary collide and with ghosts, werewolves, vampires, mummies, zombies and all sorts of other fantastic creatures living side by side, trouble is always brewing. Following the delivery of a mysterious letter from an unknown client, Klaus Solstang is on the Transylvania express travelling to the home of dreaded  Count Fledermaus, a vampire whose castle will be opened for an annual public event. The trouble is that a VIP, Night Mayor Franklefink, has gone missing while on the train, and one of the suspects is his arch nemesis, Bramwell Stoker.

However, Klaus Solstang is not an ordinary detective – he is a yeti and the reader becomes his assistant in solving the mystery, bestowed with special magical powers. And so this modern choose=your-own-adventure begins…

Written for independent readers, this is one of a series in which the reader is actively engaged in solving a mystery, each choice of action made offering a new permutation of the story. This feeling of being directly involved is consolidated with the narrative being written in the second person, addressing the reader encouraging them to follow the prompts and clues, identify opportunities and motives, and then choose which path to take to work out who committed the crime.  Each path leads to a different outcome so it is one of those books that keeps on giving. 

Part of a series of four that depend on the reader’s participation, it encourages a deeper interaction with the story than normal and is ideal for those who like to solve crimes and mysteries and fancy themselves as detectives..

Solve Your Own Mystery (series)

Solve Your Own Mystery (series)

The Goblins’ Revenge

The Goblins' Revenge

The Goblins’ Revenge











The Goblins’ Revenge

Andy Prentice

Tom Knight

Usborne, 2024

288pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


For 93 years the land of Sibele has been ruled by the evil wizard Darkmoon, and now he is hunting down the last few rebels who dare to oppose him, and the only one who can save them and end his reign is the reader. With a horde of undead warriors on the trail and a series of blood-curdling dangers ahead , it would be a terrifying task for anyone – but you’re just a goblin, which makes things even more challenging. Confronted by menacing monsters, ghostly magic and a thrilling race against time in this spectacular fantasy adventure gamebook, the reader becomes the hero whose decisions and choices determine the outcome.  

Decades ago the choose-your-own adventure genre hit the shelves and were an instant success with those who like to insert and immerse themselves in the stories, and this 21st century version combines that genre with the gaming craze, combining three loves of the current generation – video games, fantasy and a story in print which becomes a new adventure with every choice made. 

It begins with instructions on how to play complete with items, weapons and abilities, a logbook to keep track of the relevant details of the quest as  well as all the other things needed to play a game and complete a quest in this modern era.  There are crucial picture puzzles to solve along the way, and although a computer is not needed to play, there are links to an online dice roller if physical dice (needed to play the combat system) aren’t available as well as a printable logbook.

I am the first to admit that this is not my sort of game and my granddaughters gave up in frustration as they tried to teach me some of theirs, but nevertheless, this seems to be something that teacher librarians should be aware of so they can capture the imagination and minds of those engaged by this sort of activity, thus demonstrating that the library has resources that are relevant to them. In fact, while the publisher suggests this is suitable for 9+, it could be one to give to your gamers for feedback on suitability both for reading /comprehension age as well as future releases in the series.  

You Choose Christmas




You Choose Christmas

You Choose Christmas











You Choose Christmas

Pippa Goodhart

Nick Sharratt

Puffin, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


For many, Christmas brings to mind images of decorated trees twinkling with lights; a jolly, fat man in a red suit bringing gifts; family seated around a table eating turkey and trimmings and…

But there are as many choices to make about how Christmas can be celebrated as there are families in the world, and this amazing book brings together many of them in a unique way that encourages the young reader to pick and choose their own adventure through this time.  

Written in rhyme, each double spread has a different focus on the general commonalities of the season such as the advent calendar, decorating the tree, Santa’s workshop, or choosing gifts and then there are a multitude of things that the child can choose, either those that are familiar or maybe making up a different story.  For example, would they send a Christmas card with a picture of La Befana or a pohutukawa tree, a “snowman” made of sand or 13 mischievous “Yule Lads”? Similarly, what might be on their Christmas menu?  Indeed, when would they have it?

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Apart from being an entertaining way to get the child to engage with the book, it is also an opportunity to show them that there are many ways to celebrate, and that what might be familiar to them may be foreign to the family next-door.  But there is no right way or only way.  They might even like to think about the things that other families do that they would like to try, and consider which of the things their family does that they will share with their own children in years to come.  

This is the latest in this series which is celebrating its 21st birthday, one that has endured because the young reader can return to it time and time again and have a new, unique experience each time as they not only learn to make choices and decisions but have the power to do so.. 

Pick a Story: A Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure

 Pick a Story: A Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure

Pick a Story: A Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure












Pick a Story: A Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure

Sarah Coyle

Adam Walker-Parker

Farshore, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Gwen was very excited about having a fancy-dress birthday party,  the decorations are up and the food set out.  But suddenly the birthday cake that Dad has made disappears!  Who has taken it?

Well, that depends on what the reader decides because depending on whether they choose the unicorn, robot or dinosaur they are taken on a different adventure, each time being able to choose the next chapter in their story.

While choose-your-own adventures have been in novel format for years and been immensely popular because of all the possibilities they open up, a picture book format is unusual. Young readers will love the interactivity that takes them beyond the more familiar lift-the-flap and gives them the power to decide the direction of the story.  And when one is told, they can return to the beginning and start another…  The power of choice.

There are three in this series now – a pirate/alien/jungle/adventure already available and a dragon/mermaid/superhero adventure to be released in time for Christmas – so all those characters that young readers love are covered and they can follow all sorts of paths and trails through the stories. Putting the reader in the writer’s seat is empowering and they might even be able to suggest a new combination or adventure, teaching them that they can not only be readers but writers too.  



Peppa Pig: My Peppa Adventure

Peppa Pig: My Peppa Adventure

Peppa Pig: My Peppa Adventure











Peppa Pig: My Peppa Adventure

Peppa Pig

Ladybird, 2022

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Although formal reading instruction usually doesn’t begin until a child starts “big school”, so much of the rate of success and achievement is dependent on the groundwork that has gone before.  Mem Fox has said, ” If every parent -and every adult caring for a child – read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy in one generation!” 

But this new Peppa Pig adventure offers an even greater opportunity for our littlest readers to start developing those early reading behaviours that are crucial to underpinning reading development because it requires the child to create their own story. This is a choose-your-own adventure for the very young.   

Starting with a page of pictures of possible destinations, the child chooses where in the world they want to travel – to the jungle, the ocean, the desert, the city or even outer space – and then on succeeding pages they use the picture cues to decide which of Peppa’s family and friends they will take with them; their clothing; their lunchtime menu; how they will travel and so on, building an entire adventure as they turn the pages. There are musical instruments to play, shops to visit, parties to attend – and each is the child’s choice,  And when they return home safely, they can go back to the start and map out another adventure to tell!  The power of print over the fleeting screen! 

While listening to stories and building the pictures in their imagination is vital, having the scaffolding to build your own story with your favourite character is brilliant – there are so many skills involved and learning that takes place, not to mention the empowerment of being the author and making the decisions that this is, IMO, a must-have in the library of any beginning reader.  In all my years of reading and reviewing, showing and sharing books with little ones, books that are interactive with lift-the-flaps and other devices, I don’t recall one in this choose-your-own format for this age group.  Love it! 



Return to FACTopia!

Return to FACTopia!

Return to FACTopia!











Return to FACTopia!

Kate Hale

Andy Smith

Britannica Books, 2022

208pp., hbk., RRP $25.99


Did you know that bacteria from between people’s toes has been used to make cheese? Or that the world’s most expensive cheese is made from donkey milk? Or that the milk from one species of cockroach is the most nutritious substance on Earth? Or that a cockroach can survive for weeks without its head?

In this choose-your-own adventure journey through more than 400 facts, all of which have been verified by Encyclopedia Britannica, every fact  is connected to the next in an ingenious trail of information, where you will hop from topic to topic in unexpected and hilarious ways. And there’s not just one trail through these pages: sometimes your path branches and you can choose to jump to a totally different (but still connected) part of the book. Let your curiosity lead you through this witty wonderland of facts!

There are connections made between a vast range of topics from history and geography to science and nature, including astronauts, polar bears, rollercoasters, sabre-toothed cats, shipwrecks, bananas, pirates, orangutans, medieval knights, and more, all accompanied by more than 300 fabulously witty colour illustrations and photographs.

And while disclosing that bacteria from between people’s toes has been used to make cheese may not be quite the best to share at the family dinner table, nevertheless these are the sorts of weird and wonderful things that kids of a certain age love to pore over and absorb for just the right (or wrong) occasion.  The format of taking your own path which is indicated by a dotted line and then branching out with diversions to other pages is unique to this series which includes FACTopia and the upcoming Gross FACTopis and ensure that each time the reader devles into it, new discoveries are made. 

Something a little different for your non fiction lovers. 



LEGO Star Wars Choose Your Path

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path

Lego Star Wars Choose Your Path










LEGO Star Wars Choose Your Path

Simon Hugo

DK, 2018

125pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


What more fitting book to review for May the 4th than one with a Star Wars theme? Even though it is not released till May 28, there is no harm in building up anticipation for something new and different that is going to encourage even the most reluctant of readers to explore.

With the book comes protocol droid U-3PO, a small toy suitable for those 6+, who accompanies the adventures, gives advice and maybe even leads the adventurer astray. The reader chooses one of three quests- Hunt the Sith, Fight the Empire or Defeat the First Order – and then sets off to achieve it while meeting favourite characters and creatures, travelling in awesome vehicles as they move from planet to planet, all the while remaining in charge of the journey as they select the route according to the choices on offer.  

Along the way there are photos, facts and figures and information about a range of incredible Lego models that can be purchased – Star Wars fans like my son are so easy to buy for! –  as well as challenges to build new, original models.

The power of choose-you-own-adventure has long been proven as an inducement to read and discover, so to combine it with both Star Wars and Lego is just genius.  Perfect for that collaborative reading that young boys who are verging on independence love and need, or for any Star Wars fan. 

You Choose …flip me

You Choose - Flip Me

You Choose – Flip Me










You Choose…Flip Me

Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars/Night of the Creepy Carnival


Super Sports Spectacular/Trapped in the Games Grid


George Ivanoff

Random House, 2017

pbk., RRP $A19.99

Remember the frustration of finishing a book in a series that you have really enjoyed but you need to go to the library or the bookstore to track down the next one?  Or worse, still, wait for it to be written and published?  The solution seems to be having two books in one as with the new packaging of George Ivanoff’s very popular You Choose series.  Now our students can have all the fun of following pathways through one book and when they are done with that, slip them over to read through another immediately.  No waiting,  No cooling of enthusiasm. Just more reading.

For a couple of decades at least, the choose-your-own-adventure stories have been popular, particularly with boys, as they like the interactivity and the gaming nature of them.  So to be able to serve them up two at a time to aficionados not only encourages them to keep reading but also shows them that the library DOES have stuff that meets their interests and needs.  That has to be good.


LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure








LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure – City


LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure – Star Wars


Dorling Kindersley, 2016

Kit including hbk book and LEGO pieces, RRP $A39.99

An unusual review today but one deliberately chosen to alert you to a new series of books published by Dorling Kindersley and released here through Penguin.  Given the buzzword of the moment in school libraries is ‘makerspaces’ and there are constant requests to the forums I belong to for ideas about activities that can be offered, especially those which enhance the library experience as well as the design, make, appraise process, this series offers a wide-ranging solution.

While we are all familiar with the regular box of Lego bricks and paper instructions for making what’s inside (instructions which always get damaged or lost), the instructions for these creations come in a hardcover book with the LEGO pieces in a separate container which can be opened out to form the foundation of the adventures. They are enclosed in a sturdy slipcase which makes for easy storage. The box also has a pictorial list of its contents so putting them back should be easy. 

Each comes with a mini-figure and a vehicle related to the theme – City has a fireman and a firetruck while Star Wars has a rebel pilot and Y-Wing Starfighter – and the makers are encouraged to build them from the supplied bricks following the very clear, full-colour numbered instructions.  Then, within the book there are suggestions for building further adventures using their own bricks to create their own story.  Each is divided into chapters with clear pictures of the models that could be built to enhance the telling although instructions are not given because builders might not have the precise bricks used.  For example, in City which features Ed the firefighter there are clear pictures to build the fire station environment as well as suggestions for uniform lockers, a town map and a tool bench.  Each chapter then features a cityscape with a range of related suggestions for getting the imagination and creativity into top gear.

For those new to LEGO there is a pictorial ‘glossary’ identifying terminology with examples so budding builders can hunt through their existing LEGO collection to find the sorts of pieces they will need, as well as five pre-build checks which would make a handy poster to display in the makerspace.

  1. Organise your bricks into colours and types
  2. Be creative and substitute other bricks if you don’t have the exact one in the plan
  3. Research what you want to build by finding pictures on it in books or online
  4. Have fun and if something isn’t what you thought it would be, change it to something else
  5. Make a model stable to house the creations

While each of the books in the series would be perfect for an individual LEGO fan, their appeal for the library collection is that there are plenty of ideas and opportunities for groups of builders to collaborate and negotiate to build an entire scene that could then be photographed and used as an individual story stimulus, allowing each to create and achieve at their own level.

Whether your library or school has an existing LEGO collection or is just starting to acquire one, this series is an excellent starting point to giving its place in the makerspace and the curriculum focus and purpose, not just for the thinking and building processes involved but also those essential people skills of collaborating, negotiating, making suggestions tactfully, offering feedback and being a team member.   

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

You Choose…

You Choose

You Choose










The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove



Mayhem at Magic School



The Haunting of Spook House



Maze of Doom



Night of the Creepy Carnival



Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars



Super Sports Spectacular 



Trapped in the Games Grid


George Ivanoff

Random House,2014-2016

pbk, 140pp., RRP $A14.99


It seems even our youngest children have been lured by the appeal of computer-based games as they allow each player to have control of what happens to the characters driven by the decisions he/she makes about the decisions the characters make. So when that power is made available in book form, propelled not by graphics and a controller but by words, reading and understanding, everyone is happy – those who like to control the adventure and those who like to see their children reading.  Harking back to a very popular format of about 20 years ago, where books were the most accessible form of self-driven entertainment and where the reader chose their own adventure by making a choice about what action to take and therefore where to move next in the story, this series ‘You Choose’ puts the power back in the reader’s hands, rather than the author’s predetermined storyline. And each time the book is read a different choice can be made and a new story created.

Written by an author who, himself, was a devotee of this sort of format and only became an avid reader after he discovered it – something I found happened frequently when I offered them to my reluctant readers of both genders- this is a series that not only combines interactivity and reading, but also enables the reader to think about cause and effect, to consider the options, to take the time to make a decision, and to take risks in a safe environment -all traits we encourage. 

The settings are those that will appeal to adventurers with just enough of the dark stuff in them to maintain the suspense but not scare them off completely.  

In ‘The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove’ the reader finds an old map supposedly belonging to One-Eyed William, a fierce pirate who was buried with his treasure.  So the first decision has to be made – to follow the clues in case it’s real or hand it in to a museum curator. In ‘Mayhem at Magic School’ the reader suddenly discovers magic powers which cause strange things to happen so a decision has to be made about whether to visit a therapist and seek help or keep them secret and use them?  Is the outcome a place in Magic School, a spy for the government or something else?

 Maze of Doom is set in a “lame-looking” sideshow at the fun fair.  However, its exterior belies what it contains inside and if the reader doesn’t discover its secrets, they may be trapped inside forever. The Haunting of Spook House is all that is expected.  The reader is dared to go inside to investigate if a man was indeed mummified there and now haunts the place. 

Night of the Creepy Carnival is set in the new funfair in town but there is something very strange about the creepy clowns and something scary about the freak show tent with its disturbing display cases.  Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars takes on a science fiction slant when a flying saucer lands and lizard aliens disguised as humans emerge intent on invading the planet.. 

Super Sports Spectacular has the reader involved in a scary game of basketball while Trapped in the Games Grid has the reader is all set for an afternoon of arcade games but not all the games are not what they seem with secret programs, alien tests and other worlds inside a new virtual reality. 

Extreme Machine Challenge and In the Realm of the Dragons are due for release in June 2016.

The appeal and importance of gaming within the formal education setting is becoming the focus of a lot of research and literature and this series provides a great foundation to actively engage and explore options.  Map the story, its choices and consequences on a flow chart; have students add a few twists of their own and discuss how these can have an exponential effect on the outcomes; perhaps even venture down the Technologies strand of the Australian Curriculum and let your budding programmers start to design the coding.  Then set a new scenario and start to explore the pathways and fun of “what if…”, encouraging the students to let their imaginations go, push the boundaries, think beyond the usual as they draw on all they’ve seen and experienced.  As well as offering an engaging read, skilled teachers could use these books as models for an absorbing, integrated project that would draw in their writers, their illustrators, their mathematicians, their computer experts, and their gamers to create something new that accentuates the need for a team, encourages negotiation and compromise as well as the skills of seeing things from another perspective and looking for alternatives, and perhaps, even, the concept of empathy.

So glad this format is back on the reading agenda of the younger readers in my life.