Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)











Dragons of Hallow (series)





A & U Children’s, 2024

352pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

The first in this series begins… There are Three Great Secrets in Hallow, a country that loves secrets almost as much as it loves green jellybabies. No, I’m not going to tell you anything more about them. I am a loyal citizen of Hallow, and would never betray—
Oh, you have jellybabies?
Green ones?
Well, I suppose I could tell you a little more.
Come closer. Open your ears and your heart, and pass the green jellybabies.
I will tell you a story about an enormous magical pup, a child Queen and a very small minch-wiggin with the unfortunate title of Destroyer-of-Dragons…

And continues with a tale of “falsehoods, fortitude and friendship” about how a minch-wiggin, a Queen, and a rather large magical pup need to find the dragon that has turned their worlds upside-down-even if it means revealing all they want to keep hidden…

Two years later in Fledgewitch, life has moved on and Queen Rose is now twelve, and ruling Hallow with the Regent, Uncle Edwin and this story centres on ten-year-old Brim taken by Count Zaccar and Countess Xantha  to the School for the Prevention of Witches  because are the three Laws of Quill, carved in stone outside every town hall, and learnt by every schoolchild:
There shall be No Witches.
There shall be No Dragons.
There shall be NO SECRETS.

But Brim, despite having feathers sprouting from her elbows, and being the only one who can remember Snort, the Horned Glob, doesn’t believe she is a witch, one to be feared and outcast because of their dangerous, evil ways.

And so the story unfolds in a tale deeply rooted with themes of family, faith, loyalty and courage with engaging characters who display all those traits that we expect as they are pitted against dastardly, devious villains.  With its length, its seemingly unrelated stories  as well as the twists and turns in the plot, and the opportunity to put clues together if they are picked up, this is a series for fantasy-loving independent readers looking for something to sustain them over long winter nights, best read in order and best to read the first to establish the characters and their history and relationships – although these may not be what they seem.  

For those who want to know more about the author and how the series came to life, read this Q&A



The Secret Doorway

The Secret Doorway

The Secret Doorway











The Secret Doorway

Catherine Sheridan

Little Steps, 2023

236pp., pbk., RRP $A18.95


Anna and her brother Peter are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving their home in Australia for a holiday in Ireland. Just before they leave, Anna has a dream about black birds, a huge, gnarly tree and an old key, and being in danger. But despite having special gifts of seeing and feeling things that others cannot, Anna has no idea that what she dreamed may become reality.

Their holiday home backs onto a forest, and having met up with some local kids and enjoying camping in the backyard, when a peculiar fog lit by strange lights roll in,  they can’t resist investigating and find themselves in a world of magical folk and mysterious happenings.  But getting back to their home isn’t as simple as finding the fence and climbing over it… 

The subtitle of this book – the first in a series – is “Four  go on an Adventure” and for those of us of a certain vintage it immediately stirs images of the much-loved stories by Enid Blyton and certainly the connections continue as the story unfolds and the children find themselves in an enchanted forest having to help those who live there but facing situations that have to be confronted and solved.  While there are many portal stories for young independent readers to choose, this is one that is a safe, gentle escape, perhaps the next step on from The Magic Faraway Tree series that they can now read for themselves; maybe  even a gateway to those series about The Adventurous FourThe Famous Five, and The Secret Seven connecting them not only to the stories of a bygone era that sparked daydreams but also to their older relatives who may have enjoyed them just as much.  

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast











Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters (series)

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

Karen Foxlee

Freda Chiu

Allen & Unwin, 2024

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


Although a rather anxious child who prefers  to make lists so she can plan and manage her life because she doesn’t cope with change well, nevertheless Mary-Kate Martin has left the sanctuary of her grandmother’s home to travel the world with her mother whose life is spent on mystery-solving adventures such as why the Woolington Wyrm was causing such destruction in a quiet English village, and an equally strange creature was bothering Galinios, an idyllic Greek Island. 

In this third episode of this series for young independent readers, Mary-Kate and her granny are going to stay at a very quiet castle near a very quiet Loch in the Scottish village of Bonkillyknock. The perfect destination for reading beside fireplaces, going for long walks in galoshes and drinking cups of tea with Granny’s old friends. At least, that’s what Mary-Kate thinks.

However, this is no ordinary reunion – it’s a World Society of Monster Hunters’ conference. So, when an ear-shattering howl interrupts the convention, Mary-Kate isn’t too anxious. After all, the experts are on hand to investigate.

But when the castle kitchen is turned upside-down and the experts suspect the usually secretive Loch Morgavie monster, Mary-Kate isn’t sure the clues add up. Could there be some other kind of beastly problem bothering Bonkillyknock Castle?  Miss Mary-Kate Martin might only be a beginner, but she’s determined to get to the end of this monstrous mystery.

The first one in this series had me hooked with its setting in an olde English village, and so one set in a Scottish castle with its promise of a wild wintery landscape and warm comfort inside also had lots of appeal!  After all, there is a reason I live where I do.  And, like its predecessors, it is an absorbing read, even for one who is not a fantasy fan. As well as its appealing setting that just cries out for something out of the ordinary to happen, engaging characters and fast-paced action keep the reader turning the pages as they watch Mary-Kate develop from being that over-anxious child to one who is confident and more self-assured. And again, the beast is firmly grounded in local mythology – this time, the legendary highland fairy hounds known as the cù-sith (coo-shee) – perhaps sparking an interest in local legends.  What might Mary-Kate, her mother and granny encounter if they met an Australian bunyip or yowie? Perhaps, after researching them, they could suggest a plot outline for Karen Foxlee for the next episode, or maybe bring it to life in drawings as Freda Chiu has with the other monsters in the endpages of the story.  Or maybe just investigate the legendary creatures, totems and other emblems of the local First Nations peoples… 

So, as well as a captivating read, there is potential for so much more…

Losing the Plot

Losing the Plot

Losing the Plot












Losing the Plot

Annaleise Byrd

Walker Books, 2024

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Imagine if you preferred to be playing any sport in the world on a Saturday afternoon instead of having to stop indoors to practise your reading.  Especially with a kid you have nothing in common with.  Or, on the other hand, you enjoy reading but you’ve been assigned the task of helping someone with theirs, someone with whom you have nothing in common and who wants to be anywhere else instead. 

And then, suddenly, one of the characters leaps from the pages of the book and you are dragged into it and a wild adventure….

That’s the situation for Basil Beedon and Terry Clegg, who are neighbours but the street they live in is the only thing they have in common.  But since Basil’s dad and Terry’s nan got talking and it transpires that Terry will be kicked off the football team if his schoolwork doesn’t improve. Basil has been assigned to helping him with his reading. Every. Single. Saturday. 

Because boys of that age who don’t like reading prefer a bit of action and gore, Basil chooses some of the original versions of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, but neither is prepared for what happens.  As they begin to read The Complete Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm  Gretel comes shooting out of the story in tears because her brother Hansel is lost and she needs their help.  So the boys are plunged into a dangerous world run by the Fairytale Alliance Network of Character Yunions (FANCY), where not everyone is what they seem, Hansel has been kidnapped and a plot hole threatens to destroy everything.

With its setting far from the saccharine depictions of early childhood picture book version of the fairytale, familiar characters yet very different from the expected, fast action, clever use of words , particularly acronyms, and a myriad of twists and turns in the plot, this is the first in a series that will capture not only Basil and Terry but other newly independent readers as they not only discover a different world of fairytales beyond those presented by Disney (not so long ago I met a bookseller who did not know that there was a version of Cinderella before Disney!) but also that there is a wide range of these tales to read and explore, well beyond the most familiar.  It is a story that opens up the familiar in an unfamiliar way, draws on the need for trust and compromise as friendships, relationships and alliances are built between unlikely companions, and celebrates the magic that reading, in itself, can offer.  One that not only works with this year’s CBCA Book Week theme but also that of 2021 – Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds.  

(And while they wait for the next episode, readers might like to explore Pages & Co or Temora and the Wordsnatcher.)

Shower Land (series)

Shower Land (series)

Shower Land (series)









Shower Land (series)

Break the Curse 


Feel the Freeze


Nat Amoore

James Hart

Puffin, 2024

208pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Monday morning and it’s time to get up but bed is a much warmer option.  But Dad is threatening all sorts of dire consequences if you don’t, and your little brother is cracking silly jokes so you hurry into the shower, turn it on and BAM!   Suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a field, naked, and an army of soldiers is heading towards you.  Or, having had that experience, you resist having a shower until you really smell, and this time you find yourself knee-deep in snow on the side of a mountain in your swimmers!!

Such is the life of 10-year-old Felix in this new series for young independent readers.  

Not since the infamous shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho  has taking a shower been so precarious because you never know where you might end up as it acts as a portal to other places.  Luckily though for Felix, while he finds himself in unfamiliar settings and times and his first priority is to find some clothes, he is able to find some friendly faces who are willing to help him find his way back home but not before he encounters characters with problems much more confronting than his own and for whom he is able to draw on his own family experiences to help solve, not only assisting them but learning more about himself and people generally, at the same time. 

This is a fast-paced series, with appealing, humorous illustrations and formatting to support the newly independent reader, that uses the portal trope to transport both the hero and the reader out of the everyday into worlds where anything can live and anything can happen – just the kind of escapism that is needed at times. Young lads will see themselves as Felix, others will relate to the single-dad scenario, there is the more serious underlying message of self-discovery that adds substance, and it is just the right length for a quick read that carries you along wanting to find out what happens to whom.

And with the promise of a third, Walk the Plank, in September, readers will have something to look forward to. 


Billy And The Epic Escape

Billy And The Epic Escape

Billy And The Epic Escape











Billy And The Epic Escape

Jamie Oliver

Puffin, 2024

416pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Billy and his best friends Anna, Jimmy and Andy are looking forward to a summer exploring Waterfall Woods, discovering more about the magical creatures who live there and the Rhythm of nature, the beat that keeps nature in harmony and keeps their world, and ours, in balance.

Then the woods come under attack from a mysterious red lady, forcing the sprites and brothers Wilfred and BiIfred into hiding, and the gang rush to the rescue! But what does the red lady really want? Could she be connected to Bilfred’s disappearance all those years ago? And, if so, how is it possible she looks exactly the same decades later. . .

Can Billy and his friends uncover the truth and stop the red lady’s plans, before the Rhythm is put in danger once again?

The sequel to Billy and the Great Adventure, this is an adventure fantasy, a genre popular with many young readers as they see themselves in the role of the hero conquering evil and saving their family, friends and even the world.  But what I love most about the series is that author Jamie Oliver has been deeply involved in its production using his own childhood experiences of having difficulty processing text and so it is formatted to be accessible to those with dyslexia as he is.  The print edition is in a sans serif font while the audio version has state-of-the-art sound effects, multiple voices including narration by the author so that the characters and situations are brought to life in “a fully immersive experience”. But apart from those physical concessions, at its heart this is an engaging, entertaining tale for all readers who enjoy these sorts of adventures. 

How children learn to read has been the subject of research and pedagogical debate for decades – in fact, a century when one considers the breakthrough works of Sylvia Ashton Warner – and clearly, if there were one approach that was the silver bullet for all children, it would have been identified by now.  But as factions and their fads wax and wane, there are kids who fall through the cracks as the favoured method does not meet their needs, and so there are many who get to be 8,9, and 10 for whom reading is a chore, who see and label themselves as failures already, and for whom the school experience becomes a negative to be endured with all the implications of that  Thus, any book that identifies and then caters to the needs of these children gets a big thumbs-up from me.  To add to the positivity, is the fact that the author is celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and it is so easy to find stuff by and about him that he can be held as a role model for these students with their fragile self-esteem.  Not only has he made a successful, high-profile career from cookery but even with his reading difficulties he has written two books – so if he can do that, what can they do?

They can start by enjoying an action-packed adventure that carries them along at a fast clip and enables them to join in discussions with their friends so they too can be part of something they felt excluded from.  And having achieved that success, who knows…. 

Jonty’s Unicorn

Jonty's Unicorn

Jonty’s Unicorn











Jonty’s Unicorn

Rebecca Fraser

ifwg Publishing, 2024

140pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


In the quiet hamlet of Blaxby in the Kingdom of Irrawene, twelve-year-old Jonty Fairskye’s mother is gravely ill. A tonic from Dagatha, the fearsome witch who dwells in the dark heart of the Terrenwild Woods may be her only hope, but everyone knows Dagatha’s cures cost dearly — both in gold and regret.

Determined to save her mother, Jonty resolves to enter the King’s Annual Horse Race on her beloved horse, Onyx. The prize, a pouch of gold — more than enough to pay Dagatha. When Jonty discovers Rose, an injured unicorn, during a woodland training session, she is wonderstruck. There hasn’t been a unicorn sighting in Irrawene for over a century. Jonty smuggles Rose back to the safety of her barn to recover.

As the great horse race draws closer, disaster strikes and Jonty is forced to make a decision that will impact the lives of everyone she loves. Danger and betrayal lurk around every corner, and Jonty will learn that the true meaning of kindness and bravery comes down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice.

If ever there were a stereotypical entry into the world of fantasy for young readers, then this would be it. From setting to situation to characters to plot, it has all the hallmarks of what you expect from this genre for this age group from the ailing parent and the young child down to their last pennies; the possibility of a cure from the wicked witch who lives deep in the forest but at a cost too much to pay; the possibility of winning the money; the child ready to save the parent whatever it takes;  the disaster, the disappointment, the redemption – and of course, a magical unicorn.  But this is not a bad thing for the newly independent reader because it confirms and brings to life all those mind-pictures that they have formed already from listening to such stories and seeing illustrations in picture books.  Beautifully descriptive, here, in words alone, are all the things that have been imagined and now they can read them for themselves and solidify that platform they have built, perhaps even extending their reading by seeking others in the same genre.  

It also has the classic plot structure of a novel for younger readers with problems, possible solutions, complications and suspense to the final resolution making it an ideal way to introduce this longer format and the value in persevering rather than expecting the story to be done and dusted in one sitting like a picture book or television episode, while the underlying perennial message of being resilient and standing up for what is right is also strong as it carries the story along

Perhaps a little more expensive than other paperbacks, nevertheless its value as a mentor text for examining the tropes of this genre, the construction of a plot, and descriptive language that would enable even the lousiest artist like me to construct a mental or physical image of the setting and the characters, and its potential to extend the readers interest to find similar stories,  make it a worthwhile investment. 

Lily Halfmoon (series)

Lily Halfmoon (series)

Lily Halfmoon (series)










Lily Halfmoon (series)

The Magic Gems 


The Witches’ Council


Xavier Bonet, translated by Marie Trinchan

A&U Children’s, 2024

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A17.99

Nine-year-old Lily Halfmoon has just moved to the town of Piedraville. New house, new school and … new powers?

Surprise – Lily is a witch! She must learn magic, and find her animal guardian and gemstone, while keeping her new identity a secret. Not even her family can know.

Protecting the people of Piedraville from evil is no easy task. Especially when a dangerous creature is on the loose. Will Lily finally discover her gem’s unique power with the help of her new friends, Gigi and Mai, all without attracting attention? But a mysterious person is after her rare moonstone, and if they get their hands on it, it could threaten everything Lily holds dear. Will Lily have the strength to fight for what she believes?

The concept of ordinary children discovering magical powers as they become more independent, having to find their particular protective talismans and staving off those who want them is becoming a familiar trope in literature for the emerging reader, but nevertheless, as the enduring popularity of Harry Potter demonstrates, it is one that remains popular and with a constant stream of newly independent readers emerging, discovering it, it will continue to fascinate.   

So with its familiar themes, what sets this series apart?  Firstly, it is in graphic novel format so the reader has to be able to cope with that format, although this one has more dialogue to carry the story than others, the panels track left to right in a logical sequence and it is in regular font, rather than all capitals, making its appearance more familiar, as well as ‘regular’ pages that add more information and background – so, all in all, making it a solid introduction to this popular format. It also has potential to become a sought-after series, as in The Magic Gems, as well as the plot and premise being introduced, the characters and their relationships are established setting the platform for any number of adventures to come, particularly given the cliffhanger ending..  


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)

Pages & Co.: The Last Bookwanderer

Pages & Co.: The Last Bookwanderer

Pages & Co.: The Last Bookwanderer











Pages & Co.: The Last Bookwanderer

Anna James

HarperCollins, 2024

416pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


“From outside on the busy north London high street, Pages & Co looked like an entirely normal bookshop. but once inside it didn’t quite make sense how everything fitted inside its ordinary walls. The shop was made up of five floors of corners and cubbyholes, sofas and squashy armchairs, and a labyrinth of bookshelves heading off in different direction.  A spiral staircase danced up one wall, and painted wooden ladders stretched into difficult-to-reach corners.  Tall arched windows above made it feel a little like a church when the light spilled in and danced on the air. When it was good weather the sun pooled on the floor and the bookshop cat – named Alice for her curious nature- could often be found dozing in the warmest spots.  During the summer the big fireplace behind the till was filled to bursting with fresh flowers, but at is was October, a fire was roaring there…”

Does this not conjure up every booklover’s dream of a magical place, a bookstore where magic and mysteries, adventures and escapades beckon?  And for it to be the home of Tilly who prefers the company of book characters to the people in real life and, although not having been outside London, is a seasoned traveller within the pages of the books that abound on the shelves just shouts that this is going to be a series for booklovers and readers that will deliver all that is expected and more.

But what if your favourite characters could not only come out of the books and have real-life conversations with you but could also take you back into the book to have your very own adventure within the story? Tilly discovers that this is part of her relationship with her books and that, unlike other series where it is a secret power, this one is shared by her family,  There is much more to her grandfather and grandmother and the family’s history and lives than she ever imagined. Bookwandering is what this family does, and it might explain the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the absence of her father.

Keen readers have followed the adventures of Tilly and her friends since 2018, and if Ms Now 13 is an indication, they will be as eager to read this final instalment as they were the first, for it is, indeed, “as comforting as hot chocolate” as the blurb says.    In this last adventure, Tilly, Oskar, Milo and Alessia venture into King Arthur’s realm in search of the wizard Merlin, and  discover that the magic of bookwandering is not at all what they thought. Together, they must journey into myth and legend – to bargain with the trickster Loki and unlock their destinies with the help of the Three Fates – and find a way to untangle the Alchemist’s grip on the world’s imagination.  To save Pages & Co. and the very foundations of bookwandering, Tilly and her friends will have to learn the true power of imagination in a thrilling final adventure, but an unexpected enemy stands in their way . . .

If you don’t have the series in your collection, it is available in a variety of formats including a boxed set, but you may have to search beyond your usual suppliers for the five earlier books because it is a series that is best read in order.  It will be well worth the effort because this is one of a handful of series that I have sought out all the additions to review over the years, and one which my granddaughters yelled “yes please” when I told them I had the final, even though they are so much older now. This is a series that, like The Magic Faraway Tree  and Harry Potter,  will be kept for their own children to enjoy.  It is for independent readers with a penchant for magical bookshops and being able to really delve into the world of stories and become part of them. And for those who have to wait their turn, or those who ask, “What next?”  you could suggest The Bookseller’s Apprentice and The Grandest Bookshop in the World.For those a little younger, suggest The Travelling Bookshop series