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Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Spellhound

9781761180057

Fledgewitch

9781761067365

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

9781922833297

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.  

Lily Halfmoon (series)

Lily Halfmoon (series)

Lily Halfmoon (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lily Halfmoon (series)

The Magic Gems 

9781761180354

The Witches’ Council

9781761069727

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 Secret Lives of Dragons

The Secret Lives of Dragons

The Secret Lives of Dragons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Lives of Dragons

Prof Zoya Agnis

Alexander Utkin

Flying Eye, 2023

64pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99

99781838741174

“Deep in the cold mountains of a distant land, there was once a magnificent kingdom of dragons. The songs of dragon families echoed across its peaks, and priceless treasures were hoarded in its caves. But what happened to this kingdom?” 

From stories like The Paper Bag Princess to the drama of Smaug’s arrival in the opening scenes of The Hobbit, both before and beyond, dragons have been a common entry to the world of fantasy for our young readers, sparking the imagination to go on wondrous adventures. For some, just being engrossed in the particular story is enough, but for others, there is a desire to know more and for them, this book is the answer.

It contains everything a curious mind wants to know to become an expert Drackenosopher just like the esteemed author, Zoya Agnis.  Through clever illustrations and readily accessible text, they can learn to identify the different dragon families, name the most fearsome dragon slayers, the bravest of Drackenosophy scholars and everything else there is to know about the beautiful dragons that we share our planet with.

About 20 years ago, there was another series of books like this (this series also includes The Secret Lives of Mermaids  and The Secret Lives of Unicorns) and it became the perfect vehicle for transitioning young readers into the world of non fiction as we took a topic they were fascinated by and started exploring information books.  In fact they came up with the slogan, Fiction = Imagination; Non Fiction = Information, something I have used in many instances since then. This would serve the same purpose. 

Whenever I make a storybook cushion or a journal or author kit featuring a dragon, I know I will only have it for a short time, such is the popularity of these fantastic beasts. Adults and children snap them up immediately, such is the fascination with and popularity of this creature.  So this is the perfect book to be the centrepiece of a display and promotion featuring fantasy promising to take readers on magical adventures as well as for The Year of the Dragon. A must-have if you have fantasy lovers amongst your readers. 

The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright

The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright

The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright

Reece Carter

Simon Howe

A & U Children’s, 2023

352pp., pbk., RRP $a17.99

9781761066795

Nobody in Elston-Fright believes in magic anymore, even though its history is steeped in it, so now, when something weird happens, they just lock their doors and pretend it’s not.  But Flip Little, his nan and his friends: a girl called Corpse, a ghost called Girl and a very large spider called Simon, know differently, and when Simon is taken by ancient weather ghouls called the Poltergusts, Flip and his ghostly companions turn to the last Lightkeeper’s journals for answers. To rescue their friend, they will need to find and return the missing Light to the lighthouse to restore its lost magic. In the past, the light from the lighthouse not only protected passing ships but also repelled bad magic, but that seems to have long gone.
Because nothing in Elston-Fright is as it seems. When Flip feels something different in the air, and sees something odd through his telescope things are about to change. Questions bubble up from the deep. Dark secrets come to light. And pretty soon, Flip and his friends learn that in order to save the future of Elston-Fright, they’ll first need to understand its past
This is the sequel to A Girl Called Corpse, and while there are references to that in this one, to be honest, it would be better to have read the first one to get the most from this. Written by an author who has a dog named Hagrid -what more can you say? – this is for independent readers who enjoy magic, mystery, and the supernatural entwined with family and friendship and who are able to cope with the two different, but clearly identified, perspectives from which it is told. 
Already longlisted for the Australian  Best Children’s Book, Indie Book Awards, 2024 this series is a cracking way for those who enjoy this genre to start their 2024 reading adventures, particularly with the third in the trilogy to look forward to. .

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Three Tasks for a Dragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Tasks for a Dragon

Eoin Colfer

P. J. Lynch

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9781529505825

After his father’s ‘accidental’ death at sea, his stepmother Queen Nimh and stepbrother Prince Delbayne invoke ancient Lagin law that only those who can summon the mysterious wolfhounds can become king, and Prince Lir is to be banished from his beloved homeland forever. The prince is a scholar not a warrior and acquiesces to his fate, but in an apparent act of generosity, Prince Delbayne pleads his stepbrother’s case and it is agreed that if Prince Lir can complete an ancient quest he will be able to return. 

Thus Prince Lir finds himself on a mission to rescue a young maiden being held captive by the dragon Lasvarg on his island, not realising that it is all part of a devious, malicious plan and dark magic concocted by his not-so-nice brother to ensure that Lir never returns to assume his place on the throne… But then, Delbayne does not realise that brains can overcome brawn… 

Created by two who have each been the Irish children’s laureate, this is a story reminiscent of the quests of old, drawing the reader into the fantasy of kings and queens and dragons and maidens needing to be rescued  with its twists and turns in the plot while its superb illustrations bring times gone by to life.  You can almost envisage this as a Lord of the Rings-esque movie, and while it has the traditional good versus evil as its underlying theme, because Prince Lir keeps his father’s words “The trick to it… is to work with what is around you,” it has a refreshing new perspective because rather than trying to trick the dragon and kill it to save Cethlenn, Lir uses his brains to cure the dragon’s ailments caused by the mould in his damp cave, mend his broken wing, and restore his fire-breathing powers,

, forming a partnership that eventually outwits and outlasts Nimh, Delbayne and even Lagin itself..

This is an illustrated novella that would make an ideal introduction to this genre as a read-aloud merging the traditional elements and feel of the classic quest with more modern themes.  

 

Lily Halfmoon: The Magic Gems

Lily Halfmoon: The Magic Gems

Lily Halfmoon: The Magic Gems

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lily Halfmoon: The Magic Gems

Xavier Bonet

A & U Children’s, 2023

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A16.99

9781761180354

It’s Lily’s birthday and she has moved to a new village, a new house and now it’s time for her to start a new school. She has all the same trepidations about it as other children do but when she gets there she finds things are a bit different from her previous school because this one is especially for witches to learn their craft!  Lily had no idea she had magical powers but now a lot of things in her life start to make sense. 

And now, in The Royal Academy and Library of Magic Studies, Creatures,  Potions and Spells (aka The Library) she must learn magic, and find her animal guardian and gemstone, while keeping her new identity a secret -even her family can’t be told. With her friends Gigi and Mai  she is part of a group of witches who have to protect the people of Piedraville from evil, tricky when there is a dangerous creature on the loose. And she’s found a rare and unique gem that no witch has ever had before – what does it all mean?

There are so many stories in this vein for emerging independent readers to choose from, and this one appeals because it can be both a stepping stone to more complex reads like Harry Potter as well as to the graphic novel format because it combines the new-to-some format with elements of a traditional layout. There are the familiar panels and speech bubbles of the former, although the text is written in the usual way with capital letters, lower case and punctuation, as well as the conventions of the latter for introductions, instructions, maps and other diagrams.  

Those readers who are verging on independence often view “real readers” as those who can read thick books or graphic novels and that is the yardstick by which they measure their success, so this is the ideal bridge for them capturing their imaginations through a popular theme but putting it in a setting that they can relate to.  Genius. 

The Blue Umbrella

The Blue Umbrella

The Blue Umbrella

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Umbrella

Emily Ann Davison

Momoke Abe

Andersen Press, 2023

32pp., hbk.

9781839132520

It wasn’t supposed to rain the day the little girl found the blue umbrella on her doorstep with a note that said, “For you.”  But she took it with her to the park just in case, and sure enough the rain started.  As it got heavier, she realised her mum was getting wet, and even though it was just a little umbrella she told her mum to get under it.  And, miraculously, they both fitted.  As they noticed more and more people getting wet, they invited them to shelter too, and the umbrella grew to embrace them all.  But the biggest miracle was yet to come…

This is a heart-warming story of the power of community coming and working together that will delight young readers, particularly. Somewhat reminiscent of the story of the magic pot that kept multiplying the food so all the peasants could be fed, but without the didacticism, it shows just how the ripples of kindness can spread into unexpected corners – how a simple act might be the shining light in a person’s struggle, as it was for the old man on the park bench.  Perhaps the children might not have a mysterious, magic umbrella but they do have a smile that can spread just as widely. 

Diary of an Accidental Witch (series)

Diary of an Accidental Witch

Diary of an Accidental Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary of an Accidental Witch

Perdita & Honor Cargill

Katie Saunders

Walker Books, 2021-2023

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

9781760656607

At long last, Bea Black has her own diary -something she has wanted for a long time. Her weather scientist dad gave it to her as a celebration/bribe for moving her to Little Spellshire because it has “funny clouds”  but really it is the back of beyond and she has no friends.  So she decides to document her time in the town as well as setting herself some goals to achieve, goals made trickier because not only does she have to contend with all the usual issues of starting fresh somewhere new, but  instead of enrolling her in the local Spellshire  Academy, her dad accidentally enrols her in the School of Extraordinary Arts, the local witch school, where she has to learn to do magic and in a hurry. But, apart from magic,  there is a lot to learn about yourself and those around you when you find yourself in a place you don’t belong. 

Written for younger independent readers, this is a series that is proving very popular. It has all the structures needed to support those consolidating their new skills with characters and situations that engage them as they become immersed in Bea’s life, much of which will be familiar but with that added twist of magic. Because it is told in diary format and thus in Bea’s voice, they will be putting themselves in the story and learning about relationships, overcoming challenges and having faith in yourself along with her.  

 

The Hats of Marvello

The Hats of Marvello

The Hats of Marvello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hats of Marvello

Amanda Graham

Lavanya Naidu

HarperCollins, 2023

304pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781460761670

In the small Australian country town of Mount Dry, Olive is preparing for her starring role as a narrator in the Year 5 play. It’s a really big deal for her and she is very excited so she is determined to shine  and so she needs the perfect costume. She is delighted when she finds the perfect top hat at the local op shop, but when she gets it home she discovers it has a secret.  A talking rabbit called Robbit unexpectedly pops out – and a rabbit is something that Olive has always longed for but can never have because they are considered pests on farms and her grandfather has repeatedly refused her requests.

Olive faces a dilemma – how can she obey her grandfather who is trying to rid the farm of rabbits altogether (and is obliged to by law) and still help Robbit who tells her that 100 of his friends have been kidnapped by the wicked Reynard  and need to be rescued?   Her hat is one of a magical set that allows the rabbits to travel between hats through time and place and so when they turn up on the farm  does she hide and protect them so they can go back to Wilby’s Magic Shop in England or does she tell her grandfather?

As well as being torn between Robbit’s pleas and her grandfather’s beliefs there is also the question of how a magician’s hat turned up in an op shop in rural Australia and so Olive is drawn into a mystery that becomes much more exciting than the school play.

Although this is a book that is based on mystery and magic, it is set against a backdrop of people and places that are very recognisable as they face familiar, real-life problems.  Olive has choices to make but there are many elements influencing her options and she has to navigate these while trying to make the right decision to suit everyone.

Short chapters and illustrations make this an intriguing read for independent readers, but one which has some more complex layers that will provoke thought and consideration, and perhaps even further investigation into the impact of introduced animals on the Australian landscape, particularly those species which have become feral.