A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic

A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic

A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic












A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic

Shivaun Plozza

Puffin, 2022

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Willa is just an ordinary non-magical 12 year old girl, living in the Wild – a city squished between two warring witch covens. She hates the constant conflict and spends her days dodging wayward spells – from raining frogs to dancing chickens – which cause havoc for regular people like her. And it’s all because of the witch war! No wonder she also hates witches.

But one day she’s not ordinary at all. She discovers she does, indeed, have magic, much to her dismay.  Thus, she is taken to the castle where she learns all about spells, witchcraft, and the two waring covens of witches, one of which she will have to join and be initiated into before her 13th birthday. If she doesn’t choose one or the other, her magic will be uncontrollable and she will explode. She seeks help from her new friends -Gish, the castle dogsbody, Marceline, the palace librarian, and Talon, one of her most faithful cat companions – to try to find a resolution but her attempts to control her magic are interrupted by a rogue witch, who begins nefarious spells against the Ordinary Folk. What does the witch want and what does it have to do with Willa? Can she get her magic under control before the whole town is doomed and her birthday arrives? 

Written more for independent readers at the upper end of this blog range, this is an imaginative story that capitalises on the current fascination with all things magical while allowing the reader to put themselves into the story.  Given the choices between the two covens. perhaps exploding might be the better option! It relies on the traditional good versus evil for its basic premise while including the modern scenario of a young girl being able to make her own decisions and choose her own path. 


The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic










The House at the Edge of Magic 


The Tower at the End of Time


Walker Books, 2021-2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Crouched behind the stacked crates of the fishmonger’s stall in the market, Nine’s muscles are tensed, her senses alert waiting for just the right moment to snatch the lady’s handbag… For the streets are her world and stealing treasures for Pockets, the leader of the gang, is her life and she knows all the tricks of pickpocketing and all the twists and turns of the alleys and lanes  back to the Nest of a Thousand Treasures. He’s called her Nine because she in the ninth member of the gang, offering her a place to sleep and the odd meal in exchange for the things she steals.  

But Nine dreams of bigger things, a better life and when she steals a house-shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, things begin to change… She knocks on its tiny door and watches in wonder as it grows into a huge, higgledy-piggledy house squeezes between its neighbours. Inside are characters as strange as the house – Eric the housekeeper troll who is lost without his feather duster; a Scottish wooden spoon who wields a sword and Flabberghast , a young wizard who’s particularly competitive at hopscotch… But they have all been put under a spell by a wicked witch, a spell that only Nine can help them break before the clock winds down and which, while offering her a better life means she will have to sacrifice the thing that is dearest to her…

While the time and place of this new three-part series aren’t identified, it is reminiscent of the Dickensian world of Oliver Twist and Fagin but with magic and fantasy thrown in. But there the similarities end for Nine is not Oliver – she is clever, smart and thanks to her visits to the local library where she is actually welcomed, very well-read, and her willingness to save her new “friends” is more about giving herself a prosperous future than any altruistic concerns for them. She is determined to find the strawberries that Pockets says don’t exist… But then, given her life so far she has never known friendship and kindness and her defensiveness and self-interest have been built on the walls of self-protection. So, if she succeeds in breaking the spell, will she be able to just walk away with her prize?  

There is a plethora of fantasy books in the children’s book market at the moment with characters and plots whose limits know only the bounds of their authors’ imaginations, but this one stands out because of Nine and her emotional growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than the untold wealth promised by the glowing jewels imprisoned by the witch’s spell.  The characters are not scary and unimaginable – we can all picture a troll, a wizard and a wicked witch and what can be confronting about a game of hopscotch?

As soon as she saw them on my desk, Miss 11 claimed these for herself and had her nose in them – now she must wait patiently for the third and final, although its title and release date remain as mysterious as Flabberghast’s house.  

Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat

Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat

Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat











Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat

Monica McInerney

Danny Snell

Puffin, 2021

256pp.,  hbk., RRP $A19.99


The Christmas break is not working out for Marcie Gill the way she expected or intended.  Her family own the caravan park at Snorkel Bay, SA but rather than being the idyllic time of past summers, this time her mum and dad have had a big argument and her dad is living in one of the empty caravans, her beloved Gran has had a fall, broken her hip and is slowly recovering in hospital and there are big financial worries as well.

Marcie, like most 10-year-olds, prefers things to be predictable but they’re not helped by Fred, her younger brother that we all know and may even be, or Jemima, her tennis-mad older sister who has all the wisdom and arrogance of a new teen but is still just a kid.  It seems Marcie’s only peace comes when she is visiting George, Gran’s beloved cat who has stayed on in Gran’s caravan. However, after a visit to her Gran who gives her a ‘wishing stone”, a treasured family heirloom, things begin to change, starting with George the cat being able to answer Marcie’s questions…

McInerney has turned all her skill and experience in writing for adults in crafting this charming story for children combining a relatable family with all its foibles and flaws with just a teensy bit of magic so it straddles the real-life/fantasy fence just as its intended audience does.  Even the sceptics can suspend their belief to accept the wisdom of George but can argue that the wishing stone is perhaps what Marcie believes rather than having special powers. Because George can only speak if Marcie asks him a question, McInerney has used a smart technique that enables the reader to get inside Marcie’s head as she ponders some questions and articulates others, demonstrating that sometimes adults underestimate not only just how much this age observes of the relationships and events around them but how much they deserve an explanation so they don’t continue to blame themselves or fix what can’t be fixed. While the wishing stone plays its part in the narrative, it also helps us realise that wishes don’t necessarily come true through magic – we can make them come true with some thought, logic, and application. 

Deep thoughts for a book that is, above all, a delightful, well-written read that will resonate with so many, particularly those who have spent time in a caravan park and who will be able to visualise Marcie’s life. The addition of Claude and Helen to the cast adds even more reality, especially Claude’s shyness being overcome by the “public” life of the typical park.

A great read-aloud to start the new school year and to encourage students to set some goals and then develop some plans to achieve them.  



Peppa’s Christmas Unicorn





Peppa's Christmas Unicorn

Peppa’s Christmas Unicorn











Peppa’s Christmas Unicorn

Peppa Pig

Ladybird, 2021

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


Peppa’s family are decorating the tree and revisiting lots of lovely memories as they add decorations from times and adventures past.  But there is an empty branch left…

On Christmas Eve, and Peppa and her family are off to a Christmas fair. There’s yummy food, fun games . . . and a carousel with a magical Christmas unicorn!
But what other Christmas magic is in store for Peppa? Will there be something to fill the empty branch?

This is another special story for young readers that brings together favourite times that they can relate to and familiar characters, factors that spread the magic of both Christmas and reading as well as any unicorn.


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, 2021

64pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


“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. A must-have if you have fantasy lovers amongst your readers. 

Witch in Training

Witch in Training

Witch in Training











Witch in Training

Michelle Robinson

Briony May Smith

Walker Books, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
Macbeth: IV.i 10-19; 35-38
This scene and these words from the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth have become the epitome of our perception of witches standing around a cauldron concocting a spell… but where do those ingredients come from?  Are they stored in a special witch pantry to be on hand whenever they feel the need or the urge?  Or is there another secret supply?
In this rollicking rhyme-story, readers are invited to join Betty who is about to learn how to prepare her first spell as a trainee witch. and her mother as they gather the ingredients needed for her first lesson.  There are items to gather from the sky, the wood and other mysterious places and then there is the spell itself to craft.  But this is Betty’s first attempt – can she expect it to go well from the get-go?
Apart from being an engaging read, this is also a familiar tale for our youngsters because, although the circumstances will be entirely different, everyone has had the experience of expecting to do things well especially when we have prepared so well and then finding the outcome not quite what we expected, and having to learn about being resilient, trying again, practising to make progress and all the while leaning from and building on our experience and that of our teachers. 
There is the opportunity to explore the format of recipes, the need to follow instructions, to invent and write their own spells and even speculate on what the unintended consequences could be.
Perhaps even explore those original Shakespearean words and discover just what eye of newt is!  
Love stories like this that can take the reader on all sorts of unexpected journeys…

Spellbound Ponies (series)

Spellbound Ponies

Spellbound Ponies















Spellbound Ponies (series)

Magic and Mischief


Sugar and Spice


Wishes and Weddings


Fortune and Cookies


Ribbons and Rainbows


Dancing and Dreams


Stacy Gregg

HarperCollins GB, 2021

128pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

The ponies of Pemberley Stables have been bound by magic and each of them is trapped in time. Can two brave girls help get them back?

Each story in this new series for newly independent readers focuses on the plight of one of the ponies… Bess the highway pony is very good at robbing the carriages and loves life just the way it is; Prince the racehorse isn’t as speedy as he used to be and his love of fine dining isn’t helping matters; Sparkle the white pony has been magicked to be messy and can’t stop rolling in mud; and Champ the palomino pony has been magicked to be exceptional – or that is what he is telling everyone! Gus the riding school pony is very grumpy and Margot the dressage pony is getting all the steps wrong.   How can Olivia and Eliza help each one?.

With fairly simple plots  and capitalising on young girls’ love of horses and magic, this is a new series for those who are moving to reading independently yet who still need the support of short chapters and illustrations to consolidate their skills.  With the first two available now, and two more in early July, this is a great series to introduce young readers so they can while away the winter weeks ahead with reading.  They will put themselves in the shoes of either Olivia or Eliza or become their friend and be engrossed in the stories and waiting for more. 

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere












The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere

Jaclyn Moriarty

Kelly Candy

A & U Children, 2021

432oo,, hbk., RRP $A22.99


Even though his stepdad was seen dropping him off at school each morning, Oscar didn’t seem to make it through the school gates and Deputy Principal Kugelhopf is demanding a written explanation.

But how can you explain that you were on a quest  to locate nine separate pieces of a key, held by nine separate people, in order to unlock a gluggy silver spell that had trapped the Elven city of Dun-sorey-lo-vay-lo-hey? That the quest was an urgent one because Friday at noon, the spell would become permanent, the Elves would be crushed to death and Oscar would be trapped in this magical world forever? That, even though you’re just a regular non-magical kid who likes to skateboard, your companions were Bronte, a girl who makes magical ‘Spellbinding’ rings, Alejandro, a former pirate/current prince who can shoot arrows and make fire from stones, Imogen, who can read broken maps and is a kickboxing master, Esther, who saved her entire world from some kind of ancient monster, Astrid, a smart ten year old who can read minds, and Gruffudd, a surprisingly speedy (and always hungry) Elf?

But, between himself and Imogen, Oscar manages to recount the adventures and from them emerges the fourth book in the Kingdoms and Empires series, a whimsical fantasy series for independent readers . While there are lots of illustrations, this is one for the older reader who enjoys fantasy and is perhaps looking for a new series to explore if they haven’t already discovered it. 

Witched: The Spellbinding Life of Cora Bell

Witched: The Spellbinding Life of Cora Bell

Witched: The Spellbinding Life of Cora Bell











Witched: The Spellbinding Life of Cora Bell

Rebecca McRitchie

Sharon O’Connor

Angus & Robertson, 2021

320pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


In Jinxed! The Curious Curse of Cora Bell, the first in this series, we met  eleven-year-old Cora Bell who  is a foundling with no memory prior to her life with the elderly Dot and  her cat Scratch. They live in a room hidden behind a wall in the  crowded, industrial city of Urt, where everyone looks out for themselves, and their survival is dependent on scavenging and trading such as rare and exotic things – apple seeds, silver forks, shoe polish amidst fierce competition. Life takes a terrifying turn for Cora when she finds a few words scribbled on a piece of paper. She takes it home and says the words aloud. Suddenly, two plump, hairy fairies named Tick and Tock crash land in her path to warn her that she is in terrible danger. Cora has unknowingly summoned a sinister creature known as a Jinx.  Jinxes eat magical beings and once they have a scent, they never forget it. Cora is thrown headfirst into a world filled with magic, necromancers, shape-shifters, enchantresses, fairies, nightwalkers, witches and giants as her home is destroyed, her family goes missing and she’s pursued by the menacing and powerful Jinx.

The second episode, Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell continued the story and now this is the final in the series. Cora is racing against time. With her beloved guardian, Dot, badly injured, she must face fearsome werewolves, gross beetle worms and a vengeful warlock in order to save her.  But as questions about her long-lost parents arise, Cora and her fairy friends begin a search for the one person who might hold all the answers. The one person who disappeared the same night Cora’s parents did …

Will Cora finally discover the truth about her family? Or will the evil syphon return to finish what he started, and destroy Cora once and for all?

Miss 10, a capable reader (although not as avid as her older sister) loves this series because she sees herself as Cora with hidden magical powers and she becomes fully immersed in the story. It was one of the first of these more ‘grown up’ novels she tackled alone and while she will be thrilled to have the final in her hands, she will also be sad to know it’s the end of something that has carried her through the tricky, long days of lockdown boredom. Nevertheless, it has really helped her develop her independent reading skills as she became so engrossed in it and she is ready for more.  IMO, that a story is endorsed so whole-heartedly by its intended audience is the best review and so this is a series that has a place in any library collection. 

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish











Genie and Teeny Make a Wish

Steven Lenton

HarperCollins, 2021

160pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Grant the genie is like most other genies because he lives in a lamp and is magical, but because he gets his words mixed up his wishes often go wrong.  So when he conjures up a large snake instead of a birthday cake for Queen Mizelda, he is literally tossed out of Genie Land. His lamp lands on Earth but it so bashed and battered he has to find a new home – which he eventually does, in an old teapot. 

Grant is very lonely until he meets the puppy, Teeny. Then Genie and Teeny are kidnapped by the evil purple-loving Lavinia Lavender, and find themselves on-course for a rollercoaster of an adventure – when all they really want is a place to call home…

This is the first in a new series of adventures  that is perfect for those just starting out reading novels.  There is an invisible narrator who speaks directly to the reader inviting them into the story as well as all the textual supports of short chapters, larger and more varied fonts, and plenty of illustrations. And being a series – Wishful Thinking is due in February 2022 and The Wishing Well in Aprilso there is the promise of more adventures to come is a bonus.