Arthur: The Always King

Arthur: The Always King

Arthur: The Always King












Arthur: The Always King

Kevin Crossley-Holland

Chris Riddell

Walker, 2022

240pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99


Some time in the late 5th to early 6th century. an obscure Celtic leader called Arthur fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons but it would seem, that anything about him beyond that is open to conjecture among historians as the debate rages on the legitimacy of the historical treatises that document his deeds.

However, despite that, hundreds and hundreds of stories and poems have been written about him, covering each stage of his life from his magical conception at Tintagel, his childhood with older brother Kay in the west of England, his pulling of Excalibur, the sword from the stone, being crowned king of England at age 15 and his formation of the Knights of the Round Table.  And although these appear to be just the inventions of medieval writers, they are as popular today as they were 800 years ago. 

In this extensive collection of the stories focusing on Arthur, author Kevin Crossley -Holland says he has shaped it ‘to tell one story illustrating each stage of Arthur’s dream of a Golden Age such as the world had never seen before, and the idea behind it.” So all the familiar names and characters  like Sir Lancelot, Sir Kay, Sir Galahad, Guinevere and Merlin are featured in these eleven stories as once again, Arthur’s life at Camelot is played out for another generation, each with a “strong moral sense of what’s right, what’s wrong, and how we’re all part of it.” 

Described as “the definitive retelling of the legends of King Arthur” this is a lavishly illustrated book that is suitable for both independent readers, and those wishing to share both the stories and their insight into medieval life that they offer. There is a reason that there have been so many tales that have sprung up about King Arthur, and they they have endured for centuries – this is an opportunity to continue both the legend and the legacy. 


The Secret Lives of Unicorns

The Secret Lives of Unicorns

The Secret Lives of Unicorns











The Secret Lives of Unicorns

Dr Temisa Seraphini

Sophie Robin

Flying Eye, 2021 

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


Every parent, or grandparent, of a young girl up to about 9 will be aware of the fascination that unicorns continue to hold, their mystique never waning. Thus this is the perfect book for those who want to find out more about who and what they really are, where they live and the various species of them.  For not all unicorns are the same with short hair and rainbow manes.

This exposé by the equally mysterious Dr Temisa Seraphina (who may or may not be the expert behind The Secret Lives of Dragons  and The Secret Lives of Mermaidsreveals everything about this magical creature from its origins and evolution to the truth about the myths and tall tales.  It shows how they are so rarely seen these days because the world is no longer what it used to be, and encourages today’s believers to think about the present day environment and what they might be able to do to improve it so unicorns can once again roam as freely as they used to.

As with the others in the series, taking a fantasy subject and treating in a factual way, just as any non fiction text on any other species, is an intriguing way of not only feeding the child’s thirst for knowledge about the particular creature but also to the concept of non fiction itself, bridging the gap between imagination and information in an absorbing way.  

About 20 years ago, a collection of books known as the Ology series which focused on a range of fantasy and not-so creatures in a similar way, began appearing, offering the newly independent readers of the time an insight into the lives and times of creatures like dragons, wizards, ghosts and others and it was the lucky looker who found one on the shelves. I predict this new series (and hopefully there are more) will be just as popular when this new generation is introduced to it, and what better way to transition from fiction to non fiction, both as reader and teacher.  


The Secret Lives of Mermaids

The Secret Lives of Mermaids

The Secret Lives of Mermaids











The Secret Lives of Mermaids

Prof Anuk Tola

Anja Sušanj

Flying Eye Books, 2020

34pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


At the School of Merology (SoM), Professor Anuk Tola (aka Anja Sušanj has been studying the lives, habits and habitats of merpeople for many years in an attempt to be able to communicate with them and those studies have revealed that

  • The word “mermaid” is a misnomer because there is more than just one gender, their societies are large and varied, and each is a unique individual
  • Merpeople are “a highly complex, curious, social, fierce, intelligent and incredibly secretive” species and what little is known has taken hundreds of years to glean
  • Because the ocean is changing so are the merpeople and they and the merologists (those who study merpeople) have to find new ways to work together. 

In the meantime, she has gathered all that is currently known into this highly informative book, a companion to The Secret Lives of Dragons   and  The Secret Lives of Unicorns. Beginning with a section entitled  “What is a merperson?” the reader is introduced to the species, visits the various kingdoms in the world’s oceans and learns about their beliefs, language and so forth. But perhaps the most important section is the final one which examines how and why the oceans are changing , how that is affecting them and what we, as humans, can do to protect both them and their environment. 

Mermaids (and unicorns) continue to be a source of fascination for many, particularly young girls, and this is a really imaginative way to introduce them to the concept of ocean conservation as well as non fiction generally, . To build a complete world in this way, albeit one based on a fantasy, is a clever way to make the reader stop and think about what might live between the waves and pause before they chuck their plastic bag in the water or let their balloons go into the sky.  Somehow it gives a whole new slant on this year’s CBCA Book week theme, “Dreaming with eyes open…”

In the meantime, put March  29 aside to celebrate International Mermaid Day!

The Supernatural Survival Guide

The Supernatural Survival Guide

The Supernatural Survival Guide











The Supernatural Survival Guide

George Ivanoff

Puffin, 2021

176pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


All Hallows Eve, that special night dating back to the 0th century Celtic festival of Samhain when its celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical and spirit worlds blur, allowing more interaction between humans and the inhabitants of the Otherworld. It was held on October 31 to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the long dark winter, particularly in those northern regions of what is now the United Kingdom and bonfires were lit to entice the sun to remember to come back.  It was the final night that the souls of those who had died could roam before ascending to heaven or descending to hell.

As time passed, civilisations rose and disappeared and beliefs and festivals waxed and waned,  the time known as Hallowe’en and all the traditions of witches and ghosts, and masks, costumes and jack-o-lanterns to scare them off has evolved.  So the release of this book, which attempts to make the paranormal more normal is timely.  Drawing on his personal long-term fascination with “the supernatural, the paranormal, the mysterious, the unknown the unexplained and the downright weird” and taking on the role of a child caught between a dad who believes that things like UFOs, ghosts and the yeti are true – “the truth is out there” – and a more practical, pragmatic mum who has a sensible explanation for noises in the night and strange sky shapes; Ivanoff has investigated the more common phenomena and offers a scientific explanation or debunks them.  “The truth is in here!”

Using the child-friendly format of The Australia Survival Guide and The Human Body Survival Guide he tackles topics like  Is the Loch Ness Monster real? Does Big Foot exist? Are there scientific reasons for hauntings? What is cryptozoology? What can explain UFO sightings by multiple witnesses? So young readers will be well-armed as the spooky season approaches.  (And given that The Australia Survival Guide was published just before the Black Summer of 2019-2020, this could prove particularly useful!

Nine Worlds in Nine Nights: A Journey Through Imaginary Lands

Nine Worlds in Nine Nights: A Journey Through Imaginary Lands

Nine Worlds in Nine Nights: A Journey Through Imaginary Lands











Nine Worlds in Nine Nights: A Journey Through Imaginary Lands

Hiawyn Oram

David Wyatt

Walker Studio, 2019

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Theoretical physicist, Professor Dawn D. Gable Ph.D., MRI, MInsiP, deals only in facts and shuns the world of stories and imagination.  So when she is interrupted on her birthday by her niece and nephew whom she hasn’t seen for years and doesn’t even recognise, she is not pleased. Even moreso when they present her with a gift from her brother, and she tosses the unwanted present aside. But as midnight draws close, she finds herself being drawn to it as if by an unseen force, and tearing off the wrapping she discovers a book, a childhood favourite called Lost in the Imagination, written and illustrated by “dreamers, fantasists and folklorists”, and which took her and her brother to amazing worlds when they were young, but which she has no time for now.

Tossing the book on the fire, she is surprised that it does not burn – and the strange magic begins. 

This is the journal of that magic, as led by the strange creature Hyllvar, descendant of Nidhogg, the ancient Norse dragon, who emerges from the flames, Prof Gable realises she is alone, bereft of new ideas and inspiration and in need of a challenge…

Superbly crafted and beautifully illustrated, both the professor and the reader are taken on a journey to explore a city of robots, the ancient city of Kor, the miniature world of Lilliput and flying island of Laputa, a mountainous home of mythical beasts, the primeval island of Buyan, Atlantis, Valhalla and more. From cover to cover this is a mystical and magical book that even non-fantasists like me are drawn into in a way that I was drawn into both Middle earth and Hogwarts. It is captivating and a must for all those whose imaginations know no bounds and who delight in exploring the mythical places of the ancients, the literary creations of minds long gone but whose fantasies linger.  Miss 8 and Miss 13 are going to love this and perhaps venture into more classical tales of fantasy as their imaginations will be piqued to read more. In fact, Grandma might make up a package of the stories that go with the worlds just to entice them!

Land of the Echidna People

Land of the Echidna People

Land of the Echidna People








Land of the Echidna People

Percy Trezise

Mary Lavis

Angus & Robertson, 2019

32pp, hbk., RRP $A24.99


“Aboriginal oral history tells of hundreds of Dream Roads criss-crossing the Australian continent which were made by Ancestral Beings during their travels at the beginning of the Dreamtime. It also tells of a vast freshwater lake at the top of Australia and stories about ancestors like the Anta Moola sisters. There is also scientific evidence to suggest that 36 000 years ago there was a large freshwater lake at the top of Australia. Scientist called it the Lake of Carpentaria…and it was also known as Balanorga, the big water.”

The Journey of the Great Lake series tells the story of Jadianta, Lande and Jalmor, three children of the Kadimakara People who were caught in a storm and stranded across the great lake, Balanorga and their quest to return to their homeland as they journey around Balanorga, along the Dream Road of the Anta Moola sisters to find their way home.  The series, first published 20 years ago, comprises Home Of The Kadimakara People, Land of the Dingo People, Land of the Magpie Goose People ,  Land of the Emu People, Land of the Snake PeopleLand of the Kangaroo People, Land of the Brolga People  and the final in the series, Land of the Echidna People . 

Written at a time when there was very little indigenous literature for young readers  available, the series was and is a valuable addition to the resources supporting studies of Aboriginal cultures, providing young readers with an insight into the life and lands of northern Australia 30 000 years ago




Yahoo Creek An Australian Mystery

Yahoo Creek An Australian Mystery

Yahoo Creek An Australian Mystery











Yahoo Creek An Australian Mystery

Tohby Riddle

A & U Children’s, 2019

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


From time immemorial the stories passed through the generations of all cultures have included tales of creatures that appear to be a mixture of human and ape, large and hairy and always elusive. 

Throughout the first century or so of Australian settlement by Europeans, the pages of colonial newspapers were haunted by reports of a bewildering phenomenon: the mysterious yahoo or hairy man …

But what was it? 

Yahoo Creek breathes life into this little-known piece of Australian history – which, by many accounts, is a history still in the making. Using many newspaper extracts dating back to the early 1800s  both within the pages and on the endpapers, words by Ngiyampaa Elder Peter Williams who shares the perspective of the Aboriginal peoples who have been seeing these creatures for millennia, and his own haunting images using a palette of inky blues to add to the mood and the mystery, Tohby Riddle explores the ongoing mystery of yahoo encounters. 

Also known as a yowie, this is a book that sucks you in to read all the reports and begin to wonder whether this really is an imaginary creature – it achieves its purpose of beginning conversations about history, storytelling and truth.  

Intriguing, absorbing and utterly mystifying!

Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Athena: The Story of a Goddess











Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Imogen Greenberg

Isabel Greenberg

Bloomsbury, 2018

64pp., hbk., RRP $A27.00


Greece’s Mount Olympus is the home of the gods and goddesses, including Zeus, Poseidon, Hera and Aphrodite.  It was also the home of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and War and in this new picture book readers are introduced to her. From her extraordinary birth – sprung from the head of her father, in the midst of a thunderous headache – to her refusal to take no for an answer, she inspired powerful gods, goddesses and humans and determined the terrifying fate of those who dared to cross her path. 

Illustrated in graphic novel style, similar to that of The Story of Tutankhamun, it is more suited to independent readers who can manage the small cursive font. The stories associated with the Greek gods and goddesses, their amazing feats and their legacy continued in modern literature references have proven popular with the Year 3+ crowd over the years, and once they know about them they are hooked.  Perhaps this is the book that will spark a run on your 292.2 section! 

Teaching notes are available.

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts - Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods











Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Craig Phillips

Allen & Unwin, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99


Ever since there have been children there has been children’s literature and having children learn lessons about life through this literature has been a constant thread in every culture across the globe.  Since the earliest days of mankind, stories have been created and told from generation to generation not just to explain the unknown but also to inspire better, more mature and moral behaviour in children with dire consequences inflicted by fearful creatures if boundaries were breached.  Didacticism was alive and well with stories featuring giants, trolls, witches, beasts and other fantastic figures achieving amazing things, wreaking havoc, surviving disasters or decreeing punishments so that adults as well as children lived in fear of retribution for misdeeds.

Now, with modern communication and science, while such creatures do not have the power of fear they once had, nevertheless they are still a central part of today’s literature with stories like the Harry Potter series and Game of Thrones commanding huge audiences as well as a continuing fascination for those stories in which the modern have their origins.  But until now, these have been retold and republished in formats that tend to scream “younger readers” and from which those who see themselves as more mature than the “picture book brigade” shy away from regardless of the quality of the content.  So to have ten traditional tales from ten countries brought together in graphic novel format as creator Craig Phillips has done is going to create a buzz of excitement.  Here, in one superbly illustrated volume, are stories featuring giants, trolls, witches and beasts with all their magical powers and chilling feats and universal messages of courage and obedience. that will appeal to those who are fascinated by this genre in a format that will support and sustain their reading.

Phillips has kept his audience in mind as he has drawn – the imaginary creatures are all sufficiently gruesome and grisly so their characters are clear but not so much that they will inspire nightmares. The mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters offers something for each reader to explore and perhaps think about why stories from such diverse origins have such similar themes.  Is there indeed, a moral and ethical code that links humans regardless of their beliefs and circumstance?

One that will appeal to a wide range of readers and deserving of its place among the 2018 CBCA Notables.


Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings











Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings: Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories

Stella Tarakson

Richard Morden

Random House Australia, 2016

288pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Australia really is a ‘story country” and the tales, tall and true that have been collected in this volume prove just how rich and diverse this nation is.  Even our unofficial national anthem focuses on a ghost so why wouldn’t there be a wealth of stories about mythical creatures, mysterious locations, haunted places, UFO sightings, bizarre disappearances and strange happenings?


From bunyips and yowies to Azaria Chamberlain and the disappearance  of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, this is a collection that will absorb the lover of the weird, wonderful and utterly mysterious, some familiar and others not-so. Ostensibly for those 10 and over, its clear format, short chapters and abundant illustrations will appeal to any independent reader who is interested in finding out more about the strange and unusual that this country has on offer.   

As well as the stories themselves, there are pages with extra information and some of the sources the author used for her research are included for those who wish to investigate further.  

Identified as a Notable Book in the 2017 Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, I know a couple of young readers who are going to be having to do scissors-paper-rock to see who reads this one first.