AWW2013 – Book 5
The Tunnels of Tarcoola
Children’s Mystery Fiction
Library Book, Borrowed from Bribie Island Library
I was drawn to this book when I saw it on display at the library, and I’m very, very glad I was. It’s a children’s book (suitable from around 8 years and above) set in Sydney, combining mystery, history and adventure in one big Famous Five-esque story. It’s about 4 children, including a brother and sister, who were probably closer friends some time before the story started, but still get together every now and then to hang out. One day, a change in tidal conditions leads them to a cave, and beyond that a network of tunnels beneath the old ‘ghost house’. Only, the secret they’ve uncovered may not be as secret as they hoped, as strange men begin to watch what they are doing.
There’s a lot to like about this book. I came to it in a funny mood, too caught up in something else I was reading, so the simpler language and ‘jump straight into the story’ approach jolted me at first. It took me a little while to appreciate the beauty of that, the way the characters – David, Andrea, Martin and Kitty – are ‘unpeeled’ as the story progresses. There’s something very real about the difference among the children – for example, David goes to a selective school; Andrea and Martin are at the same school, but Andrea struggles while Martin thrives; Kitty is younger than the others and still at a primary school, thinking about the possibility of a selective school for the future. There’s no pretending that the friends are all alike, or that their interests necessarily overlap. What does overlap is a shared path and an interest in the ghost house and the tunnels beneath it.
The mystery part of the story is well done too. There’s a real atmosphere created in the tunnels, and the history around them is based on actual history – so another piece of ‘our’ story is being told. It’s acknowledged that different cultures came together to create the community that the children live in, but also that things could be very difficult for some of the residents. The only thing that bothered the teacher/parent in me, was that the children didn’t go to an adult for help when they were being attacked by adults who were strangers – it didn’t ring quite true considering the amount of effort being put into teaching children about safety these days.
This is a book which would make a great read-aloud in an older classroom. It demonstrates the mystery genre really well, and I’d encourage teachers and teacher librarians to book talk and share it. Depending on the age of the children reading it, they might want to explore some Famous Five books or look towards a book like A Whole Nother Story (which is hilarious) or Lemony Snicket. A slightly older reader might even enjoy Trixie Belden (which they keep re-releasing) or they could try the awesome Mosquito Advertising books (which are set in Brisbane so are double awesome).