His name was Walter by Emily Rodda
HarperCollins, 2018. ISBN 9781460710203
(Age: 10-14) Highly recommended. Themes: Storytelling. Books and reading. Mystery and suspense stories. Folk tales. Supernatural phenomena.
The idea was to do some research for an authentic History lesson in an historic outback town, but what the four students and their teacher encounter that night is much more powerful than anything they had ever imagined. After they are stranded when their bus breaks down they rush to take refuge in an old house nearby as a wild storm brews around them.
This book is suspenseful, eerie and enjoyable from start to finish. It gives a story within a story as the students decide to fill in the time by reading aloud a hand-made book they find in the house. The story is written and illustrated in a fairytale/folktale way using animals as characters and while some of them dismiss it as just a story a few feel an unearthly power that draws them into believing they need to finish the book and release some supernatural phenomena that seems to be lurking in the house. The theme of true love conquering all is also a strong influence in the story.
The students' characters are also used to develop the story - the shy new boy who is grieving the loss of his grandad and their country home, the computer nerd who doesn't believe in anything he can't see, the popular girl who always gets what she wants, the shy sensitive girl who feels the supernatural power of the book first. A large range of readers will find someone to relate to in this book and I think it could be successfully read aloud to a class. Walter, the character in the Folktale is also worth a mention as he develops from a meek boy to an assertive character who accepts his fate but always tries to do the right thing.
A mystery from the town's past is solved, and the book has a fantastic way of showing how history can be uncovered in the most unexpected places and corrected by uncovering the truth. Teacher's notes are available.