Book Review: Aliens, Ghosts & Vanishings by Stella Tarakson & Richard Morden

UFO lifting car in spooky green tones. Cover image for book Aliens Ghosts & Vanishings. Aliens, Ghosts & Vanishings – Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories
Stella Tarakson & Richard Morden
Random House Au RRP: $27.99

Tween non fiction books can be a bit dry and occasionally even condescending. It’s a funny old age group to appeal to. This is the book I would have wanted for my 10th birthday! It’s non fiction fun for kids who like their reading a little bit spooky!

As a kid, I was obsessed with a TV show called In Search Of. Starring Leonard Nimoy, minus the Spock ears, each episode explored great unsolved mysteries like UFOs, Big Foot and the Bermuda Triangle. It was just scary enough to keep me guessing without serious nightmares, and curious enough to send me to the local library for further research (pre-Google, of course).

Nimoy’s epic myths were fascinating, but they were also very much overseas! Australia has its fair share of tall tales and legends, so it’s terrific to see them brought together in this clever collection for today’s young readers. This is a top read for inquisitive kids (around 10-15 years), but also a perfect gift for tourists or friends abroad. I have two words for you – DROP BEARS!

From Picnic at Hanging Rock to Min Min lights, Tarakson covers Australia’s X-Files. There are tales old and new, including those stories we know to be fake and others that leave us guessing. The illustrations are evocative but spare, with a few archival photos thrown in for good measure, giving the impression of an encyclopedia – with a twist. The black, white and green palette throws out a vintage vibe along with connotations of all things that creep, glow or go bump in the night.

Miss 9 took a look at it for me and deemed it ‘intriguing and engaging’. As an animal lover, her favourite chapter covered the Tasmanian Tiger – a real animal thought to be extinct, but which still pops up in reported sightings from time to time. Tarakson covers facts and figures about the last known examples of these ‘thylacines’ and details of recent sightings. She also proposes some reasons why people may fabricate sightings (to slow down logging in the Tasmanian forests, for example) as well as why others may cover up facts (to continue logging!).

The author says she consciously decided to leave these stories open ended to encourage critical thinking. Mysterious tales like this are perfect conversation-starters with kids, who can take the facts and mull them over, research them further and draw their own conclusions. Many sections conclude with links to ‘further reading’. It’s never been more important for kids to learn valuable skills like information literacy and critical reading than in this ‘post truth’ age. How do we judge whether a story is true or not? What facts are available? Can we trust the storyteller?

If you or your kids love history, nostalgia or spooky camp fire stories, this book is a must-read these holidays.

Looking for tween non fiction fun? Buy Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings at your local bookstore.

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