Poetry Box review: James Norcliffe’s Mallory, Mallory – The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy

James Norcliffe, Mallory, Mallory: The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy illus Emily Walker, Penguin Random House (Puffin) 2020

I love opening a book without reading the blurb or reviews. I read the title and that is my entry in. I like being surprised and taken on a book adventure. After James Norcliffe’s excellent The Loblolly Boy (2009) I knew I was in for a treat, and yes, a surprising book adventure.

James’s new novel for junior readers is an utter delight. I gobbled it up on a rainy Sunday morning in bed, but it would work just as well under a shady tree on a shimmery hot summer day or in a refuge on a mountain in the falling snow . With a nod to Dr Seuss, you could read this book anywhere: in a tree hut, in the sand dunes, in a huge comfy armchair, in a hot-air balloon, on a train, a plane or at the kitchen table.

Emily Walker’s quirky illustrations are misty and magical – and a perfect match.

Mallory is the meanest, cruellest, most unpopular girl in the universe. She hatches the meanest plan: she decides she will kidnap the tooth fairy when she puts her wobbly tooth under her pillow and demand a ransom.

Arthur is her best friend (let’s face it her only friend) and he is loyal and kind and sensible. He is also good at asking questions and immediately spots flaws in Mallory’s cunning plan. He is not very good at going against her wickedness.

Hmmm! Now I come to the tricky bit, because I want to tempt you to read the book without giving away SPOILERS! This story has the surprising twists and turns of a twisty labyrinth.

The tooth fairy is also cunning! The title tells us that. So yes mean old Mallory catches the tooth fairy, but what happens next is pure reading delight. This is a story of cunning and trickery, but it is also a story of loyalty and friendship – and learning curves!

In order to get the ransom, the tooth fairy insists they must travel to the Chancellor of the Hex Checker in Orolia. All very mysterious. This is the land of teeth and truth. Like all good stories there will be obstacles, things will not always be as they seem and there will be epiphanies (brain and heart flashes of new understandings). There will be mysterious looks and mysterious undertones. You will hear the fierce cry of canines and you will meet the Molars who are Giants who are Pie Chefs who have enormous appetites for enormous pies.

This book has humour spots. At the Customs Gate, Arthur asks the tooth fairy if he should knock and the tooth fairy strongly advises him too, ‘or we’ll be waiting outside the door for a very long time.’

Sometimes humour and logic mix. When Arthur asks the tooth fairy how far to go he gets this perfect answer: ‘about twice as far as halfway’. Love it!

Sometimes you get storybook wisdom: ‘Sometimes the journey is far more pleasant than the destination.’ I feel like that about writing!

I like the way James plays with a saying in order to share a little truth. The tooth fairy reckons Mallory doesn’t always see ‘the wood for the trees’ and Arthur wonders what that means. I love the answer: ‘I think your friend Mallory only sees the world from a very small place called Mallory.’ I hugged that thought!

Mallory, Mallory is a treasure of a book with its story bends, its very cool characters, its wisdom gleams and its excellent ending. I finished this book and I felt warm inside. It is a quiet book that will show you the woods and trees, the tooth and the truth, and make you hungry for more! Which is fortunate as there is a second one in the pipeline: Mallory, Mallory Trick or Treat. Bravo James Norcliffe!

James Norcliffe is an award-winning poet, educator, editor and author of books for adults and children. The Loblolly Boy won the 2010 NZ Post Junior Fiction Award. Since then he has published the sequel, The Pirates and the Nightmaker (2015). You can find details of his other children’s books and awards on the Penguin Random House link below.

Emily walker has twice been shortlisted for the Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Illustration (2017 and 2019) and in 2019 she was also a finalist in the Margaret Mahy Illustration Award. Mallory, Mallory: The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy is her first book commission.

Penguin Random House page

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