Ailsa Wild (text), Ben Wood (illus.), Squishy Taylor and the Tunnel of Doom (Squishy Taylor #6), Hardie Grant Egmont, 1 Sept 2016, 128pp., $12.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760127732
If ever there was an Indiana Jones in the making, Squishy is it! Brave, resourceful and impetuous, Squishy lives with her ‘bonus’ family and father. While playing together with Messy, a friend’s dog they help look after when the friend is away, they stumble on to what they are sure is a plot to hide toxic waste under Melbourne, thereby polluting the Yarra River and preventing them from swimming. Naturally, Squishy will save the day by proving all this, but unfortunately things do not go smoothly for her. Instead, of toxic waste she finds something else entirely, but still manages to save the day by finding a way for the evil toxic waste company to be punished for what they do.
While the main plot is an utterly rollicking adventure, there is so much more to love about this book. First, up the cover. To me, seeing children of colour and a different ethnicity is a marvellous and welcome surprise on a cover. This isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but all kids need to see themselves on the covers of the books they read. Young Indian girls need to see Squishy on the cover and saving the day, even if she is being reckless.
They also need to see Squishy’s sister on the cover and see mixed families as something normal. In the book, Squishy’s father has remarried, so her ‘bonus’ family are his new wife’s daughters. The book treats a mixed family as any family, and Squishy and her sisters get into trouble together, and argue, but are always there for each other in the end. Throw in a scene with her mother, who clearly adores the ‘bonus’ kids as if they were her own, and you have a thoroughly modern Australian family.
Squishy herself will appeal to any reader because she could be any kid. She is brave, loving, reckless, doesn’t listen to her father or her sisters and gets into trouble for it. But she stands up for what she believes in too and apologises when she’s wrong.
The utterly adorable art that brings Squishy and her family to life, together with the realistic characters makes this a joyous story that celebrates diversity.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow