Mary-Kate shows kids how they can calm their inner worrier

The hero of a new junior adventure book finds ways to deal with her anxiety as she tries to solve a monster mystery. Author Karen Foxlee tells Shane Green she hopes it inspires kids who might be feeling the same way.

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters, Book 1: The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm is the new junior fiction book from award-winning author Karen Foxlee, and is illustrated by Freda Chiu.

In this Q&A with The Parents Website, Karen explains how her own experiences as a child shaped the character of Mary-Kate.

Congratulations on the book, Karen. We hear so much about rising levels of anxiety among young people, especially over the past two years. Was this your inspiration?

Thanks so much!  I don’t think it was my original inspiration actually.  I really love magic and mysterious things and I’ve always been quite intrigued by monsters.  So, I think primarily I wanted to write about that.  The character of Mary-Kate came pretty quickly when I started to write, though, and I was surprised to find that I was really channeling my own ‘inner child worrier’ as she grew on the page.  Mary-Kate is quite anxious about lots of things and I really started to love the idea that despite this and actually in many ways because of this, she’s really good at solving big monster mysteries.  Of course, now that it’s all written down, I hope that Mary-Kate can be a source of inspiration and comfort to children who might be feeling the same.

This is also based on your own experience as a child…

That’s right! I don’t think we really talked about mental health as much though when I was a child in the seventies.  I wish we had.  I was just always tagged as extremely shy.  Inside I was so terrified of social interaction, of getting things wrong, or saying the wrong thing.  I also worried incessantly about such incredibly strange things.  What would happen if I fell in quicksand or was made to ‘walk the plank’ (thanks Peter Pan!), or if I was abducted by aliens and could never see my mum again! Also, I worried a lot about catastrophes: nuclear explosions (it was the cold war era), mining disasters (I lived in a mining town), tsunamis (even though I was one thousand kilometres from the sea).  I’ve incorporated all these worries into my novels over the years.

I love the fact while Mary-Kate might be anxious, she’s also a (friendly) monster hunter. It gives young readers who might be dealing with their own anxiety such a positive message….

I love that about her so much too! The monsters in these stories all have some serious issues of their own and I just adore that Mary-Kate is going to be growing this unique skill in helping them.  She has a lot of empathy and armed with little more than her glitter pens and her strawberry-scented notebook she refuses to give up in her quest to get to the bottom of these monster mysteries and help as much as she can.


Throughout the book, Mary-Kate is aware of her anxiety but also has things in her ‘tool kit’ that help her through situations, such as breathing exercises. How important was it for you to include some real-life tips for young readers to work through anxiety?

It was incredibly important.  I really drew on lots of things that have helped me over the years too.  These included things as simple as breathing exercises, of breaking things down into small steps, of taking that first step even if it is scary.  I loved writing about the things that help Mary-Kate.  The power of writing thoughts down in a notebook, for instance, or connecting with a friend.  She’s constantly learning new things as she goes on her adventures and hope that in some way these might help a reader.  Of course, I also really want young readers to go a fabulous, fast-paced, adventure.

This is the first in the series. Can you tell us a little about the next book?

I’m so excited about Book 2 which sees Mary-Kate off to the Greek Isles for another amazing adventure.  There’s a rather large mythical monster in need of some assistance.  Mary-Kate will have backpack filled with lucky things and her sparkly red shoes firmly on her feet, ready to solve another mystery and learn more about herself on the way.

Thank you!

About the book

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters, Book 1: The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm is for readers aged 6-10, and is published by Allen&Unwin, RRP $14.99.

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