The Song Walker

The Song Walker

By Author / Illustrator

Zillah Bethell


Personal Growth

Age range(s)



Usborne Publishing Ltd




Paperback / softback




The Song Walker is an extraordinary new story of friendship, discovery and courage from Zillah Bethell, author of The Shark Caller which won the Wales Book of the Year and the Edward Stanford Children's Travel Book of the Year 2022.

"There are three questions that I need to find the answers to:  Where am I? What am I doing here? And... Who am I?"  When a young girl wakes up in the middle of the desert, she has no idea who she is. She's wearing one shoe, a silky black dress, and she's carrying a strange, heavy case.  She meets Tarni, who is on a mysterious quest of her own. Together, the two girls trek across the vast and ever-changing Australian Outback in search of answers. Except both are also hiding secrets...



Waking up alone in the middle of the desert, a young girl wearing a black dress, one shoe and carrying a heavy case, struggles to keep walking. She has no idea who she is, where she has come from or where she is going to when she meets Tarni, a young First Country Australian girl who is on a quest of her own. Together, the girls embark on a trek across the Australian Outback in search of answers.

The Song Walker is one of those very special books which makes you slow down towards the end as you don't want to leave the story behind. From the very first page, it is completely compelling, immersing the reader in the girls' world. Beautifully constructed, the plot unfolds perfectly with hints and details guiding the reader as the story reaches its climax. Evocative descriptions bring the landscape to life with its shimmering heat and unique flora and fauna. It makes the perfect backdrop for the girls' journey as they learn much about each other and themselves.

The story shows great respect for, and understanding of, Tarni's beliefs and cultural background, encouraging the reader to find out more by offering links to websites where they might find out more. I read this in one sitting, completely immersed in the story. So many threads are woven into the story, developing empathy, sparking conversation and encouraging reflection that this would make an excellent text to share with children in upper KS2 as a class read or as a key text from which to develop work. I cannot recommend this one highly enough!

368 pages / Reviewed by Sue, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 9+


The Song Walker is a beautiful book full of mystery and adventure, set across the Australian Outback. The main character wakes in the desert not knowing where she is, why she is there or what her own name is. She is wearing one shoe, a black dress and carries a heavy locked case. She cannot open it and has no idea what could be inside. Along the way she meets Tarni who helps her to survive in the desert conditions that she is unfamiliar with. She is really resourceful and is able to find water, hunt with a slingshot, and make hats and shoes.

Tarni is from the Alyawarre community and I found it really interesting to discover a bit about their culture and language. The author has even provided a glossary of Alyawarre terms at the start of the book. I have never visited the Australian Outback myself but Zillah Bethell really brought it to life for me. I loved how Tarni navigated using song lyrics as her map to guide her along the way.

Like their journey, The Song Walker is full of twists and turns. The girls meet some really interesting characters along the route that they took. A couple of these characters appear when they are most in need of help; The Drongos, however, were more menacing and hampered their quest. I enjoyed the slow revelation of their back stories as they travel across the outback. As they journey across land they both grow in character and developed a true friendship.

This is a really brilliant middle grade adventure story full of bellbirds and brumby horses, music and culture. I couldn't put it down! I have read The Shark Caller and yet was still surprised by the revelations towards the end.

368 pages / Reviewed by Clair, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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