Thirteen local school kids have unleashed their imaginations to produce a clever book with an important message.

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The young authors aged between eight and 15 years wrote and illustrated the children’s storybook, Finnley’s Great Escape, in only three days under the direction of Toowoomba based creative writing facilitator Emma Mactaggart.

Since its release, it has earned enthusiastic praise including an official endorsement from Jackie French, the Australian National Children’s Laureate for 2014-15 and author of popular children’s book The Diary of a Wombat.

The main character, Finnley, is a small native fish who lives in a beautiful home where the water is clean, the trees are shady and there is plenty of food for everyone. But one day, Finnley and his friends are swept away to a smelly, muddy, polluted shallow where they encounter the terrible pest fish, Tilapia, and must find a way to escape and return to their healthy home.

The creation is a combined effort between natural resource management group Condamine Alliance and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority as part of the Northern Basin Tilapia Exclusion Strategy. It is hoped the storybook will be enjoyed by people young and old and help raise awareness about the threat of tilapia to native fish in local rivers and creeks. “The book is a tremendous achievement, featuring beautiful handpainted illustrations and a clever storyline with a significant message,” said Penny Hamilton, Deputy CEO of Condamine Alliance. “These young people have taken on a very important task of helping to raise awareness about the threat of tilapia to our catchment and they have done a wonderful job. The story book cleverly highlights the problems caused by tilapia if they enter our river system and reinforces the importance of having a healthy, safe habitat for our native fish.”

Tilapia are considered one of the world’s worst pest fish and Australia’s largest river system, the Murray-Darling Basin, is at great risk of being infested with them. “They are the cane toads of our waterways and are potentially devastating for our rivers and creeks,” Mrs Hamilton said. “Our local communities are the frontline to protecting the Northern Basin from tilapia and these young authors have stepped up to the challenge.”

Fourteen-year old author Kirrily Pauli said it was very exciting to be part of the project. “I really enjoyed the creative writing workshop because it was a chance to improve and develop my writing skills as well as learn more about our native fish and what I can do to help this worthy environmental cause,” she said.

Meanwhile 10-year old Paige Joyce said the best thing for her was the opportunity to write a story that was both informational and for children. One of the youngest authors, eight-year old Corey Lenton enjoyed sketching the illustrations and filling them with water paints.

The book is available to schools and community groups as a teaching or library resource. Or to buy a copy visit www.condaminealliance.com.au/finnleysgreatescape

Words by Heather Smith | Image by Andrew Coates