Barney and the Secret of the French Spies – Jackie French



Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781460751305

ISBN 10: 1460751302

On Sale: 22/01/2018

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Another gripping episode in the story of Barney and Elsie, providing readers with more insight into the early days of the European colony in Sydney and NSW and I’m so excited that next term I’m using Birrung the Secret Friend with my Year 4s in preparation for their ‘First Contact’ unit. My experience from last year informs me that the children love this as a read-aloud and are intrigued and stirred to discussion and debate on its themes.  I love knowing that those who are ‘ hooked’ will continue to read in the series and now that there are four will be able to satisfy their curiosity on a number of points.

This narrative takes up Barney’s story now that he is grown and becoming a successful farmer and still in love with Elsie. But who is Elsie really? How is it that this girl neither a convict nor daughter of a soldier came to be in the colony?

When Elsie becomes ill with a fever, her delirium reveals her native tongue of French and speculation becomes even more urgent as a war half a world away rages between the British and Napoleon’s France.  The true reason for Elsie not speaking all the previous years since Barney found her starving and cold is out in the open. Will it make any difference to Barney? More urgently will it put Elsie in danger with the authorities?

Once again Jackie French has uncovered history long ignored or forgotten including that of the first female botanist to sail around the world and achieve great things.

As usual the research is impeccable and the writing accessible even for children as young as 7 or 8.  Barney’s story has become special for many readers and I dare to hope this is not the last of history’s secrets Jackie will share with us.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.


Sweet Adversity – Sheryl Gwyther


sweet-adversity.jpg   TBC

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd

ISBN: 9781460755105
ISBN-10: 1460755103
RRP : $17.99


In her new historical novel Sheryl Gwyther takes  readers on a dramatic, sometimes tense and often poignant adventure to a grim time in Australia’s past – the Great Depression. While the Wall St collapse impacted all around the world, Australia suffered terribly because of a variety of factors; huge loans from England, over-supply of our trade goods and the sponsorship of both returned soldiers and immigrants among them. For many it was a precarious time of minimal survival.

Adversity McAllister, only child of theatrical parents, is among those for whom this was a heart-breaking and dangerous time. Her parents know that their livelihood is in jeopardy as travelling thespians so think their best action for their beloved daughter, along with her clever cockatiel, is to have her in a home where she will be well-cared for and protected. Little do they know that the vile Matron in charge is not only far from the kindly woman she presents to outsiders but a ‘crook’ who skims off the government funding and worse, has an arrangement to sell useful or promising children off as nothing more than indentured slaves to an extremely odious co-conspirator.

Addie is not a docile child by any means (love her Mighty Girl sassy attitude) and when she believes that her parents have perished in a drowning accident in their travels and then Macbeth, her Shakespeare quoting bird, is likely to be killed, she takes action. Escaping the Emu Swamp Children’s Home with Macbeth via a borrowed gypsy caravan Addie first lands with a camp of ‘lost children’ all of whom are fending for themselves.  At least Addie makes one true friend here who proves to be a lifesaver.  But this respite doesn’t last long as the vile Matron and villainous Scrimshaw catch up with her and she is dragged back to the home. Aided by an unlikely ally she and little Jack, whom she has protected during her time at the home, are bundled off to Sydney where Addie is to be sold to a theatre where her acting and singing talents will bolster the failing performances. Addie has discovered the perfidy of Matron Maddock and she is determined not only to extricate herself and Jack from their predicament but to find the pair of them a safe haven.

Depression times Sydney is a dangerous place for many but especially vulnerable children but Adversity demonstrates her intellect and spirit as she contrives a safe escape for herself, Macbeth and little Jack.

This is a tale of courage and resilience set against a backdrop of extraordinarily difficult times and seemingly insurmountable odds. Addie is an impressive hero. Despite her youth and her troubles, she refuses to bow to the immense pressures and evil predation put upon her.

A narrative which explores a seamy side of our history but celebrates the triumph of one young girl, this is a must for your shelves and your avid historical fiction readers.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11 years upwards.

Read the story behind the story here. Thank you Sheryl for sharing this!


I am Sasha – Anita Selzer



Penguin Random House

April 2018


RRP $17.99

Some triumphant recounts of survival against all odds have come out of the horror of the Holocaust. I am always humbled in admiration for those who endured such deprivation, suffering, cruelty and pain with courage and dignity and who rose from the basest of treatment to resume living – raising families, contributing to communities, sharing their accounts, ensuring those lost are not forgotten.

To be a single mother at any time is not easy. To be so and a Polish Jew at the outbreak of World War II must have been terrifying. For Sasha and his mother Larissa the war which creeps up almost imperceptibly is, as it was for so many other Polish Jews, a litany of abuse, hate, starvation and constant fear. Fortunately, these two by divine fate and a few truly good people, both Jew and Gentile, somehow managed to keep one step ahead of the feared aktion raids by Nazis and discovery of their hiding places and identity.

Their most singular salvation however was Larissa’s inspired decision to trade her most valuable piece of jewelry for Arayan papers for a mother and daughter – whereupon her son Sasha became Sala, a teenage girl. Hidden in plain sight thus, Sasha spent three years and half of his teenage years impersonating a girl (obviously because of the Nazis’ practice of telling boys to take down their trousers checking for circumcision).

When the war ends this indomitable mother and son are able to relocate to spend some time in safety and adjusting to a new normality in some of the many European displaced person camps. Finally Sasha is able to resume his own teenage masculine self and joyously meets his future wife Mila and her family in the camp.  Both families immigrate to Australia where Sasha’s adult daughter now writes non-fiction including this account of her grandmother and father based on Larissa’s own hand-written memoirs.

Truly compelling reading with an intensity that will capture readers both male and female, this memoir also includes photographs.

This is a not-to-be-missed book and definitely an addition to your upper primary and secondary shelves.

Begone the Raggedy Witches (The Wild Magic Trilogy: Book 1) – Celine Kiernan



Walker Australia

ISBN: 9781406366020
Imprint: Walker
Release Date: April 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99


Just wow!! If you have readers who love HP or other magical worlds they are going to love this new series. Set in Ireland with a close family of three generations but one that has secrets. Mup lives with her mum, baby brother, dad (when he’s not away working on oil rigs) and great aunt.  But the night that Aunty Boo lies in hospital on her way to leaving this earthly realm strange things befall this family. First Mup sees the ‘raggedy witches’ leaping from tree to tree, following their car all the way home. Then as she tries to go to sleep she hears the witches enter the kitchen and despite her Aunty’s spirit telling her not to go downstairs, of course she does. Her Mam is surrounded by the horrible and frightening creatures and it’s as if she’s been bewitched into leaving with them to go to some other place. It’s only at the last minute that Mup and Aunty are able to prevent this but the witches don’t give up easily. Their next move is to kidnap Mup’s dad.  When Mup realizes that her Mam is the heir to the evil Queen of Witch’s Borough, she also realizes that she too is a witch and suddenly the whole family are embroiled in a rescue mission to save her dad and the long-enslaved inhabitants of her mother’s true world.

Men and women who can transform at will, ravens that rhyme and cats that talk, illegal magic and outlawed clans, the tyrannical Queen and her evil pack of followers are all part of the mix against whom Mup and her family must do battle. This is one exciting fantastical ride through a new world. It was a one sitting read for me and no doubt others will find it just as compelling.

The next instalment will be just as intense I predict because we all just know that nasty grandmother and Queen is not going to ‘go’ quietly!

Highly recommended for your middle school readers both boys and girls.

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women



Penguin Random House


February 26, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $29.99


What a fantastic book to add to your “Mighty Girl” collection! Covering a diverse selection of outstanding women from diverse fields of achievement and endeavor, this is a worthy addition to any primary or lower secondary collection.

The layout is particularly attractive with a palette of gorgeous colours and each subject with a ‘shout out’ to the person and the reason, a quote that relates followed by a double spread page of information and facing portrait.

There are women from our past as well as those at the forefront of their field now. Here you will find Edith Cowan and Louise Mack, Rachel Perkins and Stella Young, Jessica Watson and Vivian Bullwinkel and so many more – fifty in all.

This is a really beautiful book to savour and  conveys so much positivity to readers about the limitless potential of women to succeed.  As well all proceeds from royalties go to the Smith Family which is a terrific initiative.

Highly recommended for readers aged from around ten years up to sixteen.


A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle [movie tie-in edition]



Penguin Australia


January 29, 2018




How old were you when you first read this iconic book? I believe I was in 6th class so around 11/12. After the legion readers the novel has attracted since its first publishing in 1962 it seems hard to believe that the author had faced numerous rejections in its journey.  Since it went on to win the Newbery Medal, Seqouyah Book Award and Lewis Caroll Shelf Award, as well as being runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award it would seem that those shortsighted publishers guilty of not realising its power lost out.

Although it has been adapted for screen and theatre previously, it is the forthcoming Disney production that has given this timeless novel a huge resurgence and this movie tie-in edition will be no doubt in high demand for young readers.

Just in case you’re completely in the dark the story tells of an extreme adventure undertaken by three children. Meg Murry is considered a bit of a problem child at school prone to emotional outbursts but quite bright. Not as bright however as her five year old brother Charles Wallace, generally regarded as a child genius and possibly also a little unevenly matched with their new friend Calvin. Meg and Charles Wallace come from a loving family with a brilliant and beautiful scientist mother, twin brothers who are athletic and popular and a scientist father who has been missing for over a year.  Three strange beings appear and instruct the trio of friends that they are to rescue Meg’s missing father who has been trapped on a remote planet by an evilness known as The Black Thing. The children soon learn about tessering – the ‘wrinkle in time’ of the title. That is, the ability to move through space at such a speed that time and equilibrium is not disturbed – too greatly. Though there is success in rescuing Mr Murry the children are faced with dreadful dangers as Charles Wallace is entrapped by The Dark Thing and Meg is almost destroyed.  Full of philosophy, belief, trust and loyalty and confidence this book has always been and will remain a rich source of endless debate and discussion.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Movie trailer here – due for Australian release at the end of March.

Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus – Stephanie Owen Reeder



Publisher:   National Library of Australia
Edition:   1st Edition
ISBN:   9780642279156
Publication Date:   01 February 2018

RRP $24.99


What is not to love about this wonderful Heritage Heroes series?  Stephanie Owen Reeder introduces readers to a cast of significant Australians with whom many of us are unaware (myself included).

This new volume continues the high standard set by the previous books with not only the fictionalised story of the person, May Wirth, but also the inclusion of relevant information around the circus both historical and current, the period, day to day life and more with the illustrations vividly enhancing these. These include, as in previous titles, advertisements, banners, newspaper clippings, ephemera and more which all add to the overall beauty of the presentation.

After sharing the 2016 Eve Pownall shortlist with my Year 5s, Lennie the Legend was our hot favourite as a winner and we were all very well pleased when our prediction became actualised.

I cannot help but feel that this new volume will also be shortlisted at least and stands a good chance of winning again.

For me it was a fascinating read. To start with this is a Queenslander who began life as a neglected, impoverished and abused child and was ‘given away’ at the tender age of seven. Fortunately for May she was taken in by the Wirths and became an integral part of their circus family. As she grew older little Miss May proved she was tenacious and talented and eventually reached the dizzy heights of performing with the legendary Barnum & Bailey circus in the United States as well as performing for royalty in England. With such an illustrious and long-lived career as May had it is indeed a shame her name is so little known in the common lore of our country. This book will be pivotal in changing that as it introduces the present generation to one of our first Mighty Girls – one who refused to give up, and who stood up for equal rights her whole life.

Well done to the author for this superb account of the indomitable Miss May.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.



The Firefly Code – Megan Frazer Blakemore



Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 01-12-2017
ISBN: 9781681195278
Imprint: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
RRP: $11.99


Mori and her friends have grown up a tight-knit circle in their neighbourhood in Old Harmonie.  They believe their life to be normal and regular although they know their city is ‘apart’ from others, except for similar communities around the world.  Their world is sheltered from the outside and well-ordered with state of the art scientific benefits.  Mori’s grandmother and her dearest friend Dr Varden were the founders of this Utopian settlement, with their research into genetic enhancements leading the way for a perfect world. But Baba died when Mori was just little and even before that Dr Varden had left Old Harmonie in mysterious circumstances.  Now the city like its counterparts is run by the huge corporation Krita. Still all seems to go on in the same undisturbed manner as always. Every one’s house has the same floor plan, every family eats the same food delivered weekly, every one follows the same rules.

Then Ilana arrives. The new girl in the neighbourhood is beautiful, graceful and athletic to a point of disbelief. But there is something odd about her at times. The way she speaks, the memory lapses and the lack of social mores all point to her being somehow not the usual kind of kid.

The kids of Firefly Lane are curious and not just about Ilana but also the mystery of Dr Varden and their explorations reveal something quite sinister and disturbing. Not least of all is the revelation about Ilana and eventually the planned outcome for her as a ‘failed project’.

This is a mesmerising dystopian novel for younger readers which would lead to deep and philosophical discussions in much the same way as Lowry’s The Giver.

In a 21st century world where designer babies, artificial intelligence and humanoids are becoming more and more commonplace, this narrative has many themes worth investigating and debating.

The second episode is on its way and I have no doubt it will be just as intriguing as the children strive to discover answers and solutions to their many questions.

Highly recommended for able and discerning readers from around ten years upwards.

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables:  Fight Back – Tim Harris




January 29, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP : $14.99

The kids in 12B are pretty despondent.  Mr Bambuckle has been sent packing by Principal Sternblast and their replacement teacher Miss Frost is as icy as her name.  Every day is a complete nightmare with dreary worksheets and stony silences.  However, there is some hope when mysterious messages from Mr Bambuckle appear randomly. Scarlett discovers the wonders of PhotoCrop and the meaning of Mr B’s message about her having magic fingers becomes clear as she realises she can displace things – even people. Goodbye Miss Frost!

It’s not Scarlett alone who has brought about the good-riddance of their snarly teacher nor is it her doing that the school board reinstates Mr Bambuckle. This is a class who can, when needed, work together to achieve great things.

With Mr B back, on his unicycle with bacon and eggs and Himalayan tea, the class is ready to fire up their imaginations and their self belief.

The text is interspersed with lists and other bits and pieces which makes for some relief for those kidlets who struggle a little with large amounts of print.

Tim Harris kicks another goal with this continuation of the hilarity of Mr Bambuckle’s remarkable class. If you missed my previous review and the lunatic Q&A with Mr B and Tim look back – it’s definitely worth the giggle!


Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards – I believe this is one series that will really grab those reluctant readers.


Triple Treat: Jacqueline Harvey, Belinda Murrell and R. A. Spratt



Such fun to open parcels with books from the most popular authors in my library – and my literary circle! The titles from this trio are highly sought after among my readers and there is always much exchanging in the returns line up with ‘She had this but I want to borrow it next’.

To make it an even more interesting mix there is a beginning, a ‘middle’ and, sadly, an ending.

Kensy and Max #1: Breaking News – Jacqueline Harvey



February 26, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $16.99

Without a doubt, Jacqueline Harvey has the girls from 7 to teens eating out of the palm of her hand with her Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series.  And if you have not had the pleasure of Jacqueline presenting at your school I suggest that you do as she is without doubt the most energetic and engaging author I’ve seen in action.

Now Jacqueline has turned her considerable talents to a series pitched at both boys and girls with a hugely popular premise – espionage! Kensy and Max are twins both alike and also very different. They are well used to living all over the globe as their parents, apparently, are first responders in both tourist resorts and in crisis/humanitarian situations. However, when the pair finds themselves in a completely strange house with only their ‘manny’ Fitz in loco parentis things being to turn very mysterious indeed with their parents missing in a civil revolt and house inhabitants who are both strange and yet oddly familiar.

The two are in turn baffled and curious and begin to piece puzzle pieces together of their own initiative. It would seem that MI6 is a ‘family’ thing!

This new series has both memorable characters and believable circumstances which will thoroughly intrigue readers from around 8 years upwards. I don’t need to use my considerable powers of ESP to predict that this will be as big a winner as Jacqueline’s other series.

Highly recommended for readers from mid-primary up – get it on your shelves ASAP!


Pippa’s Island #3: Kira Dreaming – Belinda Murrell



January 2, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $14.99


Without fail, if I put a Belinda Murrell book, whether Lulu Bell or one of the time slip series into a girl’s hands, I have her hooked from that moment. I’d like to think it’s my skill as a teacher-librarian but really its Belinda’s talent at knowing exactly what will grab her readers!


This is the third in her latest series and already I have girls clamouring for the next so this will be a huge hit when school goes back. There is something just purely delightful and happy about Pippa and her friends and family, even though there are serious moments e.g. Pippa’s absent dad. This doesn’t detract as I believe so many children can relate to the ambivalence about a parent who has absconded from the family. It’s difficult for them to reconcile their own love for that parent and the feeling of rejection/abandonment.

In this new episode, the Sassy Sisters are entering the school talent quest and while Pippa’s besties, Cici, Meg and Charlie are rapt about this opportunity, Pippa has real problems with her stage fright. Unexpectedly, it is this which provides a catalyst for Pippa to resume some ‘friendly’ relations with her MIA father.

These stories are fabulous narratives about real life situations to which readers can relate – despite the fact that they may not live on a tropical island!

Again, highly recommended for readers from around eight years upwards and if you’ve missed the first two, put them on your ‘to buy’ list as well!


Friday Barnes #8: Never Fear – R. A. Spratt



January 2, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $15.99


When I gently broke the news to my avid Friday readers that the forthcoming book would be the last in the series there was full scale caterwauling and gnashing of teeth. The only thing that saved me from literary lynching was the promise of a new series in the pipeline – whew!


I’ve mentioned this before. I love Friday! I love her geekiness, her gauche-ness, her daggy clothes and social ineptitude.


Highcrest Academy has a new principal and she is one seemingly mean and shockingly capable young woman. She promptly promotes Friday to Year 12 to ‘extend’ her and Friday is convinced that this means she’s just one step away from being ousted from what she regards as her home.

Along with this is the persistent rumour of long hidden gold somewhere in the school grounds and when implosions and explosions begin to disrupt the regular (!!) routine of Highcrest everyone is on edge.


Some huge questions are answered in this final volume. Will Friday ever kiss Ian? Can Melanie stay awake long enough to observe it? Who will still be a student in the academy at the end of year? Is the new principal who she says she is or an imposter? And will Friday ever kiss Ian? 😉


There will be some sad faces at this the final Friday chapter but reassure your readers that more great stuff is on its way from R. J. Spratt’s imaginative mind!

Highly recommended for readers from around mid-primary upwards.