Tag Archives: Spy Stories

The Enigma Game – Elizabeth Wein

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Allen & Unwin

August 2020

ISBN: 9781526601650

Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Elizabeth Wein continues her stellar historical novel series with another look at a fascinating aspect of World War II, this time weaving a wonderful tale around the famous Enigma code.

This exciting story revolves around three very diverse main characters: Louisa, orphan of a mixed marriage (English and Jamaican) who is habitually judged unfairly due to her race and culture, despite the fact that she has raised in a very ‘English’ manner; also subject to prejudice is Ellen McEwan, a Traveller, who is working as a driver for the RAF at the nearby airfield and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart, young pilot in the locally stationed squadron.

Louisa’s loss of both her parents in rapid succession means she needs to find work – not easy for a girl of colour – but is hired by the owner of a pub in Windyedge, Scotland, to be carer for an elderly aunt, herself a colourful and feisty character of German descent. It is in the small village, most notable for the airfield close by, that Louisa encounters Jamie and Ellen, who have known each other for years.

All three are desperate to fight back against the enemy and when the trio find themselves in possession of the mysterious Enigma code machine by means of an even more mysterious German flier, they use the machine to the advantage of Jamie’s squadron to inflict as much damage as possible on the relentless German assault by air.

It’s a deadly and dangerous course for the young people but they are all made of stern stuff and are determined to wreak havoc on the despised Germans.

The interaction between all the characters, both primary and secondary, is fascinating and eminently engaging and for young readers this is a superb way to ‘learn history’ that might otherwise be quite dull while also reflecting on attitudes and intolerances, sadly still all too prevalent today.

This was a gripping read which I thoroughly enjoyed and I truly warmed to these young characters, each so very different yet united in their unwavering determination and strength of character.

I highly recommend it for young readers from around upper primary onwards and would be certainly advocating it for a ‘read around your topic’ program.

Kensy and Max #3: Undercover – Jacqueline Harvey

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9780143791904

Penguin Random House

9780143791904

March 5, 2019

Random House Australia Children’s

 

$16.99

Jacqueline Harvey has done it again with another super episode in her cracking new series about the two intrepid twins, Kensington and Maxim aka Kensy and Max.  The children’s parents are still MiA but news of them is filtering through and they know they are getting closer to unravelling the mystery of the kids’ grandparents who disappeared before the twins were born. After a couple of rather nasty incidents in London, the twins, Fitz and Song are sent off to Sydney by their indomitable Granny Cordelia, head of Pharos – the security organization with which the whole family is involved.

The twins are detailed to befriend a brother and sister at their very new posh school to prevent a possible kidnapping.  Neither is particularly impressed either with their targets or the school itself and would struggle indeed if not for their other new friend, a would-be spy named Curtis.  But what seems like a very straightforward mission at first quickly becomes more convoluted as the twins realise that somehow the fate of their parents is connected with the less than charming Dash Chalmers. The children must employ all their new spy strategies as well as their natural aptitudes to successfully resolve this new and potentially deadly situation.

It’s another superb action filled adventure which will be equally enjoyed by both boys and girls from around ten years upwards. Kensy and Max are both extremely likeable characters each with their own personality foibles that make them even more relatable. Each adventure is also liberally sprinkled with humour and lighter moments to leaven the seriousness of the ‘spy’ factor and of course, the decoding of each chapter heading also provides an extra soupçon of fun.  This series, as with Jacqueline’s previous much-loved books, focuses on important themes of family bonds, loyalty, trust, friendship, courage and resourcefulness.

Highly recommended for mid-primary students upwards – and you’d best get at least two copies!

Truly Tan #7: Baffled – Jen Storer. Illustrated by Claire Robertson

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tan

Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780733334139
ISBN-10: 073333413X
Series: Truly Tan
October 2018
Imprint: ABC Books

RRP $16.99

Can I just say I truly love Tan? Yes sirree, I do! Since the first one I ever read I found this series very appealing and loads of fun. There is a real trend for detective/mystery/spy stories for younger readers but they don’t all quite hit the spot for the much younger ones and this one does.  Kiddos from around 7 years old who are able readers will find these readily engaging and accessible.  But it’s not just the mystery aspect which is so attractive. The beautiful, loving and plain old-fashioned fun of Tan’s family and friends’ interactions creates a narrative that is very easy to love.

In this new episode Tan and her bestie Gloria continues their adventures ; with a school outing – at night, by torchlight to some of the creepier parts of Peppercorn Valley, helping out at Gloria’s parents’ shop after an accident and discovering the mystery of some very odd graffiti.

The very strangest part of the adventure is trying to unravel exactly what is going on at Journey’s End, the spookiest house in the town, and why the old ladies have those strange symbols all over the house. Are the old dears ok? Tan and Gloria are determined to find out the truth and make sure they are.

I love Tan’s quirky diary entries (always informing us of which pen she is using!) and the elucidation of more unusual vocabulary – what an opportunity to extend language!

There is such a wonderful ‘feel good’ aspect to these stories with lots of solid values woven throughout – loyalty, honesty, friendship, compassion and empathy.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.

The Traitor and the Thief – Gareth Ward

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35296530

Walker Books Australia

July 2017

ISBN 9781925381504

RRP $17.99

I will confess I’m not a real steampunk aficionado (His Dark Materials excepted!) but this is a complex and interesting narrative. It’s difficult to determine an actual setting either time or place except that it is in England, opening in London, and post ‘Tedwardian’ apparently.  Proper nouns and regular words (often adjectives) are skewed to be almost but not really familiar so readers will need to be pretty sharp to follow these. I found this aspect a little disconnecting but that would be down to first statement I think.

Sin is a young orphan who was abandoned at birth by his mother, raised in an institution and subsequently came under the ‘employ’ of a Fagin-like creature called The Fixer.

During one of his usual pickpocket/petty thieving expeditions Sin is hunted and then taken by two members of a strange organisation known as COG (Covert Operations Group). This has been founded by the prodigious and well-known inventor Nimrod Barm who desires to prevent further global warfare and bloodshed for which many of his weapon inventions have been used.

It seems that COG is actively recruiting youngsters to train as espionage agents in this action to thwart warmongers and power players.  Sin is one of a group of roughly dozen latest recruits to enter a five year training program. From the start he is bewildered and somewhat sceptical but is content that food, warmth and a roof over his head is a better option than being half-starved and scampering across London roofs to avoid sheriffs.

Like all good spy stories, there are twists and turns aplenty and Sin soon finds himself embroiled with traitorous attempts to sabotage the entire project. Forced into an alliance with the school bully Sin digs deeper and deeper risking his own life as he does.

Able readers who enjoy a challenging and intricate plot will really enjoy this and certainly it offers real scope for some ethical discussions particularly in the current global political climate.

Recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.