Blackbeard’s Treasure – Iszi Lawrence


Bloomsbury Australia

May 2023

ImprintBloomsbury Education
RRP: $14.99

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read a swashbuckling pirate adventure, and this was a good one to break that drought. It is adventure/historic novel based on facts about that period of time when pirates and privateers were roaming the waters, particularly in the newly colonised parts of the world. Many were dodging the law before they took to piracy but some were simply looking for an easy way to make a fortune. Others, more or less, ‘fell’ into piracy, either by being captured and forced to make choices (join the crew or die) or simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While there were many who were utterly corrupt and without scruples or conscience, others simply play-acted their ferocity and perpetuated their legendary fearsomeness, in order to make their lucrative trade easier. One such was Edward Teach, commonly known as Blackbeard and this adventure shows a different side of him, than that which has been often shown in books and media.

Abigail, eleven years old, lives with her father in the Caribbean. She really has no friends except for slave boy, Boubacar, whose mother Nanny Inna, looks after. Her mother is dead, but even if she were alive, she would be looked after by Nanny, as that’s how it worked in a ‘gentleman’s’ house. Her friendship with Boubacar, is not the easiest as a little girl dressed in muslin and in training to be ‘lady’ cannot associate with a slave boy or play vigorously but they really only have each other.

When the pirate Captain Vane arrives on their island, Abigail learns that her father is not only a cheat but a coward who abandoned his crew to save himself. Vane’s revenge is swift and Abigail and Boubacar are lucky to escape with their lives. Their escape leads them from one tricky situation to another and they are taken on board, Abigail posing as a boy, by Black Caesar, who is looking to restore his service with the notorious Blackbeard. Abigail’s shattered illusions about her father, lead her on an emotional rollercoaster, as she discovers that there can be ‘honour among thieves’.

There are near misses and high drama as she and Boubacar, learn not only new skills but more information about their connection than they had ever imagined. This is an exciting and fast-paced adventure for your middle grade readers and could lead to many wanting to explore more of the famous/infamous names mentioned such as Blackbeard, Black Caesar, Stede Bonnect and Anne Bonney, and places such Charles Town and St Christoper’s Island.

Geography, history, mapping, exploration of other piratical literature and characters would be a wonderful addition to a high-interest topic. Perhaps a class read aloud to coincide with Talk Like a Pirate Day and fundrising would be a fun way to share. Personally I would love to build a unit of work around this. I highly recommend it to you for your readers from around ten years upwards.

Miss Penny Dreadful & the Malicious Maze – Allison Rushby


Walker Books Australia


Australia RRP:$15.99

New Zealand RRP:$17.99

I love a great mystery, and I especially like that some of our authors will pitch this popular genre to our younger readers. This is the second Penny Dreadful from Allison Rushby and I can already see a growing fanbase for this series. We know Penny is living with her (somewhat eccentric) author Aunt Harriet, in the unexplained absence of her parents. We also know that Aunt Harriet’s so-called publisher is a very unscrupulous, slippery individual, aptly named Uriel Crowley. What we don’t exactly know just yet is the full extent of Crowley’s machinations behind both Penny’s absent parents and his perfidious dealings around Aunt Harriet’s livelihood. This newest episode sees Penny and her aunt visiting a relative named Sir Fotherfill, in order for Aunt Harriet to be fully inspired by his famous hedge. There is however, some strange stories circulating about the hedge – and disappearing servants. Penny is too canny to be taken in by nonsense about maze hedges that ‘eat’ people so goes about her investigations, in her own quiet way, with the help of some new friends to uncover the truth.

When I reviewed the first in this new series, I pointed out that this is very like Enola Holmes or Rose Ravensthorpe for a younger audience, and that is exactly the vibe of these stories.

Younger readers who are keen for a mystery and the chance of spotting the villain in the piece, will love these and the resilience and ingenuity of Penny is very engaging. How special is it that within the space of a week I am able to review two books from the talented Rushby family? – and rightly, we are very proud of this talent right here in Brisbane!! This is a series that is supremely suited to your readers who are moving beyond the really easy chapter books and looking for something with a little more ‘meat’. Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.

The Mud Puddlers – Pamela Rushby


Walker Books Australia

April 2023


Australia RRP:$16.99

New Zealand RRP:$18.99

This ticks all my boxes in one fell swoop and I absolutely loved it. Mudlarking has long been a source of fascination for me and I would truly have loved the opportunity to explore it for myself.

Now Pamela Rushby has combined this iconic London activity with thrilling time slip experiences and at the same time crafted a very real and poignant narrative about family relationships. Nina loves her Aunty Bee, who is an ‘intertidal archaeologist’ living on a restored barge moored near Tower Bridge. What she doesn’t love is the feeling of complete rejection she has when her scientist parents both go to Antarctica for a year and send her to London to live with Bee.

At first fiercely determined not to enjoy anything, nor to communicate with her parents more than absolutely necessary, Nina finds herself drawn into the magic and mystery of the Thames and mud puddling, but with a very unnerving discovery. It appears she has a gift. If she looks too long or intently at one of the artefacts she finds, she is ‘transported’ back to that period of time, and as she finds out from old Molly, Bee’s barge neighbour, who has the same gift, this can be very dangerous.

After some near misses, and ignoring advice, Nina takes one last trip into the past, at the height of the Blitz, with evacuees and the very possibility of never making it back to her own time.

It is a fascinating look at both the history and hobby of mud larking, as well as the rich history of the Thames over centuries, and at the same time is very relatable story of the intense egocentric emotions of a tween girl, how she comes to terms with her parents’ decision, and reconciles her anguish over it.

There is no doubt in my mind that young readers will lap this up, even those who are not necessarily big fans of historical fiction because the very different setting overall (the barge, Nina’s online International School, inner city London) will capture their imagination for sure.

Tired as I was after the house move last Saturday, I managed to read this over two nights because I was thoroughly invested in Nina’s story (and the mud larking!). Pamela Rushby’s research for her historical novels is always impeccable so this will provide much rich fodder for further investigations and discussions with readers.

I highly recommend it for your kiddos from about ten years old.


In Search of Treasure in London’s
Riverine Mud

Kensy and Max #10: Time’s Up – Jacqueline Harvey


Penguin Australia

  • May 2023
  • ISBN: 9781761043307
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Fasten your seatbelts for one last rollercoaster ride with the intrepid twin spies, in their most difficult and worrying adventure/mission yet!

When their closest family members begin disappearing – apparently kidnapped – the twins become increasingly isolated and anxious. With no ransom notes or other explanations, the snatching of their relatives seems completely incomprehensible.Then the accidental discovery of a tiny scarab token, and a mention of the meaning behind the Ancient Egyptian symbol, sets in train the unravelling of a most ingenious plot, which is both cruelly calculating but also utterly perfidious, given it has been conceived by someone the Spencer family and Pharos have trusted for years.

Slowly but surely Kensy and Max push aside their fears and intense emotions and, aided by their besties, Autumn and Curtis, begin to piece together the plan that was designed to overthrow the family and the organisation.

Once again Jacqueline Harvey will absolutely enthrall her many fans with this one with its breakneck speed of action, nasty villains and surprising revelations, though I foresee there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth to read that this is the last in the series. Surely JH cannot be so cruel? As always, the solid themes of loyalty, resilience, risk-taking, problem-solving and relationships both family and friendship are very evident. It is, to my mind, these core values that completely resonate with her readers and Jacqueline is able to weave these into her books, effortlessly it seems, without ever sounding preachy or didatic.

The publication of Time’s Up this week, marks Jacqueline’s 50th book for young readers and each and every one has been a resounding success. Her work not only brings wholesome but fun reading to kiddos , it is always up to speed with latest trends, ideas and technology (voice cloning is one such tech trick in this book), and the voices of her characters always ring true. She really does ‘get’ kids, how they think and act, what makes them fearful and what they are capable of when challenged.

As always, I will say, I really do not need to recommend this as copies will literally fly off shelves all over the place but I do strongly suggest you order multiple copies for a collection as they are going to be in hot demand.

IF this truly is the last of Kensy and Max, I just want to say a big thank you Jacqueline for taking us all on this fabulous creative and Bond-esque ride! Highly recommended of course for your readers from around 10 upwards – stand back when you put them on the shelf though!

Wildlife Compendium of the World – Tania McCartney


Hardie Grant

May 2023


Imprint: Hardie Grant Explore

RRP: $32.99

I can safely say without hesitation that Tania’s gorgeous picture books are only surpassed by her utterly glorious non-fiction books. You may disagree – but you’d be wrong in my opinion! I have always loved informational books – yes, I was the nerdy kid who ate them up whether Readers Digest, Time Life, How and Why Wonder and many more – all were grist to my mill.

So, when I see the truly beautiful but equally fascinating non-fiction that Tania creates, I am in heaven.

The first thing to stun the senses with this new volume, is the utterly elegant and strikingly alluring binding. The copper foiled textured cover is one of the most sublimely pleasing and tactile I have seen in a long time – I spent some time turning it this way and that, admiring it (yes, I did tell you I’m nerdy).

Young readers will be enthralled with the journey Tania takes them on around the world focusing on amazing creatures from each of the earth’s regions whether as small as a yellowjacket wasp or as large as an Asian water buffalo, aquatic or arboreal, cute and cuddly or deadly dangerous.

Each spread is just a pure joy and readers will immerse themselves in the factual snippets about each species. To preface the global tour, Tania outlines animal types, plus scientific classifications, and explains succinctly taxonomic rank plus conservation status. She expertly defines habitats, biomes, ecosystems and environments and further details the types of environments.

After these introductory pages the tour proper begins starting with the Americas, then Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Antarctica and Oceans. The journey concludes with sections on Endangered Animals, Animal Rights and a very thorough glossary.

There are special touches which makes this a true stand-out (as with all Tania’s books). The endpapers are a rendition of the night sky and the ‘animal’ constellations, which I absolutely love and which, I believe, will encourage young readers to realise that we are one world, and that same sky (although it may look different depending on locations) is above us all. Tania’s dedication is very delightfully a homage to the content of the book, and I loved my personal letter which accompanied my copy.

Of course, it is not just the well-researched and equally well-presented information that makes this a must-have. Tania’s divine illustrations are, as always, a glory unto themselves and children will spend many hours poring over them, I predict.

I cannot even begin to comprehend the labour of love this book represents, nor the hours (weeks, months) it has taken to reach fruition but like all Tania’s work, it is so beautifully executed that it will surely take pride of place on many bookshelves.

If this is not in line for the coming year’s awards line-up, there is something seriously wrong with those who judge such things. I have no doubt that if we took it to the children, they will give it their resounding endorsement.

Likewise, I give this my highest recommendation for your curious young (and not so young) readers who relish a factual volume that is lush in its presentation. Another triumph Tania – you truly are one of the most outstanding book creators we have for our young people.

Whalesong – Kate Gordon


Riveted Press/Yellow Brick Books

September 2022

ISBN: 9780645218022

RRP: $16.95

I absolutely love Tasmania. I have now been there four times, the last was an adventure with The Kid, who also loved it. There is still so much for me to explore and I’m really hoping we can go back again. One of the aspects I love so much about this treasure of a state, is the rich history that abounds everywhere you go – much of which is lovingly and respectfully preserved today.

This first foray into time-slip/historical fiction from Kate Gordon is just lovely. It did remind me of the much loved Playing Beatie Bow with the set of historical steps being very much in the forefront of the story, and that – as I think we can all agree – was a magnificent novel.

Aberdeen’s family have an association with Hobart which reaches back generations, and when she is given an antique chronometer, her family history becomes an intense, dramatic and sometimes dangerous adventure into the past.

Kate Gordon blends themes of conservation, environmental awareness, feminism, courage, family identity/heritage with the glorious tapestry that is the backstory of our smallest state. Aberdeen’s meeting with Betty is a revelation to her. Not only because of the newly discovered facts about a [undeservedly] revered historical figure, but because of the lineage of her family tree. Australia’s history and the whaling industry gives many of us pause for thought, particularly if, like myself, your family had a close association with those times. We know better now, of course we do, but in colonial times, the wealth of the country was very much tied up with practices that are now out of favour. Certainly, we have come a long way since those times and it is only fitting that we do all we can to redress the wrongs of a time when such industries were considered completely justified. Not necessarily in the manner of some practitioners, such as the villain of this story, so thankfully Aberdeen is able to set that straight – and more than that, create a new future for herself and others. “One person really can make a difference.”

I would suggest that this is a book for your more able and mature readers. They will need to stay focused in order to pick up on the nuances in the text. but it is not a difficult read as such. If you are looking for a shared reading to accompany a unit of work set in early 19th century Australia this would be a very good choice indeed and will offer up much to mine for productive conversations.

I recommend it for readers from around Year 6 upwards especially those who enjoy historical fiction.

Huda was Here – H. Hayek


Allen & Unwin


Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $15.99

This is a really fun read but more than that, it’s a delightful look at family relationships and community interactions. When their dad loses his job as the neighbourhood security guard, Huda and Akeal set out on a campaign of mischief, with the goal of pressuring the Body Corporate to reinstate him. They’re not criminals as such, but they do become known as the Crimanimals (due to Huda’s spelling error in their first foray into graffitti). They don’t want to hurt anyone or steal anything so all their misdeeds are aimed at low-level misdemeanors like knocking over all the rubbish bins, running off with the shoes outside the mosque door and ‘kidnapping’ their baby brother. They narrowly escape some police attention and run into older boy Fadey, who becomes their chief ally, and along the way they uncover a nasty plot of fraudulent financial management from the very Body Corporate who have given their dad the sack.

Huda reminds me very much of Kevin from Home Alone – that same quirky kind of kid who is a cross between super-smart and super-annoying, but definitely precocious and passionate. There is no doubt she is very single-minded in her goal to get her dad back in his job and in their family home.

Unsurprisingly, given H. Hayek has based Huda and her family on her own, there are strong themes here of identity, being Muslim and Lebanese-Australian, and the funny and sometimes fraught interactions between family members.

While it is a light-hearted read in many respects, there are also opportunities to explore more serious aspects and it would lead to some interesting conversations around what is right and wrong and when, if ever, being ‘naughty’ or breaking rules is acceptable or justified.

This would make a terrific serial read aloud for any class from around Year 4 upwards and a great reading circle title. Recommended for kiddos from around 8 upwards.

A Message Through Time – Anna Ciddor


Allen & Unwin

April 2023


Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $18.99

For those who love time-slip adventures, and particularly, are keen on ancient history this is a desirable addition to your shelves. I loved The Boy Who Stepped Through Time and after book talking it to my ChocLit kiddos, it was on a regular rotation in and out of the library. Author Anna Ciddor was ably assisted in Roman research for that earlier book, by her sister Tamara, and when the pair realised they had a lot more material than was needed for the first book, the concept of a second was born.

This is not a sequel but rather a companion novel, and once again, keen readers will enjoy the plunge back into Roman times. Step-siblings, Felix and Zoe, who are not at all impressed with their new kinship find themselves living in the past when Felix picks up a mysterious magic bronze stylus. Their encounter with pampered and precocious Petronia, a 12 year old Roman girl from a privileged family, has all three embroiled in a mission that becomes a race against time.

Tracing the development of the relationships between the characters as they explore their own strengths and weaknesses, and test their own limits, provides some rich discussion and reflection for readers. There are clear themes of gender roles, wealth and privilege, resilience, ingenuity, the issues of slavery and moral compass/conscience as well as rich historical details, which could very well be translated into a meaningful unit of work, particularly in an integrated unit on ancient civilisations, such as that often explored by Year 7.

For those who are looking to augment their ‘read around your topic’ collections or expanding Literature Circle titles this would be a terrific addition. Highly recommended for kiddos from around Year 5 upwards.

365 Days of Calm – Becky Goddard-Hill


Harper Collins Australia

April 2023

RRP: $19.99

  • ISBN: 9780008545222
  • ISBN 10: 0008545227
  • Imprint: Collins GB

I probably needed this book – well, the first copy sent to me at least – as the courier delivering it left out on my back verandah, not under cover, while we were away for the weekend – a weekend that ended with one of our biggest summer storms. Needless to say, I couldn’t really ‘read’ the book when I discovered it. But it was definitely worth the wait, I can assure you.

While it’s being marketed as a children’s ‘well being’ book, frankly I see it as being applicable to any one, young or old. I certainly intend to keep it and have it close by – like my bedside table – so that I can remind myself to stay positive, focused and, yes, calm no matter what is happening. Right now, packing up to move house after just a year, I’ve not been feeling very calm but then I remember, that it was my choice to get out of this nasty house, that I have money enough in the bank to achieve it, and that, this year, finding a new rental was a much smoother and happier process.

Before I left my school before last, we were doing a big revamp of our non-fiction and had created a collection which we were calling the ‘warm fuzzy’ books and this would be a perfect fit for those titles. Whether you are in a primary or secondary school, this would be a very appropriate addition to your shelves. If you are neither, it would make a thoughtful gift for either child or adult (remember, Mother’s Day is coming up!).It is super soothing with it’s lovely colour palette and format, plus the combination of quotes, affirmations and activities provides something to appeal to every reader.

I think after the last few years we’ve had (and certainly me!) we can all use a little more positive mindset so why not splurge and buy yourself a copy? Highly recommended for anyone you care about – from around ten years old to 110 :-).

Neil the Amazing Sea Cucumber – Amelia McInerney & Lucinda Gifford


Affirm Press

April 2023

RRP: $19.99
ISBN: 9781922848635

These days The Kid and I have beach days that look like her surfing and me sitting, enjoying the view or reading but in the past, from the time she was toddling, exploring the beaches at low tide was one of our favourite pastimes. We especially loved the hermit crabs of all sizes, the wiggly worms, the shiny sea jellies, the (thankfully) rare sighting of a blue-ringed octopus (!!!!!!!) and of course, the occasional glimpse of a sea cucumber.

I think Neil might make a good point. These are, seemingly, not the most interesting of creatures. [However, there are around 80-100 species MANY OF THEM EDIBLE -with their outer layer, bêche-de-mer, considered a real delicacy in many cuisines.] I don’t think that’s a consideration that should be raised with Neil, the hero of this adventure.

I say adventure because, for a sea cucumber, it is indeed that. Neil’s true love, Sandra (hehe) has been swept away – not off her feet, because obviously she has none – but more like a ‘go with the flow’ moment and carried away on a tidal surge. In a case of mistaken identity Neil sees, away in the distance, a Sandra look-alike (which is actually a discarded party pickle) and in his own cu-cumbersome way he races to her rescue.

The accompanying illustrations of this epic journey across the seabed had me in fits of the giggles. With deadpan delivery worthy of Neil Pye (The Young Ones – for whom I do hope this Neil was named) this boring amazing (if slimy) critter will endear himself to young readers from Prep upwards.

In my experience, young kiddos are really good at subtlety, and making inferences from illustrations that expand on text, and any adult reading this aloud will have difficulty in restraining themselves from snort laughs (or is that just me?). I love a good pun and there are some here that will provide a perfect introduction to this form of word play for youngsters. Lucinda’s clever cartoon style artwork is the ideal accompaniment to this narrative – which might seem sparsely written but is actually teeming with vibrant expression. And full marks to the designer for the absolutely superb binding – the gold foiling and Neil’s texture on the front cover is just a brilliant finishing touch!

Highly recommended for kids (and big kids) who love some understated humour and hilarious illustrations.