Archive | January 13, 2015

Friday Barnes (series)

Friday Barnes

Friday Barnes









Friday Barnes: Girl Detective


Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion


R. A. Spratt

Random House, 2014

pbk., 250+ pages; RRP $A15.99

Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  Right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend and being knocked down in the carpark on the first day doesn’t help either. Nor does being the brightest student in the entire school, being labelled “scholarship girl” by the school bully and being unable to help herself being able to point out the flaws and inaccuracies in the conversation and presentations of others. Antagonising the handsome, previously-smartest student Ian Wainscott adds to her woes, particularly when her roommate, the not-so-bright Melanie insists there is a romance blooming, something that Friday scoffs at. But their paths have already been inextricably interwoven…

More and more, she is called on to solve “mysteries” as her reputation spreads, and eventually the headmaster enlists her to solve the mystery of the strange monster roaming in the school swamp and frightening the living daylights out of everyone.

Friday Barnes in a new series from the author of Nanny Piggins and it is one that will appeal to independent girl readers who want some substance to their reading. Friday is a likeable character who will appeal to many who are not necessarily the high-fliers in the school.  Even though they may not be as smart as Friday, they will read about themselves in this series and thoroughly enjoy it.  Girl Detective  ends on a cliff-hanger, as, having solved the mystery of the swamp monster, Friday herself is then arrested and readers have to discover why in Under Suspicion which has just been released.  Tantalising that also concludes with “To be continued…” suggesting that there will be more episodes in this series that will leave readers waiting on them.

A worthy addition to the collection for girls on the brink of starting their own secondary school adventure.


Mr Chicken Lands on London

Mr Chicken Lands On London

Mr Chicken Lands On London








Mr Chicken Lands on London

Leigh Hobbs

Allen & Unwin, 2015

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A9.99


“Mr Chicken couldn’t wait another minute, so he finished his breakfast, collected his camera and flew to London.  London was his favourite city in all the world.”

And so begins another adventure of this quirky character who, five years ago, showed us the sights and delights of Paris and whose size and shape made him instantly recognisable.  Using his Union Jack parachute to land gently in the River Thames  (luckily his camera was waterproof) he checks into the Savoy Hotel and, after a good night’s sleep , a full English breakfast and a quick review of facts and figures about London, he visits his special friend, Her Majesty the Queen for morning tea and makes an impromptu balcony appearance.  But he can’t stay long – there is so much to do before lunch and tourists keep stopping him to take their photo.  After lunch, sumptuous as usual,  his sightseeing continues with all the iconic spots on his itinerary until he is so tired he needs a quick nap before dinner. Then the night’s entertainment begins!  And come midnight, after a hectic day, he finally feels he has London to himself as he walks, in the light of the fall moon, down the Mall to the House of Parliament. 

Once again, Leigh Hobbs has packed as much into this story as Mr Chicken packed into his day in London and it’s such a fast pace that you get breathless just thinking about it.  Even reading his schedule on the endpaper is enough to overwhelm you and its forecast by the map of the city on the front endpaper.  But of course, this isn’t just a travel guide to London – Mr Chicken is the star of the show and Leigh Hobbs’ humour is evident in every picture.

This book is so much richer than its text and pictures.  Like Mr Chicken Goes to Paris it’s an opportunity for young students to understand that there are places beyond those that are familiar to them and compare them to their home town. 

Using the book as the impetus, we used Google Earth to “fly” us to London and the functionality of that app to view the places that Mr Chicken visited, so we were really inside the story and able to develop an understanding that each place has its unique iconic features, environments and activities that attract locals and visitors alike.  Then we asked the question, “If Mr Chicken came to our town, what would be the unique places he could visit and things he could do?” sparking an investigation into the natural, built and heritage features of our local environment which offered so many cross-curricular avenues to explore that continued to engage the students for some time. Like Mr Chicken, they identified the must-sees and must-dos, photographed and drew them, mapped them and created an itinerary for visitors to our region.  Amazing learning for Year 1 students!

Even without its use in this way, Mr Chicken Lands on London will be a winner with students as its predecessor continues to be, and I do hope it’s not another five years before he goes on another journey.  But to see why we might because of the work involved, have a look at this video where Leigh Hobbs demonstrates his craft.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…