Crookhaven: The School for Thieves (series)
J. J. Arcanjo
Hodder Children’s, 2023
324pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
“So this is really a school for criminals.” It was meant as a question, though it came out more as an accusation. “We are so much more than that,” Caspian said, sitting in a plush leather chair and gesturing for Gabriel to sit in a similar one across the table. “We are a home for the forgotten, a sanctuary for the lost and … yes, a training ground for the greatest crooks of the future.”
13-year-old Gabriel is a brilliant pickpocket, a skill which he uses to keep his often empty belly not quite so empty. And then one day, he’s caught.
But instead of being arrested, he is invited by the mysterious Caspian Crook to attend Crookhaven – a school for thieves. At Crookhaven, students are trained in lock-picking, forgery and ‘crim-nastics’, all with the intention of doing good out in the world, by conning the bad and giving back to the innocent.
But … can you ever really trust a thief?
With a school wide competition to be crowned Top Crook and many mysteries to uncover, Gabriel’s first year at Crookhaven will be one to remember…
While this series (the second due is in August) is more for the independent older reader, its basic premise of robbing the rich to help the poor sounded so much like the legend of Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, a story that I grew up with in the 50s and so familiar that I can still recall the book’s cover, that it seemed worthy of inclusion because of the dilemma it poses and the discussion it should evoke. Somewhat like Tristan Bancks’ Cop and Robber readers can be put in the position of Gabriel and debate what they would do in the same circumstances., while remaining at arm’s length from reality.
Because although such situations are in the realm of literature, given the current youth crime wave reported daily in the media, this is a debate that needs to be had – being caught between knowing what’s right and wrong and the pressure of the acceptance of peers and social media. There is a growing body of evidence that such literature plays an important part in the young teen’s development as they can vicariously live through the story’s characters while they read as they connect with them, relate to the situation and start to develop strategies that they might use in a similar situation.
Thus, reason enough in itself to introduce this to students, perhaps even as a class read-aloud so the issues can be spotlighted.