Kensy and Max 10: Time’s Up

Kensy and Max 10: Time's Up

Kensy and Max 10: Time’s Up











Kensy and Max 10: Time’s Up

Jacqueline Harvey

Puffin, 2023

400pp., pbk., RRP $A21.00


Imagine getting in a car in one country and waking up in a strange place in another!  That’s the beginning of a whole new adventure for twins Kensy and Max who started their journey in Zermatt, Switzerland and 16 hours later find themselves in the grounds of an unfamiliar mansion in England.  While it seems their carer Fitz knows his way around as he follows an unfamiliar fellow wearing a red dressing gown with matching slippers inside and up the stairs, Max is mystified but the warmth and comfort of a large, soft bed is too tempting and he is soon asleep again.  But when they wake in the morning to find themselves locked in the mystery deepens and the adventures begin…

That was the premise of the first in this dramatic series for independent readers when it was published in 2018 and now, five years later, the final in the collection has now been released.

Someone has been plotting to bring down the Spencers ever since Kensy and Max were thrust into the secret world of Pharos, but they’ve always managed to stay one step ahead of their attackers . . . until now. As members of the twins’ inner circle – and Pharos’s top agents – start to go missing, it quickly becomes clear that someone is staging a coup. Soon Kensy and Max are on their own, racing to get to the bottom of the terrible situation before the organisation completely falls apart. And before their family is gone forever.

And testament to a quality series, the final is not only as engaging as the first but it still has those initial readers intrigued to find out what happens.  Author Jackie French once told my class that the secret to writing a book that will hook the reader is to create characters that the readers cares enough about to want to continue reading to find out what happens to them, and Jacqueline Harvey has certainly done this in this series, as my Ms 16 will testify, saying yes to having this copy when I offered it!  Modern, original,  fast-moving and sassy, independent characters who could be them make this one of the most popular and enduring series for young readers for some time. 

The benefits of series in a child’s reading development have been discussed on this blog often,. Apart from there being a next-read that is greeted with anticipation, series allow the reader to bring their prior knowledge of the characters, relationships, situation and settings to the story immediately allowing them to presume and predict, building both comprehension and fluency skills. So having a quality series of 10 solid reads available will give the young reader a promise of being able to indulge their interest for weeks , if not months. 















David Walliams

Adam Stower

HarperCollins, 2023

320pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Bedlam is one of the most dangerous places on Earth – home to a host of wicked villains, it has a huge crime problem. Nothing and nobody is safe from these evil criminals. The Chief of Police is stressed because she can’t  get ahead of it, and the entire city is now suffering. There is rubbish everywhere, smog in the air and pollution in the rivers.  Usually  the city Police Dog Training school trains excellent crime-fighting dogs to help her and the police force to keep the crims in check but even this isn’t working any more. She needs MORE. What could possibly help the city of Bedlam? And then she gets an idea!

At home, she asks her clever wife who is a Professor to build her the perfect dog. A dog than can do all the things the Police Dogs can, but even better! At first the Professor isn’t sure about building such a thing – a Robot Dog and their cat Velma is horrified at the idea. until now, she has had the Chief and Professor to herself and that’s how she likes it. Why on earth would they introduce a dog of all things to her happy household? She goes completely mad when the Professor presents Robodog!

The bedlam in Bedlam really steps up. There is a billion dollar robbery to be foiled, where only a rat who swears he’s a mouse can save the day. Velma is determined to wipe not only Robodog off the planet but every other dog in Bedlam, and suddenly every villain has escaped from Bedlam Prison. What is a Robodog to do?

Thoroughly modern, action-packed and easy to read with all sorts of illustrations that enhance and explain the text throughout, this is one for all Walliams fans, those who enjoy fast-moving slapstick humour and those who may be reluctant to tackle such a thick book, thinking they don’t have the skills to master it.  David Walliams is such a prolific author that this could become an opportunity to create a display of his works with your older, not-so-able readers taking the lead in providing a review or synopsis of each one to entice others to read them.  Not only does it give them a purpose for reading, but provides an opportunity to read at their level without stigma.  



Cop and Robber

Cop and Robber

Cop and Robber











Cop and Robber

Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Nash Hall’s dad is a criminal who just can’t seem to go straight. As a former boxer fallen on hard times, he thinks the only thing left for him is to steal money.  He wants Nash to help him commit a robbery and seems to have no qualms about making his son an unintentional accomplice.  The trouble is, Nash’s mum is a cop. and she is Nash’s rock. And the robbery is at Nash’s school because his dad sees it as a soft target, particularly immediately after the school fair. But Dad owes a lot of money to some very dangerous people and if Nash doesn’t help him do the job, it could cost both their lives. So does Nash try to stand by his Dad likes his mum stands by him, and turn his activities around in a way that his mum couldn’t, or does he tell his mum and ruin the relationship with his dad for ever? Can there be a happy ending for anyone in this story?

I read a lot of books, particularly those for children, and therefore it is to be expected that not all of them stand out to be recalled over and over again. But this one had me enthralled from beginning to end, not just because of the quality of Bancks’ writing – he has had me as a fan since Two Wolvesbut for the originality of the plot and that I could hear myself reading it aloud to equally enthralled students and asking them, “What would YOU do?” So when I recommended it, yet again, to a teacher librarian’s forum as a story that would allow them to explore perspective and perception perfectly, I was surprised that I had not reviewed it already.  My only excuse is that this blog is primarily for books for for younger readers but occasionally I add must-reads-for-olders and this is one of them.  

Nothing that Bancks has written in this genre, including Detention  and The Fall has ever left me disappointed, even as an adult reader, but it is this new one that offers so many avenues for exploration particularly relating to moral dilemmas which the target audience are going to have to face as they navigate adolescence into adulthood.  Not that they are likely to be in the same scenario as Nash, but there are going to be challenges where they will be torn between what they know is right and what their peers are pressuring them to do.  Comprehensive teaching notes  explore these issues including how to explore the inner and outer worlds of Nash’s thinking as he grapples with the dilemma.  

In a literary world that is full of futuristic stories of fantastic heroes, this one is one that will endure long after the reader has put it down,  Ask me how I know! 

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance











Friday Barnes: Last Chance

R. A. Spratt

Puffin, 2023

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


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…

Now, Friday, Melanie and Ian are Paris and they are discovering that the art scene is a hot-bed of crime as they investigate a mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa. Is the painting hanging in The Louvre a fake? And where is the original?

This is the 11th in this series  that was first published in 2014 and which quickly became a favourite among those looking for a story that had some meat to it with a heroine they could relate to, including Ms Then-8. Since then Friday’s adventures and escapades have garnered a wide and increasing audience, including Ms Now 16 who will be thrilled to get this one despite being eight years older.  But as well as the established fan base, this is such a timeless and quality series  the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to introduce it to a new generation of independent readers who not only have 10 others to fill their reading calendar but also another episode to look forward to in 2024.  Even if they read nothing else this year, this is a solid foundation for the future. 

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents











The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

Terry Pratchett

Corgi Children’s, 2022

304pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Rats! They’re everywhere –  in the breadbins, dancing across tabletops, stealing pies from under the cooks’ noses. So, what does every town need? A good piper to lure them away. That’s where Maurice comes in! A streetwise tomcat with the perfect money-making scam.

Everyone has heard the stories about the piper and the rats, and con-cat Maurice finds a stupid-looking kid with a pipe, and has his very own plague of rats – strangely educated rats who are highly intelligent, can speak and have a sense of morality. 

But in Bad Blintz, someone is playing a different tune and now Maurice and his rats must learn a new concept: evil….

While this edition is a tie-in to the movie that is about to be released, the original was the 28th novel in the bestselling Discworld series, a series set on a flat, circular world balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. Typically, the stories are inspired by classic literature, in this case Robert Browning’s, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  While the series itself is primarily aimed at adults, this one is for children and Pratchett was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for it. There are twists and turns that older readers are more likely to appreciate so this might be one best shared in conjunction with both Browning’s story and the movie.

The Champ (series)

The Champ

The Champ











The Champ

The Champ 1


Rock ‘n’ Roll


Anh Do

A & U  Children’s 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

Popular and prolific storyteller Anh Do is back with a new series for young readers transitioning to novels with all the supports these readers need including action-packed plots and relatable characters who have a touch of superpower to turn them from ordinary to extraordinary in times of need.

Summer loves sport, and there is nothing she would love more than to charge down the field towards an open goal, or soar through the air over the basket. She would love to be part of a team but instead she always seems to be the last one picked, probably because of her lack of co-ordination which even she recognises. Then one day something amazing happens and Summer discovers she is no longer the spectator but the superstar. The purple gloop that covered her and landed her in hospital has turned her life around. However what is magical for Summer is misery for her older brother Carl who goes from being a talented upcoming footballer to being in a wheelchair, and Summer finds herself with a lot more responsibility.

With her new expertise, Summer decides to enter contests to earn money to support her family, but as it turns out, there are far more important things for her to do, starting with sorting out a witch who looks strangely familiar and is causing trouble in her home town while keeping her new powers secret because  a government agency, armed with a robotic minion, begin to take an interest in her.  In the second in the series, she has to deal with the mysterious Book Witch again when everyone’s favourite rock band is kidnapped.

Younger readers who are just meeting Anh Do as an author will like what they read and easily be able to fit themselves into the story, perhaps even venturing into his many other series  as they wait for Summer’s next adventure, but those more familiar with his works, particularly SkyDragon may find parts of the plot familiar.  That doesn’t decry from the appeal of this new series as there is a reason Do is so popular and this is yet another way to get readers on the cusp of being independent to keep reading. 




The Pharaoh of Asco Express

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

The Pharaoh of Asco Express












The Pharaoh of Asco Express

Jake R. Wilson

New Frontier, 2022

138pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Whatever happens, no matter what, DO NOT step into Asco Express because you might just end up leaving with more than you bargained for…
When eleven-year-old Wesley stops by at a mysterious local shop to buy a drink, he does not realise the trouble he is getting himself into. CURSED by the fiendish Pharaoh AKAHTEN IX, Wesley and his friends, Marishana and Aiden, must solve the evil spell quickly or be trapped for all ETERNITY!

This is a new series for younger readers that not only introduces them to past times but also the mystery genre  Using modern children and time travel is a familiar hook to capture a new audience, and this story has the added bonus of a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, a time and place that fascinates many.  It includes a glossary of some of the people and objects encountered in the story so the reader can quickly check for anything they’re not sure of. With the ending setting the scene for the next adventure, this is a series that will appeal to those younger, independent readers who are looking for something different. 

As well as the story itself offering an opportunity to travel an historical path to explore life in Ancient Egypt, teacher’s notes  promote an exploration of the mystery genre generally, with explanations of the key elements of a strong hook, a crime, an investigator, a villain, clues, a twist and a conclusion which, in itself, invites readers to add other mysteries they have read to a list which could broaden others’ reading horizons.  


Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case

Where Seagulls Dare:

Where Seagulls Dare:











Where Seagulls Dare

The Diamond Brothers

Anthony Horowitz

Walker, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


This is a new story heralding the return of a popular series from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s recounting the adventures of the world’s worst private detective, Tim Diamond (28), and his much more intelligent younger brother, Nick Diamond (14). Because of their popularity they have been re-issued over the years, each time gaining a new generation of fans, often moving on to read Horowitz’s more mature novels such as the Alex Rider series.

In this episode, Tim and Nick haven’t had a case for three months and are down to their last cornflake so when a glamorous woman comes into their office offering them a pile of cash to find her missing father, they think Christmas has come  Before they know it, they are caught up in a case involving bike-riding hitmen, super-hackers and a sinister far right organisation, the White Crusaders. The Diamond Brothers are in trouble over their heads. 

Even though it has a teenage protagonist and international criminals, it is written for the 7-9 age group, lightened with humour, puns. pop culture references and absurd situations characterised by titles that are spoofs of popular movies. Something to entice young males to keep reading and perhaps lead them on to other works by the same author. 


A Clue for Clara & Rita’s Revenge

A Clue for Clara & Rita's Revenge

A Clue for Clara & Rita’s Revenge









A Clue for Clara 


Rita’s Revenge


Lian Tanner

Allen & Unwin, 2020-2022

320+ pages, pbk., RRP $A16.99



A scruffy chook, literally henpecked by the other hens, Clara has become addicted to the detective shows she sees on the humans’ television and now she wants to be a famous detective like her hero Amelia X with her own TV show. She can read claw marks, find missing feathers and knows Morse code and semaphore, but  being small and scruffy chook no one takes her seriously. But when she teams up with Olive, the daughter of the local policeman, they might just be able to solve the crimes that have been troubling the town of Little Dismal. 

And having solved the crime and prevented the theft of some sheep, but in the process having made the ducks look less than the courageous creatures they perceive themselves to be, the ducks are ticked off and are seeking revenge.  They decide they are going to make Clara’s life a misery but brave as they profess to be, none is willing to lead the charge.  Until Rita, in disgrace for offering poetry at the recent Talent Night, volunteers in an effort to seek redemption.  But But Rita finds more than revenge on her mission. She uncovers a dastardly plan to chook-nap the clever chicken that will take them both a long way from home.  But her unlikely friendship with a small human and the help of some street-smart birds just might save the day and inspire an epic poem!

This is a LOL duo for the newly independent reader who likes something completely wacky and entertaining, written in an easy-to-read unique diary format with plenty of other textual supports while being thick enough to impress peers!  Both see the human world through a different lens offering interesting insights as well as hilarious observations and misinterpretations, but more than that, they validate the importance of being yourself regardless if that is a little different to the norm and the expectation of others.  Young readers who see themselves as being a little outside whatever is currently accepted amongst their peers will delight in seeing both Clara and Rita rise above the pack (flock?) to triumph. 


Pirate Queens

Pirate Queens

Pirate Queens












Pirate Queens

Leigh Lewis

Sara Gomez Woolley

NatGeo Kids, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


In 1995, September 19 each year was proclaimed International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Created as a bit of fun by two friends in the US, in Australia, at least, it has become a major fundraiser for Childhood Cancer Support with schools getting involved in a range of ways to support students and friends.  According to the Cancer Council, it is estimated that, on average, about 750 children aged 0-14 are diagnosed with cancer each year in Australia with leukaemia accounting for about 33% of cases, and brain cancers, 25% so it is likely that a school will be supporting a student through this –  if not yours, then nearby.

Thus, what might have been a frivolous suggestion more than 25 years ago, can now have a significant impact on those we know and this new book from NatGeo Kids can provide an opportunity to investigate the lives of some of the women who were just as fearsome as the more well-known males such as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Captain Hook or even Jack Sparrow.  As is often the case with history, the past is viewed through a male lens because men were viewed as the gender capable of writing and reading, they became the scholars, and thus wrote the history books which were mostly written to please kings , generals or male politicians and so only portrayed the male perspective.  

Thus, even though there have been female pirates since the dawn of piracy, including Ching Shih (aka Zheng Yi Sao)  who tormented the South China Sea with her fleet of 70,000 raiders in the early 19th century, our children have grown up with male-dominated images and stereotypes.

Easy to read with lots of detailed illustrations, the author has trolled the few resources that do still exist and this collection of six stories of powerful female pirates who forged their own path is but a small part of the stories of other women whose stories have been lost or forgotten. Spanning the Caribbean, the Irish and North Seas, the Mediterranean and even the Pacific, this is a fascinating look into the lives of these women that had me more intrigued that I imagined and immediately I could see its place in a serious study of these seafarers who not only captivate young readers in folklore and fiction but who also were real and shaped history so that International Talk Like a Pirate Day could have a legitimate place in the curriculum and thus, its associated fund-raising boosted.

Older students might investigate the qualities of leaders and leadership and whether rule by fear is the most successful way, while perhaps the next pirate a younger child draws might even be female!