Sue Whiting

Walker Books, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


As the 19th century becomes the 20th, hard times have befallen Tilda and her beloved Papa as they grieve the loss of Tilda’s mother, the burning down of the Nimble Ninepence so Papa is out of a job, and his family turning his back on them. Desperate, he puts Matilda into the Brushwood Convent and Orphanage for Girls while he joins the SA Citizen Bushmen Contingent to go to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.  

But he vows to return to her for her, and it is this promise that Matilda clings to as she endures orphanage life with all the harshness that we associate with those institutions, except she has a particularly rough time as head nun Sister Agatha has singled her out for some reason, determined to break her spirit.  Buoyed by her mother’s advice telling her to be strong, and her strong friendship with the sickly Annie, Matilda resists every attempt and every punishment to admit that she is an orphan, until she sees apparent proof that her father has indeed, abandoned her, and her world crumbles…

Ever since I first came to Australia and read Playing Beattie Bow in 1980 (introduced to her by a Tl mate whose job I envied),  I have had a penchant for historical fiction set in Australia, with strong female leads..  Tilda is a worthy addition to my list.  Author Sue Whiting has grounded the story loosely on her grandmother’s life who, like mine, was born in New Zealand in 1896, and then moved as a baby to Australia.  While she has manipulated the events and the timeline slightly, as authors are allowed to do, she has used the little she knows to craft a powerful story of courage and determination, a willingness to stand up to authority and be her own person, that was not the norm in those times.  Or, if they were, it was still very much a man’s world and such resilience in girls was not written in the history books.  Despite the reign of Queen Victoria. the lives of independent young women were relegated to novels. 

More for the older end of the target readership of this blog , nevertheless it is one that more mature younger independent readers will relish as a new world of times past will be opened up to them.  While they may not relate directly with Tilda’s circumstances, nevertheless they will be cheering her on, barracking for her each time she stands up to Sister Agatha, and empathising with her as she is determined to look after Annie.  Who knows – this may be a young girl’s “Beattie Bow” and lead them down reading paths they didn’t know existed.  

Roxy & Jones (series)

Roxy & Jones (series)

Roxy & Jones (series)











Roxy & Jones (series)

The Great Fairytale Cover-Up


The Curse of the Gingerbread Witch


Angela Woolfe

Walker Books, 2020-2022

240+pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Once Upon a Modern Time, in the city of Rexopolis, in the Kingdom of Illustria, lived twelve-year-old Roxy Humperdinck, struggling to exist on the meagre wages of a toilet cleaner for the Ministry of Soup, and sharing a room with her half-sister Gretel, who is actually she of  Hansel and Grete fame. although Roxy is unaware of that.  When she accidentally discovers a secret vault in which a girl called Jones was hiding, dressed in a daffodil outfit, and who has a habit of leaving mysteriously leaving only a shoe behind, the pair become friends and through a mysterious book, discover the secrets of an enchantment  put on people who know that Illustria once had a frightening past and was known as the cursed Kingdom of Diabolica so that the real events have been wiped from memories.

Roxy discovers the truth about her  brother and sister raising suspicions  that all might not be as it seems and when her new friend  reveals  that her real name was actually Cinderella Jones, the mystery deepens. As they embark on a quest for the Seventh Stone, Roxy is about to discover the truth about her world and her family: that witches are real, magic is real and fairy tales are not only real … despite what the ruling Ministry of Soup wants them to believe.

In the second in the series, Roxy  is still reeling from the Great Fairy Tale Cover-up when Cinderella Jones returns with a new mission: to investigate The Missing – the children who followed the Pied Piper into the mountain thirty years ago, never to be seen again. And so begins another crazy adventure that takes the girls up Jack’s beanstalk, through Red Riding Hood’s Woods … and to the cottage of the most evil villain of all time, the Gingerbread Witch.

This is a series that straddles the known of the fairytale world with the blurry borders of fantasy for those who want to delve into that magical world but still need to have a foot in the world of reality and what they know. While there are any number of fractured fairytales in picture book format, this is one  for those who are independent readers and who have the skills to follow a reasonable complex plot made easier if they know their traditional fairy tales because the references will make more sense.  

Best read in order for continuity, this is a series that sets itself up for more episodes that will be one of those that readers return to regardless of their age just because they have engaged with both characters and plot and want to know what happens. 

PD McPem’s Agency for Mysterious Mysteries

PD McPem's Agency for Mysterious Mysteries

PD McPem’s Agency for Mysterious Mysteries












PD McPem’s Agency for Mysterious Mysteries

The Recorder Racket


The Puzzling Pet Parade


Anna Battese

Ruth-Mary Smith

Yellow Brick Books, 2022

64pp., pbk., RRP $A11.95

Penelope Delores McPem (aka PD McPem) and her puppy Scooter are staying with PD’s grandparents for the summer holidays which coinicides with her grandparents’ annual cleanup. 

While cleaning up the garage with Grandpa, PD finds a box full of things from the olden days, including Grandpa’s old brown trilby hat, his trench coat and a magnifying glass – everything PD needs to start her own Detective’s Agency!

In the first episode of this new series for emerging young readers,  PD’s most treasured treasure goes missing and she must use all of her new detecting skills to track down the culprit. Can she overcome a shoo-ing Granny, a double-crossing dog and a universe-chomping black hole to save her beloved recorder?

In the second, it’s West Bay Primary School’s annual Pet Parade and Miss Hartnett’s Year One class is excited to showcase their lovable companions.  PD McPem is particularly keen to show off her clever canine assistant, Scooter.  But the arrival of her new deskmate, Theodora Putkins, and her Rhinoceros Beetle Circus creates havoc when both Scooter and Mary the beetle are nowhere to be found! Can PD McPem’s agency for Mysterious Mysteries solve the puzzle of the missing pets before it’s too late?

With all the textual features needed to support those transitioning from instructional readers to more unstructured texts, this is a new series that will appeal to young girls who will see themselves as PD McPem and relate to the adventures she has,  as well as being introduced to the mystery genre, perhaps prompting them to delve further into it, maybe even with classics such as The Famous Five and The Secret Seven giving them common talking points with their parents and grandparents and starting conversations about their favourites.  Those who are traversing the “stepping stones” between reading materials love series because it means they can bring their prior knowledge of the characters and situations to the story so they can get stuck into the new adventure without having to figure out relationships and so forth, and so a new one to add to the mix is always fun.  


A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic

A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic

A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic












A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic

Shivaun Plozza

Puffin, 2022

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


Willa is just an ordinary non-magical 12 year old girl, living in the Wild – a city squished between two warring witch covens. She hates the constant conflict and spends her days dodging wayward spells – from raining frogs to dancing chickens – which cause havoc for regular people like her. And it’s all because of the witch war! No wonder she also hates witches.

But one day she’s not ordinary at all. She discovers she does, indeed, have magic, much to her dismay.  Thus, she is taken to the castle where she learns all about spells, witchcraft, and the two waring covens of witches, one of which she will have to join and be initiated into before her 13th birthday. If she doesn’t choose one or the other, her magic will be uncontrollable and she will explode. She seeks help from her new friends -Gish, the castle dogsbody, Marceline, the palace librarian, and Talon, one of her most faithful cat companions – to try to find a resolution but her attempts to control her magic are interrupted by a rogue witch, who begins nefarious spells against the Ordinary Folk. What does the witch want and what does it have to do with Willa? Can she get her magic under control before the whole town is doomed and her birthday arrives? 

Written more for independent readers at the upper end of this blog range, this is an imaginative story that capitalises on the current fascination with all things magical while allowing the reader to put themselves into the story.  Given the choices between the two covens. perhaps exploding might be the better option! It relies on the traditional good versus evil for its basic premise while including the modern scenario of a young girl being able to make her own decisions and choose her own path. 


Remarkably Ruby

Remarkably Ruby

Remarkably Ruby











Remarkably Ruby

Terri Libenson

HarperCollins, 2022

384pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Ruby is moving to middle school, a whole new environment with a whole lot of new people to meet.  Which for some, will be an exciting opportunity, but very daunting for one who doesn’t have “the greatest social skills” , whose not into dances, social media or sports, and who is as tall as their money tree. 

More for the upper end of this readership, nevertheless it is a story that will resonate with many who find themselves having to change schools, and its first-person voice, diary-like entries and a format resembling a graphic novel make it accessible to any independent reader.

It is the 6th in the Emmie and Friends series, written to help young girls navigate those tricky tween years by showing them that the problems and issues they face are common and there are ways to work their way through them.  So while some may not resonate so much with Ruby (although many will),  there are others in the series that will definitely speak to them, making it a series that needs to be in the library’s collection as our young girls seek books about those just like themselves, with the same insecurities, confusion and peer pressure.




Clarice Bean: Scram!

Clarice Bean: Scram!

Clarice Bean: Scram!











Clarice Bean: Scram

Lauren Child

HarperCollins, 2022

176pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Clarice Bean Tuesday is 12, second youngest in an extended family that comprises her granddad, and her grandmother, her dad, her mother, her 16-year old brother Kurt, her 14 year old sister Marcie and her younger brother Minal Cricket Tuesday who is 5.  As with many larger families, life is often chaotic but on this particular day Clarice is feeling bored because nothing ever happens except for sometimes. And only on rare-ish occasions, which is hardly ever. There are times when even I can’t turn the nothing into more than it is. But there was one day in the holidays that began as a nothing day and then everything happened. Absolutely nearly everything.

Cranky and bored because it is the summer holidays and her brothers and sister are annoying, her best friend Betty Moody is away,  and Robert Grainger, her weird neighbour is boasting that he is looking after a rabbit. Everyone seems to be having more fun than she is. That is, until she finds that a puppy has followed her home and will not ‘scram’. Knowing that when her parents return from the wedding, they  will only make her try to find its owner, Clarice and her siblings all work together to look after the dog and hide it from them.

Written in Clarice’s 12 year-old voice, this is a series from the author of Charlie and Lola,  that has been around for over 20 years but with intermittent new releases, remains as popular as ever with younger newly independent readers. They will relate to the everyday events that Child skillfully makes entertaining and using lots of the formatting devices that support young readers to tackle longer reads, this new release could see the resurgence of the series amongst a new generation of readers.

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens











Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Allison Rushby

Bronte Rose Marando

Walker, 2022

144pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


1872.  Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind and Penny Pickering’s mind is wandering, as it often does, in Miss Pugh’s lessons.  She’s sketching ideas about what might happen if bears invaded the school when her daydreams are interrupted by a summons to the principal’s office. 

Although she has often dreamed of being taken away from the school by her Aunt Harriet who writes very popular short stories known as “penny dreadfuls” (hence the nickname other girls in the school have given Penny), she is most surprised when it actually happens and she finds herself on the way to Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd with her aunt, the pet monkey Jones and the surly Mr Crowley.  For there is a mystery about some strange kittens to be solved… and Penny finds herself actually drawing on those boring lessons from Miss Pugh, not only to solve it but to think of a solution that means win-win for everyone.

With an intriguing cast of characters, but not so many that the reader loses track, and short chapters, this is a great new series for younger readers who enjoy mysteries, that takes them back to a time when beliefs and attitudes were very different so the plot is very plausible and the atmosphere for more mysteries is established, particularly as this story ends on a cliff-hanger setting them up for the next episode – just what has happened to her parents because the cryptic postcard her aunt gives her makes no sense… 

Is it a case of “dreaming with eyes open” or “be careful what you wish for”?



Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters

Miss Mary-Kate Martin's Guide to Monsters

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters











Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters (series)

The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm

Karen Foxlee

Freda Chiu

Allen & Unwin, 2022

288pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


The earth trembled as the creature left its lair at night.  It wound its way across the fields and slunk over the town bridge.  It slithered across the churchyard and its skin shimmered as it slid past the windows of the sleeping children,  Its shadow raced along the stone walls by the light of the mood.  It glided across the village green and then silently through the cobblestoned streets,  It went past the pub and the tiny teashops, past the village library, searing. It had known the place for centuries. In the market square it stopped.

It let out a screech that was wild and full of rage.

That cry echoed down the laneways, through the thatched roof cottages, reverberated over the fields.

It was a noise that had not been heard for many years. 

“Meanwhile, dressed in sparkly red shoes with her matching backpack, and carrying her strawberry-scented notebook, Mary-Kate is accompanying her archaeologist mother to the tranquil English countryside to investigate some interesting bones found in an old well. But once they arrive, they realise that the village of Woolington is not as peaceful as it seems. Mysterious noises, earth tremors and a terrifying legend have the locals frightened.

Could there be any truth in the myth of the beast who lives in the ancient well? And if so, why would it return? Mary-Kate might be anxious, but she is not afraid to get to the bottom of this monstrous mystery.”

However, Mary-Kate is not the intrepid adventurer that the publisher’s blurb portrays.  In fact, she is a rather anxious child who likes to make lists so she can plan and manage her life because she doesn’t cope with change well, and while her mother may be used to going off on these sorts of expeditions, Mary-Kate usually stays with her grandmother, which she much prefers. Even the few days away from school which has been Triple H lately – horrible, horrendous and hideous- are little consolation So, reluctantly, she packs her bag with her lucky items – the seven pieces of gum left by her father before he disappeared on Mt Shishapangma; her torch shaped like Big Ben, her little jar with 33 international coins in it and her stress ball shaped like a miniature world globe – and heads off to Woolington Well with her mother. 

This is a new release from the author of Lenny’s Book of Everything  winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, and Dragon Skin. shortlisted for the 2022 CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers and it is ideal for those who like a fantasy-adventure in which they can put themselves into the story as a character rather than an observer.  Being a sucker for anything set in ye olde English villages, it had me at the prologue but I remained hooked and read well past my bedtime as I willed Mary-Kate and Arabella on as they gradually work out why the wyrm, a “huge limbless and wingless dragon or dragon-like creature” has emerged again and is causing so much destruction, while both learn much about themselves as they do.  

Something different to share as a class read-aloud that will be followed by another in the series  The Trouble with the Two-headed Hydra- so readers can continue sharing Mary-Kate’s adventures. 

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act











The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act

Jen Carney

Puffin, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Billie Upton Green (aka .B.U.G.) is 10 years old, in Class Five at school and is weaving her way through life at that age keeping a diary about her life and those people and events that are important in it. 

In the first in the series the reader learns that BUG has two mums and that she is adopted, but the main focus of the story is that there is a new girl in their class who seems to take up more of BUG’s best friend Layla’s attention that BUG would like, which has the effect of totally normalising BUG’s family structure so that those who are also in a different configuration to what is considered “normal” not only relate but appreciate that who they live with is no big deal in the bigger picture.

Of course, there are always those who will raise their eyebrows and so Patrick North personifies those conservative views with his comments but they tend to be water off a duck’s back by this third book, where BUG’s circumstances and adoption are widely known and accepted and it focuses on BUG preparing to have a baby sister, also adopted, but who seems to be taking forever to arrive because of all the rules and regulations, even though BUG desperately wants to hold her up for show and share. Luckily, the school musical is in full swing, giving BUG the perfect distraction. She just needs to watch out for Painy Janey, who has her eyes on the main part and doesn’t care what gets in her way…

Told in an easy-to-read conversational style by BUG herself, and interspersed with her doodles and other comments, this is a quick, enjoyable read for those who don’t want to put too much effort into following complex characters and plots. Yet, in saying that, there are thought-provoking incidents that offer “what-would-I-do?” moments so those who are facing familiar issues (or will do) can consider their own reactions and responses, perhaps even plan a strategy they hadn’t thought of.  

Miss 11 pounced on this in my review pile and stuck her name on it, begging me to “process it, Grandma” before she went home so she could take it with her.  That seems like a sure-fire winner to me. 



What’s New, Harper Drew?

What's New, Harper Drew?

What’s New, Harper Drew?











What’s New, Harper Drew?

Kathy Weeks

Aleksei Bitskoff

Hachette, 2022

214pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


“My name is Harper Drew. I’m using my new journal to take note of all the totally ridiculous things that seem to go on around me with my family and friends. I seem to be the ONLY ONE who sees this all of this stuff for what it is. Completely BEYOND normal.

Recently I’ve been logging Drew Dial Ratings for all the mayhem. On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely is someone to SAY or DO something that would be less sensible than (for example) … a demented camel?

First up is the annual Drew trip to France… and while there might not be camels, there are BATS and Llamas – and my brother Troy who is so obsessed with his hairstyle, he won’t even go swimming… that’s a whole lot of ratings. I’m just hoping I land an invite to Maisie Felix’s party when I’m back to distract me from the Drews… for one whole evening!”

Promoted as  being “perfect for fans of Dork Diaries”, this is the first of a new illustrated series, all about embracing family, and finding unique ways to deal with life’s dramas that is most likely to appeal to girls who are independent readers, who are moving into that tween age and wanting something more sophisticated in the stories they read. The diary format, the first person in a stream of consciousness conversation make it a relatively easy read that is somewhat of a bridge between the novels they are used to and the edgier contemporary realistic fiction they will encounter in a couple of years.  While it is still about family and their relationships so it will resonate with the reader, the more objective perspective of examining what is being said and done gives it some punch and given diary-writing is a popular pastime with its age-intended audience, it will have broad appeal. Harper herself is  sensible, logical, considerate, and very resourceful in solving the problems and so she could become a role model. Even though Harper develops the “Drew Dial Rating” assigning a rating to each individual in terms of their “bizarre, odd, weird, and totally ridiculous” behaviour” her assessments are always done kindly as she accepts each for who they are and understands that who they are is what makes her who she is. There is a strong message about accepting people for who they are, while who you are is enough. 

Readers will find themselves fitting themselves into the story easily, if not as Harper then an engaged observer, and that, in itself, is a recipe for success.