Crookhaven: The School for Thieves

Crookhaven: The School for Thieves

Crookhaven: The School for Thieves











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.  

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. 

Diary of an Accidental Witch (series)

Diary of an Accidental Witch

Diary of an Accidental Witch









Diary of an Accidental Witch

Perdita & Honor Cargill

Katie Saunders

Walker Books, 2021-2023

224pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


At long last, Bea Black has her own diary -something she has wanted for a long time. Her weather scientist dad gave it to her as a celebration/bribe for moving her to Little Spellshire because it has “funny clouds”  but really it is the back of beyond and she has no friends.  So she decides to document her time in the town as well as setting herself some goals to achieve, goals made trickier because not only does she have to contend with all the usual issues of starting fresh somewhere new, but  instead of enrolling her in the local Spellshire  Academy, her dad accidentally enrols her in the School of Extraordinary Arts, the local witch school, where she has to learn to do magic and in a hurry. But, apart from magic,  there is a lot to learn about yourself and those around you when you find yourself in a place you don’t belong. 

Written for younger independent readers, this is a series that is proving very popular. It has all the structures needed to support those consolidating their new skills with characters and situations that engage them as they become immersed in Bea’s life, much of which will be familiar but with that added twist of magic. Because it is told in diary format and thus in Bea’s voice, they will be putting themselves in the story and learning about relationships, overcoming challenges and having faith in yourself along with her.  


The Truth Detective

The Truth Detective

The Truth Detective











The Truth Detective: How to make sense of a world that doesn’t add up

Tim Harford

Ollie Mann

Wren & Rook, 2023

192pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


In this evolving digital world where global connections are instantaneous and your money, even your identity, can be stolen with a few clicks of a mouse in any corner of it, more and more we need to teach our students to be critical thinkers and the Australian Curriculum strand of Critical and Creative Thinking has never been more important.  

But with Australians alone losing more than $3 100 000 000 to scammers in one year, it seems it hard enough to teach the adults let alone young ones who are only just emerging from childhood and its acceptance of all that is told to them, who are only just being mature enough to view things from another’s perspective or put themselves in another’s shoes, who are just learning to think logically and analyse according to what they already know and believe.  Young people who are perhaps experiencing the freedom of fewer restrictions on their digital footprint and for whom the timeless message of “stranger danger” is relegated to not talking to people they don’t know in the park and seem to be okay with posting personal information and photos on unknown, unmonitored platforms for the brief gratification of some likes from strangers.

So this is a timely book that needs to be in school and home libraries and shared and discussed.  Not because it teaches about being safe online, although that would be a desirable outcome, but because it gives the reader the tools and tips, strategies and skills to be critical thinkers. To not necessarily take everything at face value but to ask the core questions such as 

  • Does this idea make sense?
  • Does this story conflict with something I already know to be true?
  • Does this fact come from a trust worthy source?
  • Does the person telling me this seem friendly and confident?
  • Do I want this idea to be true?
  • Does this story make me feel something like fear or joy?
  • Is this a cool story?
  • What evidence supports this?
  • What evidence is missing?
  • What does the evidence teach us?

Using real life examples, the author shows the reader how to analyse the situation using the data and asking the right questions using an entertaining formula and format that is very readable. For example, he demonstrates how a magician’s trick of tossing a regular coin and getting ten heads in a row is more about the missing evidence rather than a lucky streak; how the famous “fairies at the bottom of the garden” photographs that fooled even the experts of the time were clearly fake; even how Florence Nightingale who started a revolution with a pie chart.

So, even though as teachers and teacher librarians we can teach our students to be sceptical, to ask certain questions and test websites and so forth for accuracy, authority, currency, objectivity and relevance, such concepts and skills are often taught in isolation and the power of this book is that actual events are put under the microscope and through logical analysis the truth is revealed. If “information is the best weapon” then we must give students the tools to test the information – and this book does this so well by encouraging the collection, analysis and comparison of data  giving context to all those maths lessons about statistics and probability and so forth, such as determining if there is actually a connection between playing a “violent video game” and “violent behaviour”. so the examples are right in the student’s world. 

The publisher’s blurb asks questions such as  Did you know that a toy spaceship can teach you about inflation and that a pooping cow can show you how to invest your pocket money? but, wearing my educator’s hat, there are much more important lessons to be learned from this book and that’s why, IMO, it’s a must in the teacher’s toolbox .

The Hats of Marvello

The Hats of Marvello

The Hats of Marvello











The Hats of Marvello

Amanda Graham

Lavanya Naidu

HarperCollins, 2023

304pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


In the small Australian country town of Mount Dry, Olive is preparing for her starring role as a narrator in the Year 5 play. It’s a really big deal for her and she is very excited so she is determined to shine  and so she needs the perfect costume. She is delighted when she finds the perfect top hat at the local op shop, but when she gets it home she discovers it has a secret.  A talking rabbit called Robbit unexpectedly pops out – and a rabbit is something that Olive has always longed for but can never have because they are considered pests on farms and her grandfather has repeatedly refused her requests.

Olive faces a dilemma – how can she obey her grandfather who is trying to rid the farm of rabbits altogether (and is obliged to by law) and still help Robbit who tells her that 100 of his friends have been kidnapped by the wicked Reynard  and need to be rescued?   Her hat is one of a magical set that allows the rabbits to travel between hats through time and place and so when they turn up on the farm  does she hide and protect them so they can go back to Wilby’s Magic Shop in England or does she tell her grandfather?

As well as being torn between Robbit’s pleas and her grandfather’s beliefs there is also the question of how a magician’s hat turned up in an op shop in rural Australia and so Olive is drawn into a mystery that becomes much more exciting than the school play.

Although this is a book that is based on mystery and magic, it is set against a backdrop of people and places that are very recognisable as they face familiar, real-life problems.  Olive has choices to make but there are many elements influencing her options and she has to navigate these while trying to make the right decision to suit everyone.

Short chapters and illustrations make this an intriguing read for independent readers, but one which has some more complex layers that will provoke thought and consideration, and perhaps even further investigation into the impact of introduced animals on the Australian landscape, particularly those species which have become feral.

The Wolves of Greycoat Hall

The Wolves of Greycoat Hall

The Wolves of Greycoat Hall










The Wolves of Greycoat Hall


Boris in Switzerland


Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books, 2020-2023

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

When Boris and his parents Randall and Leonora learn that the Scottish Conservation Society is re-introducing wolves into the wilds of Scotland, they leave their mansion in Morovia for their Scottish homeland. But these wolves aren’t planning to settle in the wild, oh no! Instead, they book into the exclusive Highland Hotel, from where they plan to enjoy Scotland’s best tourist spots and cuisine. But is Scotland ready for holidaying wolves? Especially such hungry ones? While some scarcely notice them as though wolves in a hotel are an everyday occurrence, there are certain people unhappy to see them -and with good reason. From spooky dungeons to scheming developers, the Greycoats’ new adventure is full of surprising discoveries.

This is a new series for young independent readers and in the second adventure Boris, who can speak English, French, Prussian and Morovian is attending the Institute of International Excellence, a fancy Swiss boarding school while his parents are staying with Great Aunt Orfilia who has injured herself and needs their help.. Although worried about being the only wolf, and having to navigate around the rude vice principal, he quickly makes friends, learns how to “log in” and heli-board, and has a plentiful supply of cake, Boris can’t shake the idea that something funny is going on and it is his father’s book The Art of the Wolf that helps him solve the mystery.  

Even though this may seem a daunting read for young readers, it has lots of illustrations to support them as they go, enjoying sharing Boris’s adventures as he grapples with being judged for what he is rather than what he can do. Discrimination based on appearance is a core theme of the series as is working together to overcome injustice and greed,

With wolves being a popular focus among young and old, this is one that would be good being shared between parent and child (or teacher and class) as they immerse themselves seamlessly into a world that is a mix of real0life and fantasy.  

Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks

Hercules Quick's Big Bag of Tricks

Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks











Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks

Ursula Dubosarsky

Andrew Joyner

A & U Children’s, 2023

224pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


One day while out shopping with his Aunt Alligator, Hercules Quick spies a magic box in a shop window, one that he knows he would love to own.  And while he is dismayed that he not only doesn’t have any money of his own in his piggy bank, he doesn’t even have a piggy bank, he is not daunted.  He gets out his paints and makes a sign offering to do jobs for his neighbours for 10c a task. He explains to Aunt Alligator that 10 cents a day will be a dollar in 10 days and that’s $310 in 10 months – surely enough to buy the magic box.

But quirky neighbours mean quirky jobs and he has to work hard to  earn his money.  Will he reach his target?  And will he still want the magic box if he does?

In this compendium comprising the first two stories in the series, Ask Hercules Quick and The Magnificent Hercules Quick  as well as a new story, younger, independent readers can  enjoy meeting this little lad who is much like them and consider its message about saving and savouring the anticipation of waiting, rather than the more prevalent one-click, instant gratification society we seems to have moved to. It also includes instructions for some of Hercules’s magic tricks for those who have a hankering to try.  

Something whimsical and fun for a winter’s afternoon.  

When The War Came Home

When The War Came Home

When The War Came Home











When The War Came Home

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2022

320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Wales, 1920. Twelve-year-old Natty is quite happy living with her mam in their flat, going to the village school with its yummy free lunches, and special fish and chip teas on Fridays just like her dad used to do when he was alive. 

But when her activist mum loses her job for sticking up for the workers’ rights, and they are forced to move in with relatives in a nearby village, things change dramatically.  Firstly, she has to share a room, even a bed, with her cousin Nerys who is very bright and never stops talking.  Then there are the unpredictable Huw who lied about his age to enlist but who has come home a totally different 17 year old suffering from shell-shock, and the mysterious “Johnny”, another young lad who has returned from the Western Front but who has no idea who he is or where he came from.  She also has to attend a school ruled over by a brutal principal who uses his cane freely, particularly on those who are poor and hungry because there are no free dinners at this village school because their provision is the prerogative of the local council.

Even though she is angry at her mother’s desire to right wrongs that are not even her problem because of the impact it has on her own life, Natty is surprised to find herself drawn into a student strike demanding free school lunches so those who don’t have enough to eat can think about their studies rather than their stomachs. Perhaps she is more like her mother than she realises.  But it is her friendship with both Huw and Johnny that has the most profound effect on all their lives, particularly as the message about never giving up is one that comes from all angles.

Once again, Lesley Parr takes the reader back in time to an era of Welsh history, but, as with The Valley of Lost Secrets and  Where the River Takes Us , the issues she addresses will resonate with today’s readers.  For although World War I is over a century ago, many children will know someone who is experiencing PTSD  or the impact of some extraordinary trauma -or it may even be themselves- and so they empathise and perhaps find a little more compassion. And even though women now have the vote and workers have rights, this can serve as a starting point for  an investigation into why such change was inevitable as well as discussions into what remains the same.  Homeless, hunger and abuse are still rife in our society so what is the answer?  Is there an answer?

At the very least, the story shines a light on what happened in so many homes and families around the globe after the guns fell silent.  Sometimes, having your loved one home wasn’t the be-all and end-all – the war came home with them, shaping lives in a way that has impact today.  As Nerys tells Natty,  “The war took him away, Natty. And it gave him back, only not every part of him. And it took away some of the good parts and gave him bad ones instead.”

Lesley Parr has written three books now, and each one has been the most absorbing read – stories of kids of another time and place but whose lives seem so familiar, making them an opportunity to reflect and respect and understand the power of well-crafted, well-rounded characters, a story that seamlessly embraces critical social issues as it flows along, and the joy and satisfaction of being just a little wiser for the experience.  Definitely an author to introduce to those who like meaty, engaging stories. 















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.  



Speak Up!

Speak Up!

Speak Up!











Speak Up!

Rebecca Burgess

HarperCollins, 2022

272pp., graphic novel, RRP $A39.99


Twelve-year-old Mia is just trying to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her true autistic self.  Mia would be happy to just be herself, stims and all, but the other students have trouble understanding her and even bully her, while her mother is full of strategies to help her attempt to mask her autism.  Although she wishes she could stand up to her bullies, she’s always been able to express her feelings through singing and songwriting, even more so with her best friend, Charlie, who is nonbinary, putting together the best beats for her.

Together, they’ve taken the internet by storm; little do Mia’s classmates know that she’s the viral singer Elle-Q! Ironically, one of her biggest fans is also one of her biggest real-life bullies, Laura. But while the chance to perform live for a local talent show has Charlie excited, Mia isn’t so sure.

She’ll have to decide whether she’ll let her worries about what other people think get in the way of not only her friendship with Charlie, but also showing everyone, including the bullies, who she is and what she has to say. Though she may struggle with some of her emotions, Mia does not suffer because of her autism. Rather than  a cure as though there is something about her that needs to be fixed,  she just wants acceptance, understanding and tolerance, just like the other characters who have other issues that drive their behaviour. 

For older, independent readers this is a graphic novel by an autistic author/illustrator offering a sympathetic depiction of one young person’s experience of autism, and because it is by one on the spectrum it is an authentic voice giving an insight into what it is like to be different at a time when peer acceptance is so important to who we are.