The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure












Eddie Albert and the Amazing Animal Gang: The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

Paul O’Grady

Sue Hellard

HarperCollins, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A11.99


Somewhat-unhappy and never-quite-fitting in 10-year-old Eddie Albert is the only one who knows he can speak to animals, including his pet dog Butch, his hamster and his two goldfish (who claim they were once pirates). But when Eddie is sent to stay with his aunt in Amsterdam, who, rather than being the miserable old lady who stank or cats and peppermints that he expected,  turns out to be a wealth, eccentric spinster called Lady Buddelia Sprockett who prefers to be called Aunt Budge he discovers that not only does she enjoy adventures but she too has this gift…

Now, Eddie is living in a new old house in London with is dad spending their time doing it up,  and with the Easter holidays approaching, he is looking forward to staying with her on the English Romney Marshes in an old cottage she has renovated, and she has even invited him to bring his best friend Flo, and his animals Butch the dog, Bunty the hamster and pirate goldfish Dan and Jake. The Romney Marshes has a rich history of smugglers and pirates, so when the terrible Rancid Twins arrive in town, set on uncovering the secret mystery of the smugglers’ treasure, Eddie and Flo are drawn into a thrilling new adventure. Eddie must use his ability to speak to animals to enlist the help of two elegant alpaca, a friendly sheep called Doris and a famous film-star rabbit to save the day and reveal a treasure of epic proportions…

This series has wide appeal for independent readers who like adventures, mysteries mixed in with an affinity for animals.  Unlike other series, it is not assumed that the reader has read previous episodes and  much of the background of the characters and their relationships are woven into the easy-to-read narrative.  Readers might like to seek out the first in the series, or even be drawn into reading the classic Dr Doolittle series by Hugh Lofting or perhaps the adventures of either the Famous Five or the Secret Seven, both by Enid Blyton – all stories that have proved their appeal and endurance over generations by still being in print and readily available..  






Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid's Locks

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks












Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks

Allison Rushby

Walker Books, 2023

160pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


1872 and although Penny Pickering  has often dreamed of being taken away from Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind 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 embroiled in curious mysteries which, with her enquiring mind guided by the echoes of Miss Strickland’s words, she is able to solve.

But this time, in the final episode in the series, instead of being focused on bewitched kittens, malicious mazes  or even her aunt’s new obsession of the appearance of a mermaid in the Thames, Penny is determined to use her logical mind to discover the whereabouts of her missing parents.   She has deduced that their departure was not planned; that they had disagreed with Aunt Harriet about her signing a new contract with the suspicious Mr Cowley and a planned publicity trip to the USA;  that the postcards she has received are dodgy; that Mr Featherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw) is not the solicitor he purports to be and the weasel-like man she has seen with Cowley has something to do with the disappearance.  But what is the connection between these things, how can she uncover it and will she do it in time before the new contract is signed?

Young, independent readers who like mysteries, particularly those set in times past, will thoroughly enjoy this short series as they put themselves in Penny’ place and try to solve the mystery before she does.  

Silver Linings

Silver Linings

Silver Linings











Silver Linings

Katrina Nannestad

ABC Books, 2023

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


Rural New South Wales in 1952 – a new monarch is about to be crowned and for five-year-old Nettie Sweeney life is almost perfect.  She has a dad, three big sisters, a farm full of cows and a cat called Mittens, can read and write and even does spelling with Second Class because she is so clever.  But Nettie longs for a mother.  Her own passed away when she was born (leaving her with all sorts of misconceptions about babies and storks) and she would love to have one who has a gentle touch, sparkles in her eyes and lots of love and hugs to give.  But instead she has cranky Aunty Edith who is quick with her hands and even quicker with her tongue as she clings to the old ways.  

When Dad marries Alice, all Nettie’s dreams come true and the Sweeney home overflows with laughter, love and a new philosophy of looking for the silver linings in everything rather than the dark clouds.  When her baby brother. Billy, is born he becomes  the light of Nettie’s life and her world is perfect.  Until it isn’t…

Those who are familiar with five-year-olds, and even those who aren’t , will laugh out loud all through the beginning of this book as we see life through the unfiltered lens of Nettie and her doll Fancy Nancy.  And they will empathise with the unsophisticated five-year-old who has to handle the family tragedy in her own way because she just isn’t mature enough to know of any other. Her naivety endears her from the beginning and her resilience and courage as events play out inspire. While the big issues of PTSD, loss and depression that are confronted could be anywhere, anytime,  by placing them in the early 50s Nannestad distances them enough from the reader’s here and now for them to be acknowledged but not necessarily absorbed. And for those of us old enough to know better, how will we ever think of Queen Elizabeth II as anything but “the mongoose of the British Umpire” again? 

It’s a rare author who can write a story for young children in a way that has adult readers turning page after page because there has to be a solution, and Nannestad is one of those.  As with The Girl who brought Mischief, this one had me reading past my bedtime because I was so enamoured of Nettie and needed to know there was a happy ending.     

This is one for independent readers who like real-life stories (it is based on family happenings) and if you are preparing a list of books for Christmas stockings, this should be on it.         

Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow











Secret Sparrow

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

256pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


September 1978 and Arjun is walking to the local mall when he hears the roar of a flash flood approaching and sees the river become a turbulent mass of brown, white-flecked water with cars bobbing along like plastic bath toys.  Miraculously a motor bike appears and he is urged to climb on, as the rider heads to the only high part of this flat landscape that should never have been built on – a grassy knoll that boasts only a small carpark and a rubbish bin on a pedestal. 

As surprised as he is by the ferocity and the swiftness of the flood, he is even moreso when he discovers his rescuer is an elderly woman! And that she is  a woman with an amazing story to tell as the waters rise and she makes him climb in the rubbish bin and use old newspapers for warmth and has the wisdom to know his thoughts need diverting from both the  current situation and the fate of his mates trapped in the mall.  It is a story of going from growing up in an English village during World War I to being commandeered into serving her country despite being only 16;  to being torpedoed by a German U-boat while crossing the English Channel to living and working in the hell of the trenches of France… all because she learned Morse Code while competing with her older brothers and became so fast and accurate her skills had been noticed.

But this is not just Jean McLain’s story told to keep a young lad calm and distracted – this is the story of at least 3600 women who were used as signallers as she was during World War I who not only signed an oath that they would never divulge their role even decades after the war was over but whose service was never formerly recognised and so they received only their Post Office employee pay while they served and had to pay for their own medical treatment if they were injured, and whose army records were deliberately destroyed by the authorities because of their embarrassment at having to admit that they not only had to rely on women to serve, but the women had excelled. To have to admit that so many had been able to step up and cope in situations that required “physical strength, mechanical knowledge and the courage to work under fire” when such physical and emotional circumstances as war and its inevitable death were seen as “unwomanly”, was an anathema to many men and so not only were individual stories never told, they were lost altogether.

But, using her usual meticulous research, author Jackie French has brought it to light, as once again she winkles out those contributions of women to our history that seldom appear in the versions of history told by men.  So as well as Arjun being so intrigued by Jean McLain’s story as the night passes, dawn appears and she teaches him to use her long-ago skills to summon help, our more mature, independent readers (and their teachers) can also learn something of that which we were never told.  Because, apart from those in the roles like Jean McLain who could be prosecuted for sharing their wartime adventures even with their family, there was an unwritten code of the survivors of all wars that the horrors would not be shared because, apart from being horrific, unless you were there you would never understand.  But now at the age my grandfather was when he died, I have learned a smidgeon of what it must have been like for him on the notorious Somme and can only wonder at how he went on to become who he did.  

It is estimated that World War I claimed the lives of some 16 million people worldwide, 9.5 million of which were military deaths. It is also estimated that around 20 million were wounded, including 8 million left permanently disabled in some way. Of those lives lost, 54 000 were young Australian lads who were so eager to sign up for this grand new ‘adventure’ that they lied about their age and 18 000 young Kiwis who, like my grandfather, believed it was their duty to fight for “King and Country”. But only now, through stories like this and The Great Gallipoli Escape, are we learning the real story and through the questions she has her characters ask and answer are we being encouraged to question things for ourselves, not just about the war but also what we stand for. Often in the story Jean McLain is spurred on by her belief in her need to  “do her duty” and that her actions are saving lives, but then she poses the same situation to Arjun. “What are we worth if we don’t do our duty to each other? What kind of life is it if you don’t love someone or something enough to die for them? What matters to you, eh?’ 

As well as teaching us about the past, French inspires us to think about the future – and that is a gift that only writers if her calibre can give our students. 


Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code











Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

R. A. Stephens

E. Hammond

Wombat Books, 2023

90pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Riz Chester has highly tuned senses and notices things that most people don’t, such as the brand of cheese being changed in the tuckshop lunches, the 10gram change in the size of the packets of chips, and the differences between identical twins Sabrina and Jenny.  She keeps a note of the differences in her Weird Stuff Log because when she mentions them, people look at her funny.  

But, by using her observation skills and logical thinking, she was able to detect counterfeit $10 notes in the first in this series for newly independent readers, and in this episode once again she  demonstrates the value of planning, thinking logically and recording what you discover in an organised way as she tries to determine who could have stolen a baby grand piano from the school’s music room.

This time the forensic focus is fingerprints and there is more information about this at the end of the book, enabling students to understand why they leave unique markers all the time that science is beginning to unravel with greater depth and accuracy every day.

There are lots of series published for this age group, but this one particularly appeals to me because of its emphasis on the need to approach a problem in a clear, methodical way thus brining into play all those skills of the information literacy process.  What has happened? What do we know? What do we need to find out? How can we find that out? What would be the best tools to use? How do we use them? Do I need help using them…  

Game On: Glitched


Game On: Glitched











Game On: Glitched

Emily Snape

EK Books, 2023

192pp., ill., pbk., RRP $A16.99


A series of misdeeds, including covering the neighbour’s cat in bright pink paint, has got Max and his brother banned from screens for an entire weekend, something that is devastating for both of them particularly with an online gaming competition in a couple of days,  So Max has resorted to practising his moves in his head, at the same time as trying to write a history essay for another competition but is distracted because his mother is going on a date with his history teacher.  To distract him from that, he goes to the toilet but because his brain is every-which-way, he forgets to wash his hands – and that’s when things start to go wrong…

Because his brother Liam is hiding in the bath playing on a phone he has found and suddenly the boys find themselves travelling through time, back to earlier versions of their home town, in the time of the dinosaurs, the Stone Age,  and the days of the Romans.  And if they are ever to get back to the now, they have to solve riddles while carrying out tasks and dodging dangers… all before the battery runs out or they are discovered by their mum. 

A sequel to Shrinkle and written to draw reluctant readers into print stories, the author says, “Reading should be a pleasure and it was my aim to write books that pull you in and hook you from the start. Hopefully, then you can’t help being moved by the characters as they grow and develop. I love comedy in books, but funny books also have to have heart, believable characters, and a great plot that keeps you reading till the very end.’

Using a modern premise of being drawn into a game, with characters not unlike themselves, and the sort of fast-packed , immediate action including countdowns, levels and time limits, this is the sort of story that will pull even reluctant readers away from their screens. They might even like to speculate on what might happen if they (or Liam and Max) were drawn into their own favourite game, a concept which, in itself, might spark story-writing and a group display of possibilities. Some might like to be inspired by the Lego Masters television series and recreate the world of their game, or perhaps investigate the origins and history of their own town

Alex Neptune (series)

Alex Neptune (series)

Alex Neptune (series)











Alex Neptune (series)

Dragon Thief


Pirate Hunter


Monster Avenger


David Owen

HarperCollins, 2022-2023

250+pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

Alex Neptune lives in Haven Bay, a town whose history and currency is intertwined with the sea, and particularly the legends of the Water-Dragon and the pirate, Captain Brineblood, But Alex hates the sea because he is convinced it wants him dead and besides, strange things have happened to it since a mysterious factory was built and it is now so polluted that visitors no longer come to the town, let alone support the family gift store Neptune’s Bounty.  And what’s happening with the long-closed aquarium at the top of the hill which mysteriously glows green at night time?

This is new series for independent readers (best read in order for story continuity) that contains all the elements of relatable quirky characters, sea creatures that can talk and adventure that has  been described as  perfect “for fans of Percy Jackson and Dragon Realm”. With his tech-genius best friend Zoey, legend-lover Anil, and a sharp-shooting octopus, Alex discovers that he actually has power over his nemesis , the ocean, and embarks on a series of escapades that feature the town’s two legends, as he tries to save it from whatever is bringing it doom.

Full of action and embedded humour to lighten the mood, this is an entertaining read that has a powerful underlying message of how the ocean is being used by the unscrupulous for their own greed without regard for the consequences. From hating and fearing the ocean, Alex comes to appreciate and value it.  An eye-opener… 

Smarty Pup 3: To the Rescue

Smarty Pup 3: To the Rescue

Smarty Pup 3: To the Rescue











Smarty Pup 3: To the Rescue

Anh Do

Anton Emdin

A&U Children’s, 2023

160pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


After Lily lost her mum, life was a little ordinary and sad,  but things changed when her Dad decided they could be a family of three again by getting a dog – something both Lily and her mum had wanted for ages.  At the animal shelter, Lily chose JJ, who was kind of clumsy, but something about his smiley face made her really happy inside. They changed even more when Lily discovered  that JJ could talk and is actually super smart. He can speak a number of languages, and knows the answers to maths and geography questions.

Now the family is healing and is back again in a third adventure with this extraordinary dog who has just declared that he want to be a firedog, following a visit to Lily’s school by Chief Firefighter Do and his son Weirdo. But, like many little ones fascinated by the noise and speed and sirens of fire engines, and the wonder of where they are off to, when fire threatens to burn down a local building, Lily and JJ realise there’s more to firefighting than just driving a big red truck. Will JJ and his latest invention save the day?

Sadly, for too many of our children the sights and sounds of the fire trucks have already been heard this summer as bushfire season shows its hand early, so this is a timely release to focus their thoughts on being prepared and knowing what to do if they are in danger, because unlike JJ, they probably won’t have a mini-copter at the ready. 

With its intriguing hologram covers, this is a series for young independent readers whose older siblings are reading Anh Do’s other series and they want some of the fun, too.  

The Littlest Penguin

The Littlest Penguin

The Littlest Penguin











The Littlest Penguin and the Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Jedda Robaard

Penguin Foundation

Puffin, 2023

144pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Before the Europeans came to Millowl (Phillip Island) there were at least ten little penguin colonies there, but these days there is only one.  Protected by law now, it is the largest colony in the world, and, at the end of each day, hundreds of tourists come to watch some of those 40 000 adults gather together in “rafts” before they surf into the beach, waddle across it and head up the familiar tracks to their burrows, each looking for landmarks or listening for their partner’s voice to find their way.  

And, just maybe in that daily trek there will be Little Penguin, Scruffy, Cheeky and Big Chick who are the stars of this absorbing, beautifully illustrated novel for younger readers as they begin their lives as downy chicks and grow into adults ready to have chicks themselves. Just 33cm tall and less than a kilo as adults, there are many dangers facing the little penguins, particularly as they can be at sea for up to a year on that first journey, and Little Penguin, Scruffy, Cheeky and Big Chick are exposed to all of them making for an engaging read as we hope for a happy ending for all of them.

As well as their story, there is also an extensive information section to tell the reader more including the usual facts and figures that add the background as well as what happens when they are affected by oil slicks, itself an intriguing, heart-warming story, as is the story of another colony at St Kilda.. 

Produced by the Penguin Foundation which “raises funds to enhance Phillip Island’s natural environment and protect native wildlife through research, conservation and education programs”, and published by Penguin random House (who else? and who provide funding for the organisation), this is the ideal read-aloud or read-together to inspire interest in and awareness of these little birds as well as giving all those who are likely to make the trip to Phillip Island over the upcoming Christmas  break the knowledge and understanding of just what they are seeing. Maybe, as they learn more from both the Penguin Foundation and the Penguin Parade websites, they might even want to adopt a penguin for themselves. 

I adored it.


Penguin chick born in Eden for the first time in 30 years holds hopes in re-establishing colony 

Millie Mak the Maker

Millie Mak the Maker

Millie Mak the Maker










Millie Mak the Maker

Alice Pung

Sher Rill Ng

HarperCollins, 2023

288pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Life has been pretty tricky lately for nine-year-old Millie Mak. As well as her family moving to a new neighbourhood to be closer to her mother’s parents, she has started a new school and being quiet and somewhat shy, she has found it hard to make friends, not made easier by being Scottish-Chinese with Asian features and flaming red hair.  Things come to a head when she and her Granny find an old dolls house put out on the street for Hard Rubbish Day collection, perfect for them to renovate, but which is also seen by the young sister of one of the mean girls who throws a tantrum when she does not get it.  

But Millie and her grandmother have been revitalising and renewing old stuff  together for a long time and now it’s in Millie’s nature to look for new ways to use old things, turning them into something beautiful and useful.  So when she sees her other Chinese grandmother who lives with them and takes care of the household, including two year old Rosie, making sleeve savers from an old pillowcase, she has an even better idea using her dad’s broken umbrella. She learns even more when she goes to the holiday program at the local community centre – not the expensive Awesome Kids workshops she was hoping for – and meets Veesa and Glee whose mums actually make the popular brand-name clothes that everyone, including those mean girls, are paying so much money for.  Who knew you could make a trendy skirt from some tea towels?

The second story also focuses on making something from almost nothing, as a new girl, Amrita, starts at the school and being Sikh, experiences the same isolation that Millie did.  But the two girls strike up a friendship that not only opens new doors for both of them but has them having the most popular stall at the school fete.

All the familiar themes and feelings of starting a new school are threaded through this story – isolation, bullying, racism, stereotyping – as well as having to grapple with issues at home like the rivalry between her grandmothers and her dad unable to work because of an accident, so it will resonate with many readers but its focus on recycling and upcycling will really appeal to those who love to do the same, particularly those learning to sew – made even moreso because there are clear instructions given for some of the projects at the end of each story as well as some other avenues to explore.  Who knew that fabric could come from animals, minerals and plants and we could be wearing all at the same time?

Both Millie’s family and the situations she and Rita, particularly, face will not only be familiar to those who have walked that path, but there are also lessons to be learned by those on the other side, particularly about making assumptions about how someone might feel or react.   Teaching notes offer other ideas for exploring the issues in greater depth – there is so much but a book review can only be so long.

When a friend recently offered sewing classes for children, she was so overwhelmed with the responses that she had to add extra sessions, and so there are many boys and girls who have an interest in this sort of creativity and this is the ideal book for feeding that interest as well as sparking inspiration for others.  Being one of those who sews every day and knits each night, I read it in one sitting and kept thinking of how I could share it with one of the little ones in Jane’s sewing classes because I know they would love it.  

 Luckily for those budding creators, this is just the first in the series and Children’s Books Daily has an interview with the author to share.