Frankie Potts #3 and #4, by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

If you haven’t read the Frankie Potts series yet, then you’re definitely missing out. 7-10 year olds I’m talking to you. Funny, awkward, sometimes challenging and always a bit batty. Wellington writer Juliet Jacka knows how to engage her audience – and more importantly, she does it with a local flavour.

Frankie Potts & the Postcard Puzzle 
cv_frankie_potts_and_the_postcard_puzzleThis is part three in this mystery and detective series. Frankie Potts has red hair, a super dog called Sparkplug and a mate called Mac. They love mysteries. And with a family like Frankie has there is always a mystery.

The family has hidden secrets. So, when Frankie finds a postcard sent to her mother saying “dearest Tania I do think we should give it another try, don’t you? Gideon xxx” Frankie’s methodical brain goes into over drive. What could all this be? A long lost lover? Does Father know? To solve the mystery Frankie and her gang jump on the bus to Giggleswick to search for Gideon.

What they find is going to unleash a horde of family secrets. All is revealed at a family dinner with the Marvellous M, Frankie’s Grandma and her menagerie of animals which includes a parrot called Firefly who says “Potamus-otamus-hippo-whatamus”.

Frankie Potts & The Wicked Wolves
cv_frankie_potts_and_the_wicked_wolvesThis is part 4 of the series. Frankie has found her long-lost grandad, Sparkplug’s girlfriend Tinkerbell has just had 7 puppies, her grandmother the wonderful The Marvellous M has entered a competition with her dogs, and Frankie’s mother is expecting twins. On top of that, blue-faced dancers the Wicked Wolves have come to the village of Tring.

Initially, it’s all very exciting but Frankie can smell a rat. Something’s not right. There’s a mystery afoot. Who are these Wicked Wolves? How come Marvellous knows them? Why does she want to fight them?

In the meanwhile, there’s puppy chaos at Frankie’s house and Grandma M is planning to give half of them away. Frankie must make sure that they go to good homes. She’s not happy about this at all.

To add to this, Ralph Peter-McGee, Frankie’s arch-enemy, has his eye on her favourite pup Kettle Thomson. Can Frankie stop Ralph getting the pup? And why are those Wicked Wolves sniffing around the puppies? Set against all this is the inaugural Tring Talent Contest. The show is rapidly approaching, and Frankie has some serious detecting to do. But maybe not all the clues are quite as they seem …


My own 8-year-old loves these gentle mysteries. She found the writing easy and simple to follow and the story engaging enough to stay up and read the whole thing in a single Friday night. Mixed with Phoebe Morris’ clever and quirky black and white drawings, some including paws across empty pages, she was quietly giggling away to herself at times.

Moreover, the story was memorable. There are hints of the old-fashioned English children’s books like Famous Five here. Children have some freedom to roam and think for themselves. There are no mobile phones or iPads or any other modern trappings, unless they are essential for the plot.

But to my daughter, the gentle uncluttered plots and strong, likable characters were the real appeal. Frankie has flaming red hair and an insatiable appetite for solving mysteries. Plot-wise they are bizarre enough to intrigue and simple enough to remember. My daughter had no trouble reciting the whole thing back to me on the walk to school. A winner, at least in our household.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Frankie Potts & the Postcard Puzzle
by Juliet Jacka and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770206

Frankie Potts & The Wicked Wolves
by Juliet Jacka and Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770459

Junior Fiction shorts #1: Frankie Potts, and Johnny Danger

I have spent a very enjoyable week reading through the most recent NZ-written junior fiction to land on our shelves. We have some amazing authors writing books that deserve an international audience. Here are just a few of them, from Puffin (Penguin Random House). Keep an eye on this blog today, because there are two more posts to come – a great resource for those unsure of what to get their new readers next. All reviews by me, Sarah Forster.

Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries
by Juliet Jacka, with illustrations by Phoebe Morris

cv_frankie_potts_and_the_sparkplug_mysteriesFrankie Potts is a girl detective who solves mysteries large and small in this, the first of the series by Juliet Jacka. This book has broad appeal, and Frankie is a very relatable character, a not-girly girl who kicks ass when she has to, and has the best dog in the world to help her. Her grandma is one cool character, and her parents are easy-going without letting her get away with too much. Phoebe Morris adds some great touches with her page and small character illustrations.

The biggest mystery in this book centres on Grandma M, her fierce maternal grandmother, whom Frankie learns has more to her than she may have guessed. This is one for every kid who sees the world as a series of mysteries to be solved, who can’t wait for the next one to come around the corner. A Harriet the Spy character for the modern age – with an ultra-clever skateboarding dog. Great for kids aged 6 – 10.

Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries
by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
9780143309185

Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar
by Juliet Jacka, with illustrations by Phoebe Morris

cv_Frankie_potts_and_the_bikini_burglar.jpgThis is the second in the Frankie Potts series, and does a fantastic job of widening Frankie’s world, bringing in friends (and enemies!) from school to help her solve a hot pink mess. The book opens with a job ad – Frankie has decided with all the mysteries around Tring, she needs a sidekick. And in the first couple of pages of the book, her wishes are answered, with a boy who might be from Borneo, or Tasmania…or then again he might not.

And just in time. There’s a thief in town, and they are stealing anything pink they can get their paws on. Frankie and her friends come up with a plan of attack, but can they get all their pawns in play in time to save the diamond-encrusted pink bikini at the centre of the mystery? Phoebe Morris’ illustrations add to the fun, and I like the repetition as we carry on trying to solve our mysteries. This is a solidly commercial, well-written mystery series, which I sincerely hope will be published into the UK and US.

Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar 
by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143309192

Johnny Danger: Spy Borg
by Peter Millett

cv_johnny_danger_spyborgIf you like your spy mysteries fast-paced and full of toilet humour, Peter Millett is your man. Johnny Danger is an undercover superspy for the MI6 – his cover being, um, that he is a terrible spy. This is the third in this new(ish) series from Millett, who is best known for his UK-published series Boy Zero Wannabe Hero.

No bodily emission is left unturned as Johnny Danger once again fights his mortal enemy Dr Disastrous, who has a new partner in crime – Yuri BoomBoom’ovic, a deranged master puppeteer who controls realistic cyborgs he has named…Yuri-nators. While I was a little old to laugh aloud at the jokes, I found myself engaged in the action nonetheless, which bounds along swiftly, with enough character quirks to make it interesting without loading up on emotion. Recommended for ages 6 – 10, I’m definitely going to be putting this forward for my 6-year-old to consider when we finish our current read-alouds.

Johnny Danger: Spy Borg
by Peter Millett
Penguin Books Australia
9780143309079

Book Review: First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure, by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_first_to_the_topThen Ed looked up. There was more sky above them than before. The ridge ended in a round dome a few metres away. They took deep breaths, cut the last steps, and…’

First to the Top follows the life of Sir Edmund Hillary from when he was ‘a small, shy boy’ growing up in the town of Tuakau, to his world famous mountaineering feat: at 11.30am on Friday 29 May 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first two people to stand on the top of Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

While, I would guess, all New Zealand adults know this story, young children may not. The book – a handsome hardcover – is written by award winning author, David Hill who, among his many achievements, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004. The illustrations are done by newcomer Phoebe Morris, and it’s a startling and exceptionally beautiful debut. Morris’s style reminded me of both Donovan Bixley and Shaun Tan, and she’s managed to capture the grandeur of the Himalayas, and the ‘everyday hero’ aspect of Hillary’s character. Hill’s retelling of the famous story made sure to emphasise the friendship between Norgay and Hillary, including when Norgay saved Hillary’s life after he fell into a crevasse: ‘They always worked together after that.’ Hill was also careful to note that it was both men – not just Hillary – who were first to the top: ‘They were on the summit.’

What I noticed while reading the book to my four-year-old son was a swelling of pride at, and there’s no other way to put it, the New Zealandness of the story. It led my son and I to talk about how to be in the world, which all of the best children’s stories do (and adult stories, for that matter). First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure highlights a certain New Zealand identity: a desire to be in the outdoors, a curiosity that when combined with hard work drives us overseas and to greatness; our deep streak of sensibleness and humility. It is also quite funny in places; when Ed is knighted by the queen the book states, ‘He told friends, “Now I’ll have to buy some new bee-keeping overalls.”’

First to the Top was also a difficult story to tell without it becoming cluttered or boring – alongside the many facts, the story moves through countries, touches on different cultures, and spans decades. It’s also one of our most iconic stories. It is made relevant and enjoyable for most children by the perfect marriage between Hill’s words and Morris’s illustrations, and the depth of information they’ve included in these pages. It is easily the best children’s book I’ve read this year.

Review by Sarah-Jane Barnett

First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure
by David Hill
Illustrations by Phoebe Morris
Hardback, 32 pages
Puffin New Zealand
ISBN 9780143506874