The Secret of the Swords, and The Poison Plot, by Frances Watts ill Gregory Rogers

Meet Thomasina, kitchen hand who would really rather be a knight-in-training.


Tommy ignored the voice calling her. ‘Go, Sir Benedict!’ she whispered.

Tommy knew it would be Mrs Moon, the cook, angry because she wasn’t standing at the long table peeling mountains of potatoes with the other kitchen girls. Instead, Tommy was standing at the kitchen doorway, watching the knights practising in the great courtyard.

The Secret of the Swords introduces Thomasina, or Tommy, who would much rather be in the courtyard learning to be a knight. But it seems her destiny is to be at the mercy of the cook, Mrs Moon, endlessly peeling potatoes and other horrible kitchen jobs. But a chance encounter with an uppity boy leads to a new job. She is now Flamant’s Keeper of the Blades. It may not be knight-training, but at least she’s working with swords. And these are very special swords.

There’s to be a banquet at Flamant in instalment two of ‘Sword Girl’: The Poison Plot. Tommy is loving her new job learning the history of the swords in her care and getting to know her way around the castle and the village. When she overhears a plot to poison Sir Walter, she has to act. She has to think quickly, or the consequences will be awful. Luckily she’s as sharp as the swords she looks after, although the solution is somewhat unexpected.

‘Sword Girl’ is a new series from Frances Watt, featuring Tommy and set in medieval times. Black and white illustrations throughout the text take the reader into the past and into the castle. Tommy makes friends with many of the castle inhabitants, but a few enemies too. Enough that she can’t completely relax into her new job. Luck may have landed her in a much better job than her old kitchen one, but quick thinking is going to keep her there. And she’s a resourceful character in a tough but magical world. There’s plenty of humour here as well as page-turning stories. Recommended for middle-primary readers.

The Secret of the Swords (Sword Girl)

The Secret of the Swords (Sword Girl), Frances Watts ill Gregory Rogers Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742377285

The Poison Plot (Sword Girl)

The Poison Plot, Frances Watts ill Gregory Rogers Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742377926

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Scatterbungle, by Edrei Cullen

Ella sat up with a start, catapulting the snoring pixie tucked under her chin across the bed. Her shoulders tingled and her hair flared in the dark, its honey colours shining strangely in the light of the moon. She grabbed the tips of her terribly pointy ears. They were burning up!
‘Gracious, blimey!’ yelled the pixie, as he landed upside down on the mattress, his striped stockings kicking up in the air. He slapped a tiny green hand across his mouth, suddenly mindful of all the other sleeping bodies in the quiet dormitory. Even though he was only the size of a pepper pot, he had a big voice!

Scatterbungle is the third adventure featuring Ella, the Clearheart. She’s at Hedgeberry, the magical school, but she knows there is something very wrong. For one thing, she keeps having dreadful nightmares that show her school in flames. And two of her giant friends have disappeared, and there’s been a prison breakout. Then there’s the Scatterbungle. It’s clearly going to be up to Ella to sort out what’s going on. But this is much bigger than just one person. Ella needs the help of friends if she is going to intervene in the battle between this world and the magical one. Her friends are willing, but in many cases don’t seem able to help. Ella must help them realise their abilities if together they are to have any chance of finally, once and for all, overcoming the dastardly Duke.

Scatterbungle, like early books in this series, is magical. Imagine going to school to learn how to catch dreams and extract memories. And taking a trip to somewhere on the other side of the world, by diving into the local stream. Some of Ella’s classmates can conjure fire, others can talk to animals, yet others care for and communicate with the trees. Most can fly. I want to go to this school! But as well as being a grand adventure, Scatterbungle reinforces the power of friendship. It also reminds that ability is one thing, but without confidence and self-belief, ability will never be enough. This is a classic good vs evil struggle and will be Ella’s most challenging adventure. There’s also themes around rites of passage, where Ella begins to challenge her father’s silence and to ask more questions about the death of her mother and brothers. Recommended for upper primary.

Scatterbungle (Flitterwig)

Scatterbungle, Edrei Cullen & Gregory Rogers
Scholastic Australia 2011

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

A Belt Around My Bum, by Martin Chatterton

Eric the ox was going as fast as he could.
Eric didn’t believe in doing things quickly. Especially not pulling heavy carts filled with actors, singers, musical instruments, props, costumes and everything else that made up the Black Skulls, the most exciting theatrical performers in England. Eric’s cart was heading south towards Richmond Palace where the Skulls were due to perform for Her Most Glorious and Majestic Queen Elizabeth. Eleven-year-old William Shakespeare, known as Willy Waggledagger to his friends, was the driver. He had been a member of the Skulls for little over a week and was looking forward to this performance ore than anything he’d ever looked forward to before. But right now, all he could think about was his aching bum.

Willy Waggledagger is the newest member of the Black Skulls, a touring band of players. Willy is on the run from his overbearing and very smelly father and the threat of life as a hide tanner. The Black Skulls are en route to perform for the Queen and her sycophantic court. The players set up camp within Richmond Forest, slightly unsettled by the stories about it being haunted. There, after a misunderstanding with a bear, they meet the King of the Faeries. The wildfire plot loosely follows the story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Mayhem, misunderstanding, and misdirected love cause Willy all manner of anguish. At times, he considers a return to the horror of his father’s wrath as being less troublesome than his present circumstances. Gregory Roger’s full page illustrations add to the humour as Willy and his friends try to retrieve a golden girdle and prevent war.

Shakespeare’s texts can be very dense to young readers, even where the story is full of almost slapstick humour as in his comedies. Martin Chatterton doesn’t pretend to follow the texts closely, but he does suggest that such stories may have provided inspiration to a young Shakespeare. Chatterton concocts a wild and funny adventure with a million absurd twists and turns. He pokes fun at the more pompous members of the court and suggests that every world has it’s share of buffoons. Clothed as it is in humour, ‘A Belt Around My Bum’ readers may not really notice that they are also being introduced to history and the world in which Shakespeare lived. There’s the very fragile grace and favour system of the English Court, the superstitions and jealousies of the theatre, and more. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

A Belt Around My Bum (Willy Waggledagger)

A Belt Around My Bum (Willy Waggledagger), Martin Chatterton ill Gregory Rogers
Little Hare 2009

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

By the Picking of My Nose, by Martin Chatterton

Anyone who has ever worn a false beard, especially a big, furry ginger one, will know there’s one thing about them that is rather annoying.
They tickle.
A lot.
Deep in the middle of the audience, eleven-year-old William Shakespeare’s false beard was tickling like crazy.
Willy was wearing it because he was in disguise. And he was in disguise because Sir Victor Vile had ordered that only grown-ups were allowed inside Stratford Theatre for that night’s big show. Which might not have been a problem for Willy…except that the headline act was the Black Skulls, the most exciting travelling theatre group in all of England.

By the Picking of My Nose is the first in a new series from Martin Chatterton about the adventures of William Shakespeare as a child. Willy Waggledagger, as he comes to be known here, is mad keen on the theatre. But it’s a passion not shared by his tanner father. And the theatre owner isn’t that excited by children at the theatre. So Willy pops on his disguise and he’s safe. Or not. His adventures begin with tickling the Queen’s bottom and continue through booger fortune telling by the hags in the kitchen, friendship with yorick, good-luck-charm status with the understudy to a crescendo conclusion. Scattered thickly throughout are references to characters, settings and happenings from Shakespeare’s plays. Each chapter includes a full-page black-and-white illustration.

By the Picking of My Nose takes the reader on a wild romp through Shakespeare’s England. Although very tongue-in-cheek, Chatterton has included some of the sights, smells and culture of the times in his adventure. It’s history, but not as it’s commonly seen. It’s debatable whether the target audience will pick up all the Shakespeare references but it doesn’t really matter. The grand adventure, includes envy, revenge, skulduggery, witchcraft (or is that just the cooking of the time) and nose-picking fortune-telling, as the plot twists and turns and then twists again. Villains are given villainous names but also show their softer side. Seemingly innocuous characters reveal deeper, darker personalities in a fast-moving plot. The font size is large. Recommended for confident mid-primary readers and beyond.

By the Picking of My Nose (Willy Waggledagger)

By the Picking of My Nose, Martin Chatterton ill Gregory Rogers
Little Hare 2009
ISBN: 9781921272837

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, by Gregory Rogers

This is a delightful, wordless picture book – original in its concept with unexpected treasures on every page.

It is a time travel fantasy which relates the chase by the Bard of a young boy who wanders through the curtain onto the stage of the Globe Theatre in London while following his soccer ball.

The format has obvious appeal to children (up to 10 years of age) with the main character – ‘the boy’ – depicted as a very young protagonist.

Gregory Rogers uses sequential, individual picture frames to relate this exciting tale. He incorporates a sustained, understated sense of humour throughout.

This is a book to be revisited more than once to discover the detail in the pictures and the subtlety in the humour. The joy of childhood and children’s play contrasts with the more serious presentation of adult play in the Shakespearean work. Is it ‘Romeo and Juliet’? I think that I can see the good Friar on the stage.

This sophisticated adventure will also be attractive to older students and adults. It will be useful for History, Art and Drama students in the secondary school with attention to detail in the landscapes, settings and costumes of the Elizabethan period. Even without words much about the design, construction, colour and texture of the costumes of the period is conveyed to an older audience. For English students it would be a stimulating introduction to the study of a Shakespearean text in the Middle school – particularly ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, by Gregory Rogers
Allen & Unwin, 2004