Barney and the secret of the French spies by Jackie French
The Secret Histories series, book 4. Angus and Robertson,
2018. ISBN 9781460751305
(Age: 10-14) Highly recommended. Barney and the Secret of the French Spies is the fourth book in The Secret Histories series. This novel continues the adventures of Barney Bean and Elsie, whom we encountered nine years earlier, when their lives became entwined in Birrung and the Secret Friend (Book 1).
It is 1798 in New South Wales and 19-year-old Barney, once the child of a convict woman, now has a home and property of his own. Yet his world is thrown into chaos when he receives word that his closest friend Elsie is gravely ill.
While sitting by her bedside, Barney discovers Elsie's deepest secret, one that has kept her silent since he discovered her as a child, hiding in the bush many years ago.
This story provides an intriguing insight into the relationship between England and France during the 18th century and the race to claim Australia that resulted in spying by both countries. The new colony of New South Wales was fearful of an attack by the French and people were suspicious of anyone who had a connection to France.
New fauna and flora were revealed in the mysterious southern land of Australia and Jackie tells the story of Jeanne Bare, a female French botanist, who disguised as a man, made wonderful new plant discoveries she collected and documented. Women's stories are rarely recorded in history books but as Jackie states, "Remember this, whenever you study history: if women aren't mentioned, keep looking. They'll usually be there, somewhere."
As usual, Jackie has expertly combined historical research with an appealing tale and she can transport the reader back in time with the sights, sounds and smells of early colonial life. She provides extra historical information in chapter 11 and in the author's notes at the end of the novel.
Black and white pencil illustrations are scattered throughout the text and the cover features a photograph of the beautiful and mysterious Elsie, whose background is finally revealed in this fourth story.
Teacher's notes are also available.
I highly recommend this book to 10 to 14 year olds.