Jen Storer (text), Claire Robertson (illus.), Trapped! (Truly Tan #6), ABC Books/HarperCollins Australia, 1 May 2017, 288pp., $16.99 (pbk) ISBN 9780733334122
It’s school holidays and Tan’s been tasked with keeping an eye on her neighbour’s place while she’s away. She has to feed the chooks, water the plants, collect the mail – that kind of thing. Tan and her best friend Gloria have a secret spy club so, when Tan notices a strange car hanging around her neighbour’s house, she suspects something is not quite right and enlists Gloria to help her investigate.
Trapped! is the sixth book in the award-winning Truly Tan series, which Melbourne author Jen Storer says on her website is inspired by her own childhood Secret Spy Club. Although it is the first book in the series I have read, it’s written so I could jump straight in. The book is broken into six chapters, or episodes, and each has its own drama that helps the reader to get a sense of Tan’s character before her major adventure towards the end of the book.
Tan lives in a small country town where she’s given the freedom to walk and ride around her neighbourhood and through the bush, accompanied by her dog Awesome. There’s plenty of wholesome fun, with cubby houses to play in, creeks to explore and cupcakes to bake. The spy club adventures are age appropriate and realistic enough to be relatable for young readers. Tan is inquisitive and adventurous, but also the youngest of four girls, so she’s trying to find her place in her family and also in her mum’s affections.
Within the book’s six episodes, there are 33 chapters, so it’s easy for young readers to finish a chapter or two before bedtime. There are black and white illustrations throughout the pages by Canadian-based, Australian illustrator Claire Robertson, which help bring the characters to life. The text is also broken up by Tan’s first-person entries into her diary. There are fantastic notebook-style entries too, emphasising unusual words or phrases used in the story, such as “a murder of crows”, “vexed” and “invigorating” along with a definition and commentary by Tan. This is terrific for young readers to expand their vocabularies and discover how to use these words in their own writing.
There are two more books planned for the Truly Tan series. An earlier book in the series, Jinxed!, was a CBCA Notable Book (Younger Readers) in 2014, while Spooked! was shortlisted as a CBCA Notable Book (Younger Readers) in 2015.
Reviewed by Carissa Mason