Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald. The cover is predominantly light blue and shows a wall with framed photographs of australian Prime Ministers hanging up, and the main character of this book (a girl with brown hair, pale skin and a navy blazer and red tie) holding a frame up around her face as if she is also one of the prime ministers.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702265587

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald is a humorous fiction book about a girl called Harper, her sister Lottie, and her friends.

The problems begin when Harper’s dad saves two children (and a labradoodle) from a shark! Harper’s  dad is then invited to be Prime Minister! But being Prime Minister isn’t that fun and all the pressure piles on Harper’s dad, when suddenly he decides to run away, leaving Harper to find a way to run the country, not get humiliated in her class and figure out which policy should become law – all without her dad.

I found this book fun and entertaining with bucket loads of humour. The message it teaches you is that when things are tough, you should stay strong and work through the problem. Another lesson that spoke loudly from this book was that working as a team always helps.

This book is probably going to be enjoyed by fans of Keeping up with the Dachshunds, which is also written by Carla Fitzgerald, as the same humour is used.

All ages from 6+ would enjoy this book.  I rate this an outstanding five out of five.


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read more reviews by Emily here. To send us YOUR book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, interviews

Dee White on Emma Johnston: Marine biologist and TV presenter

Dee White has published more than 20 books for children and young adults, and many articles, short stories and poems. Her writing and writing workshops have taken her all over the world and she’s prepared to go almost anywhere (even do a tour of Paris sewers) to track down a good story! Today we’re chatting to Dee about her latest book, Emma Johnston: Marine biologist and TV presenter, which is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

Professor Emma Johnston is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney. From her earliest years growing up she has had a lifelong curiosity about the marine world and has a passionate commitment to finding ways to restore the health of damaged marine systems like the Great Barrier Reef.


How did you go about your research for writing about Emma Johnston?

The first thing I did was go online and find out as much as I could about Emma and the work she did. I watched a film she had made about her time in Antarctica, I read some of the things she had written about the environment, and I read her profile on the website of the university she worked for and interviews she had done about her amazing achievements.

From that information, I developed a series of questions that I asked her on Skype. We weren’t able to meet in person because of Covid restrictions and lockdowns.

I did a second Skype interview later to clarify some things she had told me and to get more information where I needed it. I also asked Emma to send me photos from when she was a child to help me imagine what life was like for her growing up.

What is your own favourite plant or marine creature?

I really love whales. I love the way they move and the way they interact with each other and with humans.

Emma Johnston shines a light on Earth’s precious underwater/marine environments. Did researching and writing this book lead you to change your own behaviour in any way? 

Researching this book gave me a much greater understanding of the marine environment and the dangers it faces, but also how nature is fighting against threats caused by humans.

Climate change has caused temperature layers to form in the ocean, trapping cold water and nutrients in the deep. When whales move through the water, they help blend the temperature bands, and also bring species like plankton up to the surface so they can get more light to help them survive.  We need plankton because they produce most of the oxygen we breathe.

This has actually inspired me to write a book about whales and how they help the world we live in.

One of the things that appealed to me about writing Emma’s story is that I’ve been concerned about the environment for a long time. We always compost at our house. We have solar panels to produce our electricity … and about four years ago, I changed to a plant-based diet.

Researching this book alerted me to even more things I could do to help the environment – particularly reducing my use of plastics and planting more indigenous trees and bushes at my house to provide an environment to bring back native birds, animals and insects.

Do you have a tip for children who’d like to try writing a biography?

If you can, interview the person you are writing about. In an interview, you can find out interesting facts that might not be available anywhere else in books or online. In an interview, you get to ask specific questions about the things you want to know about a person. You can email them via their website or the website for their place of work and ask if they would be happy to answer a few questions via email.

A COUPLE OF OTHER TIPS

  • Pick someone you’re really interested in writing about – someone who shares the same interests as you.
  • Find out as much as you can about them – then decide what to include in your biography. Pick out the most interesting parts about their life.
  • Think about what they might want to be remembered for and make this the theme or central idea for your biography. For example, with Emma Johnston Marine Biologist and TV Presenter, the theme or main idea is finding out about the marine environment so that we can help it.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I always work on lots of projects at once. At the moment, I’m developing a series of animal stories. I’m also working on a true story about a boy who climbed the Berlin Wall to escape from East to West Germany to go and live with his aunt. And I’m writing an action adventure about a boy who moves to Paris, uncovers a secret and sets out to find out the truth about his family.

Emma Johnston: Marine Biologist and TV Presenter is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Image shows the cover of a children's book, Emma Johnston Marine biologist and TV Presenter. The cover is predominantly aqua coloured and features a hand-drawn illustration of Emma Johnston in Scuba gear. Emma Johnston is shown with pale skin, and very short white hair. She is surrounded by doodle style drawings of a sea star, a fish, coral, bubbles and a glowing light bulb.

Watch a YouTube video with Professor Emma Johnston: ‘Can we Save the Reef?’

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book.

Visit Dee White’s website for more about her and her books.

Book reviews by Joshua, Book reviews by kids

Book review: When the War Came Home

Image shows the cover of a children's historical novel: When the War Came Home by Lesley Parr. The cover illustration shows two girls and a boy running across a field with blue skies above and the scene is framed with red poppies.

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA, 13, NSW

When the War Came Home by Lesley Parr, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 9781526621009

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

World War I has ended. Twelve-year-old Natalie is outraged at her mother, Ffion, who was fired from work and is a month overdue on rent. On top of that, they are moving away to Ysgol Ynysfach, to her uncle’s smallhold. Her mother is an advocate for the underdog but she gets herself into trouble. Natty meets her cousins Nerys, who is a know-it-all and Huw, a seventeen year old, who was in the war. In the park, Natty meets two other war veterans, Johnny and Charles. Johnny has lost his memory, known as hysterical fugue, and the doctors tried everything they could think of to help him. Natty wants to help. But how can she?

I enjoyed this novel because I can relate to Natty and how she feels emotionally and personally. It also shows the growth and development of Natty’s mind and beliefs. The author relates to the audience, making it personal, bringing the story to life. As it is a historical fiction novel I really appreciated getting an inside view of the lifestyles back then.

In this captivating book, follow Natty’s adventure in finding her purpose and her confidence. I rate this five out of five, for ages 9 to 15.


Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read more of Joshua‘s reviews here If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Mars Awakens

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Mars Awakens by HM Waugh. The cover illustration shows the silhouettes of two children, standing face to face. Behind them is a greenish sky over the red ground on Mars.

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 11, NSW

Mars Awakens by HM Waugh, A&U Children’s, ISBN 9781760526979

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Mars Awakens is a sci-fi novel written by H. M. Waugh. The book is set in the future after humans colonised Mars. Something falls out of the sky near two separate colonies. Is it backup and resources from Earth? Holt from the first colony and Dee from the other one separately fly over to the crash site to investigate and meet for the first time. One of the colonies thought they already knew about the other colony and despised them, while the other didn’t even know that the first colony existed.

Dee and Holt face many troubles and will need to work together to survive and tell their communities about some new information they just obtained.  

What I liked about the book was how the author used science and accurate facts to form the story. I also appreciate it because it has a fun and enjoyable storyline. 

I recommend the book for people in primary school around 3rd to 6th grade, also for children that enjoy sci-fi and science.

Check out our earlier interview with the author, HM Waugh.


Gabriel is a regular book reviewer at Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, interviews

Paula Hayes on The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin

Paula Hayes is an Australian writer of magical realism for young people. This means she is good at making strange stuff up and setting it in real life. Her first novel, Lily in the Mirror, was a CBCA Notable Book in 2017. Then Lily in the Mirror grew and grew and turned into an omnibus, illustrated by Katy Jiang – a trilogy of Lily books! Today we chat to Paula about the omnibus, The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin, launched in July 2022.

From the publisher:

When Lily Griffin finds a girl trapped inside a magic mirror, she uncovers a long-forgotten family secret and sets in motion a remarkable chain of events. Lily is a singular character, hilariously funny, sweetly poignant and deeply daggy. Plagued by social doubts and her own pecularities, she is the perfect person to investigate the many secrets of her grandfather’s house and, along the way, mend some family relationships, discover enduring friendships and learn to play netball.


Lily in the Mirror started out as one book on its own and now you’ve added two more books about Lily – bound up in one omnibus! Was there anything you found different about writing books two and three, compared to writing book one?

The wonderful thing about writing a series is that the characters are created in book one and then they are fleshed out able to grow and develop over the course of the two books. This makes writing the books easier because you know exactly how your character will react and what situations will show them off to their best advantage. For example, Linden, Lily’s older brother (AKA PigBoy) is quite a flat character, he is a trope of a nasty big brother but during the course of book two and three he is fleshed out, he develops, and changes and we come to understand his point of view much more.

Have you ever been in a haunted house yourself?

I haven’t been in a haunted house for reals, but in my imagination, I have! I have the sort of imagination that can turn noises into ghosts. My toys used to come alive in my bedroom at night as I sweated under the sheets. Again – imagination … or was it?

We follow Lily’s story as she writes updates in her journal. Did you keep a journal or diary when you were growing up?

During my late primary school days and early high school days I kept a journal every night. I had a great English teacher who encouraged me to write anything and everything, especially feelings. I found writing a way to clear my head and clarify my emotions. I would tie the note book up with a shoelace with complicated knots for safe keeping. At the end of high school, I had about seven big books and I threw them in the bin. I had processed all the events and big feelings and released it. I’m sure if Lily stopped at the first journal, her relationship with her brother would not be properly represented. It’s just a moment in time.

How did you go about researching information about the various time periods that pop up in the omnibus?

As well as being a word nerd, I am a history freak. I studied it at uni. My grandmother’s house was a time capsule for the 1910s to the 1990s and so I was lucky enough to see a lot of the things that are contained in the Rosy Room and the Little House. I love to read history books, biographies and collect old books. But when I want to know a specific fact, I google and go down a slippery rabbit hole where I get immersed in the past and I love it.

Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to try writing a series or trilogy?

My advice to young writers is just to pick up the pen or your laptop and write. Write anything, you can cull and edit later. As for a series, you might like to map out how your plot is going develop over the course of three books unless you’re like me, I’m a pantser (I develop my story as I go … by the seat of my pants).  Once you know your characters well, they will start talking to you and you will know where to take them and how they will react. Writing a series gives you the freedom to explore themes and characters properly and that is an amazing feeling. Hopefully it’s amazing for your readers too!

The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's novel: The Vexatious Haunting of Lily Griffin by Paula Hayes and Katy Jiang. The cover shows Lily standing at the bottom left of the cover. Lily is a young girl with dark hair in pigtails, wearing a white blouse with red collar and an orange skirt. Behind her are an old woman in an orange dress sitting in a wheelchair, a man with a moustache wearing a blue cardigan and brown trousers, a woman wearing a yellow dress being hugged from behind by a man in a white shirt. At the woman's feet sits a teenage boy in a green shirt resting his forehead on his hand. Above them all floats a teenage poltergeist in a red shirt and brown pants. At the top left of the cover is a spider in a web.

AWESOME EXTRAS:

Read an excerpt from the book on the publisher’s website

Download the teaching notes

Visit Paula’s website for more about her and her books

authors, interviews

Deb Fitzpatrick and Ajay Rane: Global crusader for women’s health

Deb Fitzpatrick writes for adults, young adults and children. She loves using stories from real life in her novels and regularly teaches creative writing to people of all ages. Deb lived in a shack in Costa Rica for four years where she became accustomed – well, almost – to orange-kneed tarantulas walking through her house, and sloths and spider-monkeys swinging in the trees outside.

Today we’re chatting about her latest book – Ajay Rane.

From the publisher:

Professor Ajay Rane is the Director of Urogynaecology at Townsville University Hospital and Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at James Cook University (JCU). Ajay has devoted his research and practice to treating women with severe childbirth injuries in the some of the world’s poorest countries.


How did you go about your research for the book?

First, I found every single article, interview and photo of Professor Rane online and printed it all out. As I read, I highlighted everything of interest. I had a big A4 notebook with me, which I filled with the most important information, best quotes and snippets from his life, and I tried to arrange the information in sensible ‘batches’, so that I could keep the huge amount of info manageable and sort-of orderly!

Then, once I felt I was across everything that was available about him in the public realm, I phoned Ajay and we had a lovely chat. I was SO nervous. He was SO lovely. And I asked him if I could start sending him questions about his life via email. Each email had about ten questions for him, and in asking these questions I was trying to fill in the gaps and ‘colour in’ the bits I didn’t know much about.

Despite being one of the busiest humans on the planet, Ajay was so patient and answered every single question, every time. He was an absolute champion to work with. 

Was writing a biography/nonfiction book very different compared to writing your fiction novels?

Writing Ajay’s story was certainly different in some ways to writing one of my novels, because there was an existing storyline I had to follow. And frankly, that was a relief!! As a fiction author, I’m used to having to make everything up, and that can be exhausting! So this was wonderful. Having said that, because Ajay Rane is a narrative non-fiction, there are many scenes in the book which I essentially did make up. The books are designed to read like novels, even though they are about a real person’s life, so all the dialogue, for example, is made up, based on what I understood about Ajay and his life. And, of course, Ajay read every single word and  I asked him to tell me if he felt anything wasn’t right. We were very careful to make sure everything felt true to life.

When you’re writing a nonfiction book requiring research, how do you know when it’s time to stop researching and begin writing?

Ha ha, well, deadlines help in that regard! I had four months to write this book and I can tell you it’s the quickest I have ever written any book! But once I had read everything I could lay my hands on, and chatted with Ajay, and seen photos of him as a child with his family, then I felt it was time to begin actually writing. And that was fun. Because, by that point, I realised how incredible this story was, and I was itching to share it with readers.

Ajay Rane is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series. What’s your favourite subject area when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

I would have to say science, particularly conservation biology. This is an area I’ve long been interested in and is very close to my heart. Did you know that feral cats eat about two billion animals a year in Australia? Reptiles, birds, frogs, mammals … it’s heartbreaking. It’s an incomprehensible number. The work that conservation biologists do to protect our native fauna is critical. We have seen animals literally brought back from the brink of extinction due to their incredible work.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

I always have a few manuscripts on the go! I have a children’s picture book text that I’ve been working on for a while and a junior fiction novel that I’m just editing at the moment before my agent sends it out. Of course, I hope very much that I’ll be able to talk to you about one or both of those books sometime in the near future!

Ajay Rane is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's book: Ajay Rane, Global Crusader for Women's health by Deb Fitzpatrick. The cover illustration shows a hand drawn illustration of Prof Ajay Rane standing in blue hospital scrubs with hands on his hips and a stethoscope around his neck. Ajay has brown skin, short dark hair and wears glasses. Around him are doodle style drawings of the symbol for woman, a pelvis from a skeleton, and a glowing light bulb.

Find out more about the Aussie STEM Stars series here.

Find out more about Deb Fitzpatrick and her books: visit her website!

Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

The image shows the cover of a children's novel: The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow by Kate Gordon. The cover illustration is hand drawn and shows a close up of a boy's head and shoulders. He has pale skin, short dark hair and he's smiling without showing his teeth. He wears a white neckerchief and a blue shirt. Around him are branches and wildflowers and way behind him is a white cottage style house with the silhouettes of two birds flying above it and forked lightning.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow by Kate Gordon, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702263484

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow is a thrilling adventure book about a boy called Jackdaw Hollow who gets orphaned after his parents and he go outside during a thunderstorm, but Jackdaw miraculously survives. A lady named Mrs Celeste Beekman decides to take him in and be his foster mother while also being the headmistress of Direleafe hall – a school for girls. Jackdaw Hollow has always wanted to find his calling and when an opportunity presents itself he gladly accepts it. He meets several people like ghosts, strange girls and an evil lady and all to try and find his calling.

I really enjoyed this book because it not only teaches people about friendship but is also a thrilling adventure book. Another sensational feature about this book is that it tells you that you should not go too far and lose yourself to try and find your calling.

This book would be suitable for ages 6–12 but can be enjoyed by older or younger people. I would give this book five out of five stars because I like how it can teach others about the meaning of friendship and not to take things too far.


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read more reviews by Emily here. To send us YOUR book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

poetry, Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: When the Sky

Photo shows a sky over mountains at sunset. The sky at the top of the photo is blue with white clouds gradually changing to deep red in a sunset near the bottom of the photo. At the base are dark mountains. All across the sky are the dark silhouettes of birds flying. Photo by Giani at pixabay.com

WHEN THE SKY by Ahil, 9, India

We can see the sky
where birds go to fly.
We can see the starry night
and the moon shining bright!

When the sky is blue
all looks so new.
When the sky is dark,
Rain! cries the lark!

When the sun goes down
the sky wears a black gown,
and clouds have nowhere to go
when sleep covers the rainbow!

This is Ahil’s first publication at Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines

Book reviews by kids

Book review: Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again

Image shows the cover of a children's novel, Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again by Kathryn Lefroy. The cover illustration shows a girl with long black hair waving in the wind. She's holding a tiny black box up above her head and there appears to be a glow about the box. In the other arm she cradles a small plant in a black pot. Surrounding her and looking on are four alpacas, one black, one brown, one beige and one white. Above them is a stormy dark sky with two forks of lightning.

REVIEWED BY MIA, 10, WA

Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again by Kathryn Lefroy, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760991739

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again is a terrific novel written by Kathryn Lefroy. It is the second in a series of two books.

My favourite chapter was chapter 32, the last chapter, because it tells me what the alpacas will going to do with their lives next. And it wrapped up the story in an incredible way! (but I won’t give that away!)

I liked the book because it had so many twists in it and so many discoveries. It kept me reading until the very end.

In my opinion, the funniest chapter was chapter 31 because when Alex’s mum walked in, Griffin was struggling to say anything in front of her, and straight away I knew that Griffin had a crush on her!

I would recommend this book to anyone ages 9 to 13 as it has some difficult words in the novel. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is fussy with their books, because this one will surely keep you reading until the very end!   

Read an excerpt from the book at the publisher’s website!


This is Mia’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!