Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Lizard’s Tale

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Lizard's Tale by Weng Wai Chan. The cover illustration shows a building in Singapore prior to World War II.


Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan, Text Publishing, ISBN 9781925603910

Gabriel received a copy of this book to review.

Lizard’s Tale is written by Weng Wai Chan and is set before WWII in Singapore, featuring a young boy named Lizard and his best friend, Lili. Lizard’s guardian, Uncle Archie, disappears without explanation. As an orphan, Lizard barely scrapes by as he has to buy food and rent a tiny apartment, so he does odd jobs for random people and theft for Boss Man Beng.

Lizard had almost choked on his noodles. One hundred dollars! Nearly one year’s worth of rent and food.

Lizard had just got himself the dream job. All he had to do was to steal a teak box from the Raffles Hotel which belonged to a British army visitor and deliver it to the train station at 10pm. Otherwise, he would expect the worst. It couldn’t be that hard, could it?

Lizard soon dives into a world where conspiracies and secret codes thrive, buzzing around concerning the next war. How will Lizard deal with all these problems, especially since his best friend isn’t who he thought she was? Can Lizard reveal the plot in time and save his friends and other people he loves? Will he be able to succeed in foiling his enemy’s plan by himself?

I recommend this book for preteens or young kids who love history and exciting adventures. I would rate this book 9/10 as there are great themes and it’s also a family friendly book. You can find this book online on Amazon as a kindle copy or a paperback, or even in your local bookstore. Have fun reading!

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!

Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Ajay Rane

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.


Ajay Rane: Global crusader for women’s health by Deb Fitzpatrick, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893595

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

‘Who is Ajay Rane and why should Australians know him?’ I hear you ask curiously. He is Dr Rane and he is an advocate for women’s health. He saves women’s lives by helping women who suffer from fistula after giving birth.

It all started with Ajay’s paternal grandmother. She told Murli, Ajay’s father, to remember the work he learnt at school. Murli tried his hardest and eventually became a doctor. Then he started a hospital in his home town. This is when Ajay comes into the story. Ajay followed his dad’s footsteps and became a doctor.  

One of Ajay’s patients made me cry. She was a nurse until she had a baby and she could not go to work because she had fistula after giving birth. Then her husband kicked her out of the family. What will happen to her now?

I love this extraordinary book because it takes us back to Ajay’s ancestry. I have learnt so much about Ajay Rane and his family, like when Ajay was younger he celebrated the Diwali Festival with his family. Another section that was funny was when Ajay’s brother went to the toilet in his grandmother’s place in India only to find a pig in the toilet pit.  

I rate this excellent book 10/10.

Take a look inside the book at the publisher’s website!

Read our 2022 interview with the author, Deb Fitzpatrick.

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

Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Reuben

Book review: Secret Agent Mole, Book 1

Secret Agent Mole Book 1: Goldfish-Finger by James Foley. The book cover shows a mole wearing square glasses and a white dinner suit, and a hippo in a vest and trousers looking serious, and a tiny green bug. The title is in a font that looks like an official stamp on a Spy/Secret Agent file.


Secret Agent Mole, Book 1: Goldfish-Finger by James Foley, Scholastic Australia, ISBN 9781761200151

Reuben received a review copy of this book.

Before I read any book I always read the blurb, and in this book parts of the blurb are just black lines, like it was an agent’s file. When I got this book I thought it would be about a mole, in a tuxedo, with a grappling hook but the hook was a plunger. And I knew it was a graphic novel.

It was what I expected because the mole had a plunger in a grappling gun – and it’s very funny. 

My fave character is Max because he is always telling dad jokes, and he’s the funniest character.

I am definitely looking forward to reading Book 2 in this series because I want to see if they manage to beat Dr Nude, the naked mole rat.

This is a great read for anyone who likes comics or animals or moles or insects/bugs and funny books.

I rate this book 5/5 plungers!

Read our March 2023 interview with the author-illustrator.

Reuben is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Check out his earlier reviews here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, illustrator, interviews

Kelly Canby on Timeless

Kelly Canby, author-illustrator, and the cover of her new picture book: Timeless. The cover illustration shows a boy with a net trying to catch 'time'.

Kelly Canby is an award-winning, internationally published, illustrator and author of over two dozen books for children. Kelly was born in London, England, but has lived in Australia since the age of three. She says this is probably around the same age she started playing with pencils and crayons, and it was probably only a few years after that that she decided playing with pencils and crayons was something she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Kelly applies her quirky style to the pages of everything from picture books, to chapter books, to early reader books, to colouring books and beyond!

Today we’re talking to her about her new picture book, Timeless.

From the publisher:

Emit (whose parents turned back time to name him) is surrounded by busyness. Dad is too busy to read stories, Mum is too busy to play games and Emit’s brother and sister are simply too busy doing nothing to do anything, at all. Emit tries everything he can think of to get more time, he tries to catch it, wait for it, but it’s not until Emit tries to buy some time that he learns the secret …

Did you already have a stack of time-themed puns just begging to be turned into this book? Or did the idea for the book send you off in search of puns? 

The idea for the book came first and that then sent me down into a deep, deep, pun dive. In the end I had so many puns and idioms I couldn’t use them all! A couple of favourites that didn’t make it to the final book were Emit’s street address: 5 Oak Lock Lane, and a part where Emit told his family he’d like to be a time traveller when he grew up only they ‘didn’t think there was much future in it …’ Also there was a part in the first draft where Emit sticky taped two toy ducks together to create … A time pair o’ ducks. Genius ideas, I think, but in the end they didn’t suit the story so I had to leave them out.

What is your relationship with time? (Are you usually running out of it or always ‘on time’?)

I am that person who is always horribly … early! For appointments especially. And often times 30 or 40 minutes early too because I’m so afraid of being late. But it’s not always a bad thing because it gives me some thinking time in the car, or a chance to get familiar with where I need to be, or have a cup of tea, or reply to emails or ALL of those things. It’s amazing what I can squeeze into that half hour!

Your bright illustrations in Timeless almost seem to glow. Can you tell us about how you create your illustrations? 

The brightness all comes from the inks. I chose the most vibrant colours I could find and then got my fan brush (a brush shaped like a fan, of course) and splattered and flicked ink all over the page until it started to look like how I saw it in my head. I wanted the illustrations to have a lot of energy and movement, to echo how busy everyone was, and the fan brush was perfect for that. I didn’t mind at all if ink fell in odd places either because I thought it added to the chaos of being so busy. I also didn’t sketch any of the illustrations with pencil first, I just went straight in and created havoc! That’s right, this book is one great big happy accident!

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write/illustrate their own picture book?

I definitely have a tip for illustrating and that is to not be afraid of the blank page. Ever! The important thing is to get down on that paper whatever is in your head and when you’re done, when its down, then you can edit or add to it or … throw it out if you wish! But just get something down. Usually I find not thinking about my work too much takes the pressure off and as a result my work looks alive and fresh and full of energy. Actually, that advice works for writing too.

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

Right now I am trying to come up with a new idea for a picture book AND I’m working on illustrations for the fifth book in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Kingdoms & Empires series. One of those things is much harder than the other and I’ll leave you to guess which one it is (Hint: it’s the one where were I have to come up with a new idea) !!

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


Image shows the cover of a picture book: Timeless by Kelly Canby. The cover illustration shows a boy waving a net behind him while colours and flowers and birds swirl around him.

Take a sneak peek inside Timeless

Download free activity sheets from the publisher’s website

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Visit Kelly Canby’s website for more about her and her books

authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Secret Agent Mole: Book 1


James Foley is the author-illustrator of a stack of picture books and graphic novels. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we’re excited to chat to James about the first book in his brand new graphic novel series, Secret Agent Mole: Goldfish-Finger.

From the publisher:

Max is a mole on a mission. With Helen Hippo and June Bug by his side, Max must stop the evil Goldfish-Finger from stealing a priceless, solid gold fishfinger. This dangerous, top-secret mission will involve explosions, a naked mole rat, and being flushed down a giant toilet. Will Max and the team defeat the fiendish fish? Time to rock and mole!

This is book 1 of a new series. How did you decide on the main characters for this series?

The whole idea came about from a conversation with fellow author/illustrator Matt Cosgrove. His publisher Scholastic had asked me to pitch them an idea for a book series, so I called Matt for some advice. I told him, ‘you can be my mole in the organisation‘. And that’s when the idea of Max Mole popped into my head. From there it was a pretty simple task to find his friends; all teams should have a variety of skills and personalities, plus when you’re drawing them it’s good to have a variety of sizes and shapes. So I picked a bigger, tougher animal (a hippo called Helena) and a much smaller, more fragile creature (a bug called Bug) to round out Max’s team. The main villain is a naked mole rat called Dr Nude, because naked mole rats are extremely funny. 

What’s your favourite graphic novel/comic book sound effect and why?

Good question. Probably any of the big, loud action ones (e.g. CRASH, SMASH, THUD, KABOOM). It usually means there’s something big and silly to draw.

Can you tell us about how you create your graphic novels?

First I write the events of the book as a series of bullet points. I put all my ideas down in order until I have enough ideas for a book. Then I write the book as a script – just like you would for a play or a film. It’s just the dialogue plus descriptions of the action. Then I lay out all the pages into a program called InDesign. This lets me see how much room the words need and how much space I have left to do the drawings. I figure out where all the panels are going to go and I start drawing the book as rough sketches straight into the program. Once all that is approved by my editor, I get started on the final artwork. I do all the black outlines in Procreate on my iPad, then I finish off all the shades of grey using Photoshop on my big Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet and my laptop. After about 6 months, I’ve got a 200 page graphic novel.

Do you have a tip for kids who want to write a graphic novel or their own comic book?

You don’t have to be a great at drawing to make a comic book; if you can draw stick figures then you can make a comic. 

The most important thing when making comics is to keep the reader in mind. Comics are meant to be shared, so you need to make sure that your reader will be able to understand the story you’re trying to tell. Every piece of information the reader will need must be on the page; you won’t be able to stand over their shoulder and help them if they get lost or confused. So you have to make sure every picture is large enough and clear enough; you have to make sure all the words are neat and readable; and you need to include enough pictures in the correct order to show what’s happening. It’s as simple and as complicated as that: make sure you have clear pictures and clear words in a clear order. If you can make those three things happen, then your reader will be able to understand and enjoy your comic. 

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

I’ve just finished all the artwork for Secret Agent Mole book 2: The Boar Identity. That was a heap of fun! It will be out in August/September 2023.

Next up, I have to start writing the script for Secret Agent Mole book 3. Wish me luck!

Secret Agent Mole: Goldfish-Finger is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.

Image shows the cover of a graphic novel for young readers: Secret Agent Mole (book 1) - Goldfish-Finger by James Foley. The cover is predominantly yellow and features an illustration of ahippo in a brown vest with her arms crossed, a purple mole in a white tuxedo and wearing square glasses and holding a toy rubber-dart gun, and a tiny green flying bug wearing a hat. The typeface of the font suggests this is a spy-themed book.


Watch the book trailer on YouTube

Meet the VILLAINS of the Secret Agent Mole series on the author’s blog

Visit James Foley’s website for more about James and his books

Book reviews by kids

Book review: Astonishingly Good Stories


Astonishingly Good Stories by RA Spratt, Penguin Australia, ISBN 9780143779261

Hannah reviewed her own copy of this title.

Image shows the cover of a book of short stories for children: Astonishingly Good Stories by RA Spratt. The cover illustration is filled with tiny illustrations of characters from inside the book: a child with an axe, a monster with a giant lollipop, a mer-pig.

Astonishingly Good Stories is a very funny, heart-warming collection of short stories including characters from RA Spratt’s other book series. The stories include Fractured Fairytales and stories of Nanny Piggins’ stunningly beautiful relatives (aunts and grandmothers). For Friday Barnes fans there is a short Friday Barnes story based on Christmas.

I like a lot of the stories but I actually liked the Friday Barnes one best. I am surprised by this because I thought Friday Barnes was too old for me and I didn’t understand the plot of other Friday Barnes stories, but I did understand the plot of this story and it was really good.

The prequel to Astonishingly Good StoriesShockingly Good Stories – was equally good and I suggest you read both of them. I would not change this book at all.

I’d recommend this book to people who like books that make you laugh and ‘myths and legends as you’ve never read them before’. Ideal for ages 8 and up.

Take a look inside this book on the publisher’s website.

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

authors, interviews

Julie Lawrinson on City of Light


Julia Lawrinson has written more than a dozen books for children and teenagers, many of them award-winning. She grew up in the outer suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, not long after the first moon landing. She loves dogs, oceans, and sunsets, and still likes to gaze at the night sky, just in case. Today we’re chatting to Julia about her book City of Light, illustrated by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson.

From the publisher:

Our city is big.
The universe is bigger.
An astronaut from the other side of the world will fly over
our home, at night. We will see a tiny light and we’ll know
it’s him. But will he be able to see us?
One girl, one boy?
A true story.

City of Light is a story based on a real historical event. How did you go about gathering information before you began writing?

I knew absolutely nothing about this story before I began. The first place I looked was the WA Museum, which had this very comprehensive information. I went to the State Library and looked at the old microfiche with The West Australian from that time. The West Australian also had a helpful article online. And I talked to people like my stepmother, who was twelve at the time and remembers it vividly. Jenny Gregory’s book City of Light was also a helpful source of information. The event even made it into the Hollywood blockbuster film in 1983, called The Right Stuff.

I can’t believe it hasn’t been written about before, as it is such a great story of hope and optimism in the middle of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.

How did the book come to have two illustrators – Heather Potter and Mark Jackson?

The illustrators were chosen by the publisher. Heather and Mark are a husband and wife team, and I have not yet met them, though I hope to one day. Heather has also illustrated the work of Western Australian luminaries like Sally Murphy and Dianne Wolfer, so I would call her an honorary Western Australian!

You’re the author of many novels for children and teenagers and this is your first picture book! Can you tell us about your experience of sitting down to write a picture book after writing so many novels?

The first thing I said to the publisher at Wild Dog Books when she approached me was, ‘But I don’t write picture books.’ She replied, ‘I think you’ll be able to write this one.’ We agreed I would try, and I was happy to give it a go. After all, if she didn’t like it, neither of us would be worse off.

The first line came to me when I was walking, and I came home and scribbled it in a notebook, along with the words, ‘torches, car, astronaut, reaching out’.

For the rest, I approached this the way I (and many other writers!) approach most stories – what is the problem, and how are the characters going to fix it?

Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to write a picture book?

The most important thing is to put a child or children (or a non-human character!) at the centre of the story. I would also say to read it aloud: it doesn’t need to rhyme, but it needs to have a pleasing rhythm.

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

I am working on a historical novel based in the 1900s in the goldfields. It is very slow, and the research is sending me down lots of rabbit holes, but I am enjoying the process.

City of Light is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.

Image shows the cover of a picture book: City of Light by Julia Lawrinson, illustrated by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson. The cover illustration shows a boy and a girl in clothes from the 1960s. They're shown at night on a dark street with all the houses lit up inside. Each child is shining a torch beam up into the starry sky.


Take a sneak peek inside the book at Booktopia’s website.

Download the Teachers’ Notes from the publisher’s website.

Visit Julia Lawrinson’s website for more about her and her books.

Visit Mark Jackson & Heather Potter’s website for more about them and their illustration & art.

Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Veena Sahajwalla


Veena Sahajwalla: ‘Green’ engineer and recycling champion by Julianne Negri, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893250

The publisher provided a review copy of this title.

Veena is an inspiring person to the next generation because she changed the world by inventing green steel. When Veena was little she just liked to ride on her dad’s scooter around Mumbai all the time. But she did not think that she would become the recycling champion in the future. 

From reading this book, I  learnt that Veena is a very diligent, persistent and resilient person. When she was in school she did extra work because she loved doing homework. She was the only girl in the class in her  university studies and she tried her best.

I rate this book 10/10 because this has even inspired me to be an engineer.

Veena Sahajwalla: ‘Green’ engineer and recycling champion is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.

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

Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Jammer

Image shows the cover of a children's book with a girl wearing shirt and shorts, helmet, long socks, knee pads and roller skates. She's crouching and looks serious.


The Jammer by Nova Weetman, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702265426

The publisher provided a review copy of this title.

Being someone who others would consider nomadic is the norm for Fred, the main character. But in her life, there were always two constants – family and roller derby – until there weren’t anymore. This foundation crumbles to rubble in the first chapter.

After arriving in Melbourne, where her mum grew up, Fred soon discovers that everyone she meets knew a different side to her mum. 

How does Fred get used to this unwanted new life? Does she go back to roller derby or are the memories too much? How does Fred sew up the gaping hole of loss that she feels?

I recommend this book for readers who like roller derby and also those aged eight to thirteen, especially if they have lost loved ones unexpectedly. I like this book due to the way Nova Weetman puts this fantastic idea into words.

The Jammer is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.

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

Cristy Burne on Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano Hunter and STEAM Warrior

Cristy Burne writes fiction and nonfiction and her books are bursting with adventure, friendship, family, nature, science and technology. Cristy has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across six countries. She has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, museum writer, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN, but her all-time favourite job is working with kids to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity.

Today Cristy is chatting to us about her latest book in the Aussie STEM Stars series – Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano hunter and STEAM Warrior.

From the publisher:

Geologist Suzy Urbaniak is a limbo-dancer, a crepe-baker, a risk-taker and a question-asker. Winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for her out-of-the-box teaching, Suzy is all about passion, innovation, and doing things your own way.

How did you come to write a biography of Suzy Urbaniak – is geology a subject you’ve studied?

I collected rocks as a kid, but never went any further with my geoscience interest. If I’d met someone like Suzy, I could very well be a geologist today! The geologists I’ve met – Suzy obviously included – are incredibly passionate about rocks and our planet. They can look at a landscape and see into our past. That’s a magical ability!

Did you meet Suzy Urbaniak in person or gather your information for her biography another way?

Suzy Urbaniak and yr 10 students in the classroom. Photo courtesy Cristy Burne.
Ms Urbaniak & yr 10 students.
Photo courtesy Cristy Burne.

I first met Suzy six years ago, in person, when I interviewed her for a newspaper. She was teaching at Kent Street Senior High School and had just won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Teaching – it was an incredible experience and I never forgot the buzzing energy of her students as they busily (and mostly autonomously) worked on their science learning.

Suzy and I stayed in touch (social media is good for something) and when she wanted help writing her life story, I immediately thought of Aussie STEM Stars. And the rest is history!

Just as for my Fiona Wood biography, Suzy and I did our interviews for the book over the phone. I think it’s easier to dive deep into memories when you’re not also thinking about eye contact, body language and social niceties. Over the phone, all you need to do is let your mind drift deep into childhood.

You’re passionate about science (and also adventures!) – have you ever stood on a volcano?

I grew up in New Zealand, so I’ve climbed in to the mouth of an extinct volcano (back when you could do that in Mt Tarawera) and hiked a whole bunch in Tongariro National Park, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire (where you can see steaming vents and boiling mud). I grew up close to Rotorua, where geothermal activity is literally just below the surface (and sometimes even on top!). I have a very healthy respect for volcanoes.

Photo shows children in blue jackets climbing in volcanic areas with green-blue lakes behind them and steam rising from the ground.
Volcano hunting! (Photo courtesy Cristy Burne)

Do you have any advice for young writers who would like to write biographies?

Biographies are non-fiction, but that doesn’t mean they’re just a long list of facts. To bring a biography to life we need to have stories, because stories bring emotion and connection. A good way to bring these stories out is to ask open questions that encourage longer answers, like: ‘Can you tell me about a time that …’

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

I’m working on a graphic novel with publisher Larrikin House. It’s a wild comedy with aliens, explosions, disgusting adventures and desperate escapes, featuring a science-loving kid named Violet whose best friend is a conspiracy theorist and whose pet hermit crab can talk. It’s ridiculous, non-stop, unapologetic science-meets-comedy FUN!

WA (Fremantle) families: MEET Cristy Burne, Suzy Urbaniak and HM Waugh at 11.30am THIS Sunday 26 February 2023 at the Perth Festival, Fremantle Arts Centre! FREE. Includes a drop-in ‘make your own mini Mars-machine’ session.

Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano hunter and STEAM warrior is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Watch Suzy Urbaniak talking about winning the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools [YouTube]

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

Download Cristy Burne’s Volcanic Science and Art activity ideas [PDF]

Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her and her explosively fabulous books!