Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the author: Gavin Aung Than

Gavin Aung Than with some of his charactersMEET THE AUTHOR

Gavin Aung Than is a New York Times bestselling cartoonist. His current project Super Sidekicks is a fun-filled action adventure series. Book 3 in the series, Trial of Heroes hit bookstores in April 2020.

From the publisher:

The Super Sidekicks just saved the world and now they’ve been invited to join H.E.R.O. – the Heroic Earth Righteousness Organisation – an exclusive club for the planet’s most famous superheroes. But before they can become members, the team must pass the hardest challenge in the universe, a test so scary and difficult only the truly heroic can survive.

The Super Sidekicks are back! Prepare for another amazing adventure from New York Times bestselling Australian author, Gavin Aung Than.

Did Super Sidekicks Book 1 start out as a standalone book or did you plan the series before you started?
I always planned it to be a series. So No Adults Allowed is all about how the sidekicks meet each other and become a team. Ocean’s Revenge (Book 2) is their first big adventure together, and Trial of Heroes (Book 3) is another big and exciting challenge for the heroes.

How do you create your comics? Do you draw by hand, or onto a computer?
I use both methods. So I draw all the pictures in black and white on paper first. Then I scan those drawings into my computer and add all the grey colour and words. You can see my full process on my website here:

Do you have a favourite sidekick to draw?
Wow that’s a hard question! I love drawing all of them, they’re like my kids. If I had to pick just one, then i’ll say Goo is my favourite. He’s so lovable and can literally be drawn into any shape or size which is always fun!

Trial of Heroes is the latest book in the series. How long did it take you from first draft to final draft?
Each book takes about 6–8 months to complete. It’s a lot of work but I absolutely love it!

Do you have a tip for young comic creators?
Practice, practice, practice! The only way to get good at drawing or making comics is to practice all the time. Start making your own mini-comics. It’s also okay to copy your favourite artists, even to trace their work when you’re just starting. The great cartoonist Chuck Jones said that every artist has 100,000 bad drawings in them, so the quicker you get those done and out of the way, the better!

Three books in the Super Side Kicks series are out now – ask at your bookshop or library.

Super Side Kicks Book 3AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to peek inside Book 1

Click here to peek inside Book 2

Click here to peek inside Book 3

Click here to watch Gavin at work in his studio as part of Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Aussies vs England: Game on!

Aussies vs England: Game on! by Mitchell Starc and Philip BuntingREVIEWED BY LISSY, YR4, WA

Aussies vs England: Game on! by Mitchell Starc, illustrated by Philip Bunting, Scholastic Australia, ISBN 9781742763194

Lissy reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was shortlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition.

Rating: 5 stars

Recommendation: I would recommend this book for kids aged between six and ten years old who enjoy the sport of cricket, since cricket is the main subject of the book.

Genre: Fiction

Mighty Mitch #1 Aussies vs England: Game On! 
Mighty Mitch #2 Howzat Heroes!
Mighty Mitch #3 Clash of the Keepers!
Mighty Mitch #4 Not Out!
Mighty Mitch #5 Day/Night Decider!

Mitch, a young player for the Wander Hill Wombats Under 10s cricket team, loves batting and wicketkeeping. His dream is to one day play for Australia and wear the baggy green. But before that can happen, he has to keep playing in the Under 10s. His bowling is not pretty; he just can’t get the hang of it! Surprise news whacks Mitch’s team into a deep panic. Mitch and his mates can’t stop talking (and worrying) about playing an England Under 10s side. At the practice game, the Wombats are wowed by the team’s impressive names and shiny cricket shoes. But Mitch has one more problem than his mates; his cricket whites have turned pink! With the big game coming up, everything is happening. Will Mitch be able to get over his bowling blues? Or will he be humiliated in front of everyone? Can it get any worse?

Find out by reading the first book in this hilarious and action-filled series created by Australian cricket superstar, Mitchell Starc!

During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Awful Auntie

Awful Auntie by David Walliams and illustrated by Tony RossREVIEWED BY AMELIA, YR 5, QLD

Awful Auntie by David Williams, illustrated by Tony Ross, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780007453627

Amelia reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was shortlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ competition. 

Awful Auntie is a great book with funny pictures that, despite being black and white, are very detailed and vivid. You also get to see Saxby Hall and drawings of the characters so that you know who they are if they’re in a picture throughout the book. I loved the family tree – once I tried to copy it with my own family, but it didn’t work too well.

Awful Auntie has a touch of fantasy, a touch of nonsense, a touch of mystery, and lots of funniness. I have read it lots of times since last year when I first got it. David Walliams makes it funny and mesmerising, and you just want to read it again and again and again. I love Awful Auntie.

During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Karen Blair


Karen Blair is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books. She loves to draw characters that are young, old and in between, as well as Australian wildlife – in the bush, the sea, the outback, or at home. She has a background in painting landscapes and loves incorporating this into her illustrations. You might recognise her work from Baby Animal FarmWhen Billy was a Dog (written by Kirsty Murrray), the Lemonade Jones books (by Davina Bell), Hello from Nowhere (by Raewyn Ciasley), and many more. Her latest book is Meet Eve in the Outback (text by Raewyn Caisley), which is part of the new Aussie Kids series. Raewyn visited Alphabet Soup recently to talk about writing the text. And now it’s time to hear from Karen about the illustrations!

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)

You illustrated Meet Eve in the Outback, written by Raewyn Caisley. How is illustrating a junior fiction book different from illustrating a picture book?
This was my first junior fiction book, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. In a picture book, I have almost unlimited space on the page to do my visual story-telling, and the words usually fit in around the images. In a junior fiction book, it’s the opposite, with a higher word count, smaller pages and much less space. It makes you really crystallise what you want to add with the illustrations, and it comes down to how can I show an interesting part of the story – the action, the emotion, or even some visual information. That might be showing some of the Nullarbor setting, and the characters’ reaction to being in that part of the story. The shape of the illustration is also more limited, and needs to be varied throughout. It was an interesting process.

What are your favourite art tools/mediums?
I love illustrating with line, and I felt brave enough to try the very traditional dip pen and ink for this book for the first time. It’s slightly unpredictable and does some great things with a big brush and just a little water. I also love drawing with charcoal, it has a life of its own, I think because it used to be twigs it is not a uniform material and can also be a bit unpredictable. I like how you can get a line that will move from delicate to strong with the slightest change in pressure.

How long did it take you to do the illustrations for Meet Eve in the Outback?
I think it was about 3 months, but I work part time. It was a 2 part process – I had to do ‘spot colour’ digitally, which I had never done before. Also nerve-wracking and I was very grateful that my friend, and brilliant author-illustrator James Foley, helped me. His knowledge of digital illustration is phenomenal. Mine is not!

Do you have a tip for budding illustrators?
So much of illustrating is about process. Find a process that you enjoy. In the beginning I would do every part of the process – character sketches (hundreds), visual research (how DO you draw a car graveyard, or a truck, a camel etc), storyboard, dummy, roughs, colour roughs, and final artwork. I still do most of those for each book. You really have to love the process, which also includes getting feedback from the publisher, or it all might be torture. It’s a bit of torture, here and there but worth it. I would also recommend playing a lot with style and materials.

Can you tell us a bit about your next creative project?
I have started writing again, which I haven’t done properly since I had children. I’m working on a book called Train Party which will be published with Penguin next year. It’s set at the miniature railway, and is a rhyming text. It was inspired by some toddler birthday parties I went to last year, including the son of my friend Briony Stewart, another incredible author-illustrator, and incredible train-cake maker! It’s such a fun experience that I think many generations of Australians have enjoyed, and I love the community aspect of the train-drivers sharing their trains with children. There’s heaps of visual research for this one, I am realising that I don’t know much about trains …

Meet Eve in the Outback is out now! Available from book stores and libraries. 

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download an Aussie Kids series activity pack

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Meet Eve in the Outback.

Read our Q&A with Raewyn Caisley, the author of Meet Eve in the Outback

Watch Karen sketching & talking about her book creation (YouTube)

Visit Karen Blair’s website for more about her and her books. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Magic Beach

Magic Beach by Alison LesterREVIEWED BY KADE, 6, QLD

Magic Beach by Alison Lester, A&U Children’s, ISBN 9781741144888

Kade reviewed his own copy of the book. This was the winning book review in the Junior Category of Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition.  

I like this book, it made me feel calm.  Every grade, including the Kindy kids, at my school would like this book.

The words are exciting and the watercolour drawings are awesome. The main characters are kids playing at their beach. Belinda and James build sandcastles and find sticks, rocks and feathers. They’re pretending their beach is all different things like they found treasure, they’re sailing all over the world and they caught a shark.

I like the pictures and the family’s cute dog is found on almost every page. I liked the words on the last page “adrift on the evening tide”. There are parts of the story that are confusing and the picture didn’t help me.

4/5 stars

During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by the winners and longlisters from our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Beast of Buckingham Palace

The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams and illustrated by Tony RossREVIEWED BY HARPER, YEAR 5, NSW

The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross, HarperCollins Children’s Books, ISBN 9780008385644

Harper reviewed her own copy of this book, and was the Primary Category winner in our 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Imagine the year 2120, one hundred years into the future. Evil has come knocking and Britain will never be the same. With the majority of Britain under the control of evil, it will take Prince Alfred to find the good in people. But in these times, it seems you can only trust yourself. The King’s beasts will soon be controlled by the Lord Protector, including the monstrous Griffin. Will the sickly Prince Alfred, who has never seen the world outside Buckingham Palace be able to save Britain?

David Williams has a knack of transporting his readers to thrilling new places with excitement and mystery around every corner. Even the Royal Family gets a new adventure! Readers love an unexpected hero, and Prince Alfred is just that. Sickly, small and rejected by the Lord Protector, he is proven unworthy by his Father. But he shows us that by displaying courage and making sacrifices anyone can be a hero.

I love learning about the Royal Family, so this book was exciting. This was my favourite David Williams book; I couldn’t put it down! The characters had a lot of personality and the story was very eventful. The thing I love most about this book is the different fonts that were used to show how each character felt or the mood of the scene.  For example, if the character was frightened then the words the character said would be fuzzy. It was such a fun read!

During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by the winners and longlisters from our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Mel Pearce


Mel Pearce is a Western Australian artist and illustrator. She takes inspiration from games, Japanese animation, machinery, childhood nostalgia, elephants, fish and teeth, to name a few things. Today we’re talking to Mel about illustrating her new picture book No! Never! written by Libby Hathorn & Lisa Hathorn-Jarman.

No! Never! cover

From the publisher:

A cautionary tale about a little girl who drives her parents up the wall when she starts answering ‘No! Never!’ to all their requests — and what happens when the tables are turned on her.

There was a child,
The sweetest ever,
Until she learned these words:

Can you tell us about the art materials/tools you used for illustrating No! Never!?
I use a variety of media in my drawings, but Suzanne, a publisher from Hachette Australia, really enjoyed a particular style I’d used in some pictures, so I used that very scribbly hand-drawn style for No! Never!. I drew most of the main drawings on slightly roughened paper with a Blackwing pencil, which is a really beautiful drawing tool and a favourite for a lot of artists, illustrators and designers because the very soft graphite allows you to draw very expressively with whatever pressure you want to use. I then scanned the images into my computer and coloured them on Photoshop using my drawing tablet.

How long did it take you to illustrate this picture book from first draft to finish?
I think I started the rough storyboard in September 2018, and handed over the final illustrations (after fixing all the bits and pieces Hachette asked me to!) in May or June 2019. So maybe 9-10 months?

What’s your favourite art medium to illustrate/create with?
Besides drawing with dark pencils, I really love using ink in my work – either with a brush or with a drawing nib. I love how you can get such a variety of tone and marks out of one medium – you can get a sharp, dark line if you use a nib, or you can water it right down and use a brush to make a soft sky. When I was in Art School I really loved doing printmaking with big metal plates, using a process called Intaglio. Unfortunately, I don’t have the facilities to be able to do that kind of printing anymore. Hopefully in the future!

Do you have a tip for budding artists?
I think it’s important to stop looking around and comparing yourself to all the other artists out there all the time. We are constantly bombarded by posts about awesome things people did and made and how clever they are, that sometimes it can make you feel like you’re never going to be as good as them, to the point where you get scared to try in case of not doing well. I am also very guilty of this! I spend so long stressing about how I can’t do what someone else can, or how I take days to do something that someone else did in a couple of hours. I went through a stage where I could not even do a simple sketch or scribble on a page because I was afraid that it wasn’t going to look good at the end. I don’t think I did a proper drawing for a good part of a year!
Just keep observing from life and drawing at least once a day, and you will definitely improve your skill.

Can you tell us something about your next project or something you’d like to work on?
I would very much like to write my own story to illustrate, and since I didn’t get to use ink in No! Never!, that’s definitely what I want to use next! However, if I get approached by a publisher with a new project, it will depend on the feel of the story for what I end up using to draw it. At the moment I’m just trying to get back into drawing for fun … usually good ideas come when you’re not trying. Or so I’ve heard!

Mel Pearce (R) holding one of her ink drawings, and Mel's sister Erin holding up a copy of No! Never!
Mel Pearce (R) and her sister Erin (L) with No! Never! & artwork created during a livestream tour of Mel’s studio for Paper Bird Books Home Club.


Take a sneak peek inside the book

Have a look inside Mel’s studio & see her create with ink (YouTube)

No! Never! is available at book shops and libraries from 28 April 2020.