Posted in Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Mel and Shell

REVIEWED BY KATE, 11, WA (IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE)

The image shows the cover of a children's novel: Mel and Shell by Julia Lawrinson. The cover has a 70s vibe. In the centre of the book are two girls with the backs to the viewer. They are both wearing jeans and bright coloured tshirts, one has long blonde hair and one has shoulder-length brown hair. They are dancing, with hands above their heads. The remaining ilustrations make an oval 'frame' around the girls. Crammed into these illustrations are orange and pink flowers, a pair of yellow roller skate boots, a grey horse, and a bike.

Mel and Shell by Julia Lawrinson, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760990725

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Mel and Shell is a book about friendship, laughter, friendship problems and of course ABBA. This book is set 40 years ago when the world was obsessed with the sensational band ABBA.

In this book Shell and her classmates are writing to a pen-pal from 1829 about their day, what they would be surprised about and what they would like. 

Another character in this book is Sharon the girl who can’t get enough of herself. She is a mean person but gets people to think that she is nice.

There were many surprises in this book but one of my favourites was that they went on school camp and Sharon forced Shell to push her and some boys out to an island and something happens to one of them.

The cover of this book is amazing and tells a lot, and I love the characters; Shell is just so outgoing, kind and funny and Mel is adventurous and nice. I recommend this book for kids aged 10 and up and for anyone who needs a good book to laugh.

I give this book 5 stars for the creativity and the good plot.

Read our interview with the author and read an excerpt from the book.


Iona Presentation College students are members of Alphabet Soup’s review team. This is Kate’s first review for Alphabet Soup. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Joshua, Book reviews by kids

Book review: A Glasshouse of Stars

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA, 12, NSW

The image shows the cover of a children's book: A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr. The cover illustration shows a girl with black plaits and a green tunic shirt walking into a glasshouse that looks lit-up from inside and packed full of colourful and marvellous plants, flowers and trees. Above the glasshouse it appears to be night/a dark sky.

A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr, Penguin Australia, ISBN 9781760899547

Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.

‘The hardest part is over. You made it.’ 

You find yourself in a new country, in a big city, in a big house. It’s all new and scary. You, Meixing, have been told you need to go to school as well. Everything is strange to you – the language, the people, the culture and the school. This is Australia. 

Your home, Big Scary, is your friend and looks out for you. Big Scary keeps you safe and protected. Everything is ok.

But everything goes wrong when Ah Ma’s wedding ring, your grandma’s wedding ring, is lent to you for good luck at school. The problem is that your supposed friend tricks you and steals the ring. You don’t know how to get it back as you can’t speak the language fluently and your now ex-friend lies and says that her parents got it for her. Distraught, you go home.

What are you going to do? What other problems will you face?

Shirley Marr’s book, A Glasshouse of Stars, expresses big, strong emotions and feelings such as when Meixing loses someone close to her and is very torn apart. Later she finds the glasshouse’s secret and is exuberant upon her findings. Marr mixes Meixing’s imagination and brings it to life, causing the reader to visualise the scene before them. The way Marr uses second person helps the reader to understand and empathise with Meixing. 

As an avid reader, I really enjoyed reading this book and every time I see the coloured cover of the book, I am compelled to pick it up and fly back to Meixing’s world. This book is very creative through the metaphors and images that connect the story together. It is also relatable as I have also faced some of the problems Meixing met. I encourage you thoroughly to pick up this book and find yourself in the shoes of a migrant girl.

I loved this book deeply and rate it a well-deserved 5 out of 5. Come read this exceptional book!

Take a sneak peek at the first chapter of the book.

Read our earlier interview with the author.


Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read his earlier review of Eddie Woo, Superstar Maths Teacher here.  If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: A Tale of Witchcraft

REVIEWED BY STEPHANIE, 11, WA (IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE)

The image shows the cover of a children's fantasy novel: A Tale of Witchcraft. The title is at the top of the book. At the bottom are the words "Bestselling author of The Land of Stories, Chris Colfer". The cover is predominantly in purples. At the centre of the cover is a circle (reminiscent of a crystal ball) with a gothic-looking castle inside. Surrounding the ball are a white wolf, young witches walking into the distance wearing black cloaks with the hoods up, and a tangle of twisty tree branches. The overall effect is spooky.

A Tale of Witchcraft (A Tale of Magic: Book 2) by Chris Colfer, Hachette Children, ISBN 9780316523547

Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.

Brystal is the fairy godmother, with responsibilities stacked as high as the sky. She finds that everything is falling apart and her friendships are spiralling out of control. How will she protect herself from the righteous brotherhood and put her friendships together again?  

I don’t know how Brystal found the courage to keep going everyday, it was inspiring. Brystal taught me how to keep going even in the darkest times and to never give up no matter what the circumstances. This was the best fantasy book I have ever read, it was so engaging and each page was like its own story. I can’t wait to read the next book!

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone who loves a good page-turner, especially if you love to read fantasy. I hope that everyone is as inspired as I am by Brystal.


Stephanie is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her second review for Alphabet Soup. You can read her review of Girl of The Southern Sea here. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in poetry, Young Writers in Action

Young Writers in Action: The Red Balloon

THE RED BALLOON by Charles, 8, NSW

It floated in my backyard yesterday,
It was red and shiny with a white string,
I held it tight
But it tugged with all its might. 
So, I have a sigh and let it go.
While it floated away I whispered
Go to the sky.

This is Charles’s first publication at Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. (We’re particularly keen to consider book reviews in November and December.)

Posted in authors, interviews

Kim Doherty on Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist: 2016–2020

MEET THE AUTHOR

Kim Doherty is an editor, storyteller, teacher, and a mum to two young children, who she hopes will be inspired by the amazing world of science and Alan’s story. Today we’re thrilled to chat to her about her new book, a biography in the Aussie STEM Stars series – Alan Finkel.

From the publisher:

As Australia’s Chief Scientest, our country turned to Alan Finkel for advice on everything from climate change to artificial intelligence, to the pandemic. But at a time when scientists have never been so important, Alan nearly didn’t become one at all!


How did you go about your research for writing about Alan Finkel? 

I did a LOT of reading. It’s lucky that I love reading as well as writing, as there is so much to read about Alan – he’s always busy doing something interesting. I read all the speeches he’s ever given (and that is no small feat – there are hundreds) and a lot of his scientific papers. I confess, some of the papers were a bit too complicated for me to understand, but I did my best. I spent a lot of time interviewing Alan of course, but I also chatted to his colleagues, his friends and his family (his sister had lots of funny stories to tell. It’s a good reason to always be nice to your sister – you never know who she’ll talk to about you in the future!)

Did you meet Alan Finkel while you were writing the book?

Alan and I had grand plans to have lunch together in Melbourne, where we both grew up. Then he was so busy that we changed it to Canberra, where his office was as Chief Scientist of Australia. Then he was due to give a speech in Sydney, where I now live … but then something got in the way: Covid-19. There was no way of travelling or meeting face to face during the pandemic, so we did all our chatting on zoom. Which I have to say was fun! It was like being teleported straight into his living room in Melbourne, without ever having to walk out my own front door in Sydney. (And once, I was still secretly wearing my slippers. Ssshh!).

As Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel worked in many different areas of science – technology, biology, science education, the pandemic, climate change – and in the book we learn that perhaps his greatest passion is taking care of our planet. Which area of STEM do you find most interesting?

Oh I love all of it, I wish I’d studied more science at school. Alan is always fascinating to talk to, but perhaps my favourite of the many STEM topics we chatted about was how science can help look after our planet. For example, Alan believes that clean hydrogen can power our vehicles instead of dirty fossil fuels, and it turns out that Australia is a great place to produce hydrogen. You can make hydrogen from water, and instead of emitting nasty greenhouse gases, its only byproduct is water vapour! It’s exciting to think that, thanks to our scientists, Australia could play an important role in looking after our beautiful planet.

In addition to this biography about Alan Finkel you’ve also written a book for children about Mt Everest. Do you have a tip for children who’d like to write nonfiction?

Hmm, I’m sure your clever readers would think of this themselves but my advice is this: find a topic you’re really interested in, because it’s a lot more fun to read and write about a subject you love. It doesn’t mean you have to know a lot about it when you start, but you need to be ready to read a lot first, and then talk to people who know a lot, before you even start to write yourself. If you’ve really worked hard on the research, the writing bit is easy and fun. Go on, give it a try!

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

To be honest, I am still trying to work it out. I love writing about amazing people, and there are so many of them in Australia – scientists of course, but also people from all walks of life who are doing wonderful, brave things. It’s an honour to tell those stories, so thank you for reading them. I hope they inspire you too.


Alan Finkel is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Image shows the cover of a biography about Alan Finkel written for children. The title is Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist: 2016 - 2020. Story told by Kim Doherty. Text at the top of the book's cover says Aussie STEM Stars. The cover is predominantly dark blue and shows an illustration of Alan Finkel. Alan has short grey hair and is wearing a pale blue collared-shirt with a maroon tie and a dark grey suit jacket. He has fair skin and dark blue eyes. Other symbols on the cover include sketches of a human brain, a computer chip, and a lightbulb (the last of which is shining brightly, yellow).
Posted in Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Rory

Book review: Stellarphant

REVIEWED BY RORY, 9, WA

Stellarphant by James Foley, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760990732

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Stellarphant is an inspiring story to teach young children about persisting. Stella the elephant wants to become an astronaut but there are many things that hold her back such as she needs a spacesuit, a rocket, space education and crew!

It’s an ordinary Monday at 9am when suddenly an elephant bursts into Space Command asking to be an astronaut! Stella doesn’t understand when the recruiter says she can’t. Stella then sets to work trying to become an astronaut but along the way she faces many challenges. Once again, she asks the recruiter one more time to get his response …

My favourite part in Stellarphant is when Stella is determined to become an astronaut by working hard because if you work hard, you can get anything! Also, I liked the timeline at the end of the book listing all the animal things that have been into space. Did you know that in my birthyear (2011) a bobtail squid was sent into space! Also, the weirdest one I read was in 1989 fertilised chicken eggs were sent into space!

Overall, I’d rate Stellarphant ten out of ten because it’s inspiring, funny and reaching for the stars!

Take a sneak peek inside Stellarphant!

Read our interview with the author-illustrator, James Foley


Rory is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Indi, Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: My Brother Ben

My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas

REVIEWED BY INDI, 9, WA, IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE

My Brother Ben by Peter Carnavas, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702263330

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

My Brother Ben is a timeless story of two brothers and a magpie.

Luke is a quiet boy who loves and is very knowledgeable about birds. Ben is starting high school, is adventurous, and both brothers share a dream about exploring Cabbage Tree Creek in a boat of their very own. When Ben starts sneaking out at night, Luke decides to follow him.

This book is a tale of brotherly love, birds and boats. I would recommend this beautiful book to 10 to 110-year-olds who enjoy a book about the bond of family and a tiny bit of mystery.

Read our interview with the author, Peter Carnavas.


Indi is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. Read her earlier review of The Wizard in My Shed. To send us YOUR own book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Stellarphant

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

James Foley makes picture books, middle grade novels and comics for kids. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we are thrilled to chat to James about his latest book, Stellarphant.

From the publisher:

Stella wants to be an astronaut. There is only one problem – Stella is an elephant. Every time she applies to Space Command, they come with a new reason she can’t join. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and Stella is determined to reach for the stars.


What sparked the idea for this story?

I was at our annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Rottnest Retreat, June 2014. Sitting around in the cottage with my friends and we were all sketching and scribing away. I made this random pen and watercolour sketch of an elephant and penguin as astronauts. Elephants had turned up in my sketchbooks regularly over the years, but never as an astronaut. The story that became Stellarphant grew from there. 

I’m also a massive nerd who loves learning things, and I was reading about all the species that have been to space. The back endpapers of the book were another early image I couldn’t get out of my head. 

The endpapers showcase the huge number of animals sent to space since 1947. Was there a particular animal you were surprised to discover had been to space? 

I was most surprised that the first earthlings to circumnavigate the moon were not humans; it was some tortoises, mealworms and wineflies, sent by the Soviets! I also loved that there was an experiment that sent fertilised chicken eggs to space – it was called ‘Chix in Space’ and was sponsored by KFC. 

The endpapers in Stellarphant aren’t even the full number of animals that have been to space, they were just a bunch of the most fascinating ones. 

Stella shows resilience, persistence and creative problem solving skills in the face of repeated ‘no’s. Have you ever been told it’s not possible to do something and persisted anyway?

I was really lucky that when I was younger, and being a writer/illustrator was still just a dream, I didn’t have anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. My parents and siblings and friends were all very supportive of my creativity. Though I can be incredibly stubborn, so maybe they knew that they couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to try.

Sometimes it’s your own head that is telling you no; that often happens to me when I’m in the earliest stages of a new project, or even just starting a new page. The little doubting voice flares up, and I wonder if I’ll be able to finish the task ahead. When that happens, I find that my fear of not meeting my deadline usually trumps the fear of failure, haha! I know that I just have to get the work done. 

The book is definitely about determination, but for me it’s also about discrimination, and diversity, and equity, and feminism. And it’s also about learning to let go of what other people think of you; to stop looking for approval from others, and to realise that you are good enough the way you are. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you went about creating the book? Words or illustrations first?

The whole story grew from that image of the elephant and penguin spacewalking. 

That’s how it goes with my stories, most of the time; they start with an image (either in a sketchbook or in my head), then the plot grows from there. 

When I first started trying to write the text for Stellarphant I was pretty inexperienced at writing. The manuscript was, uh, not great, haha! It took me a while, and it took writing a bunch of other stories, to figure out how to make Stellarphant click.

Now I’ve learned from experience that it’s best for me to hold off on writing down a new idea until I’ve thought about it for a really long time; I need to let the ideas percolate and simmer in my head until I’ve got all the plot beats. I’m definitely a planner; I need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story. I won’t start writing unless I know where it’s going. 

As I’m brainstorming and writing, I’ll get pictures in my head. So once I have the story completely written out, it doesn’t usually take too long to scribble out a sketchy little storyboard for the whole thing. From there I can edit, improve, rearrange, until the words and pictures are fitting together just so. 

That’s how it worked with Stellarphant. I did one scribbly little version of the storyboard; then maybe two full-size black and white rough versions of the book. Then I figured out the colour scheme and did a colour rough for the book. Then I did the finals. It was a fairly straightforward process compared to my first book, where I made 13 different storyboards! 

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

I’ve got two projects on the go – the first is a comic short story which will be published in 2022.

The other is a MASSIVE project that I’d love to talk about, but it’s still super secret! It’ll come out in early 2023. 

Stellarphant is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Meet James Foley: Come to a free book signing + drawing workshop! 13 November 2021 [WA event]

Take a peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Download fantastic Stellarphant activities and templates [click & then scroll down the page]

Posted in Book reviews by kids

Book review: A Wind in the Door

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle

REVIEWED BY JON, 10, CALIFORNIA, USA

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle, St Martins Press, ISBN 9780312368548

Jon reviewed his own copy of this book.

This is an adventure-fantasy novel where a child named Charles Wallace is sick, because he is infected with the Echthroi, who are the antagonists of the book. The Echthroi are evil beings trying to erase creation. A teacher by the name of Blajeny comes to Meg and Calvin. Meg is the main character and Calvin is her best friend. The teacher says that Meg’s brother Charles Wallace is sick and that Meg, Calvin, and Progo will try to save him. The book has the adventure you would want to read because they travel to other dimensions.

I like adventure-fantasy novels. I enjoyed the book because the impossible was real. I liked that the book had no pictures so the reader can imagine the characters. I wonder if they will make a movie?

Kids who love adventure fantasy will love this book. 

Visit the publisher’s website to read an excerpt from A Wind in the Door


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

Posted in Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 10, NSW

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor, Allen and Unwin, ISBN 9781760526443

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

This fantastic book is about Perry, a boy who travels back through time to Ancient Rome. Perry learns many interesting things about the Romans such as they drizzle honey over all their meals. He learns to like different things and makes many friends. However, some of his new friends question where he came from. What should he answer? 

After a while, Perry wants to return to the modern days. But Perry knows something about his new Roman mistress and friend that she doesn’t know. He obtained this piece of knowledge from the future. Should he try to help her with the risk of never going back to his time? 

I rate this book nine out of ten because the author based it on actual facts to show how the lives of the Romans’ masters and their slaves’ lives played out. I like it a lot because there is good character development. Anna Ciddor also must have done a lot of research on Ancient Roman facts and buildings.

Read our interview with the author of The Boy Who Stepped Through Time.


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