Posted in Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Bad Beginning


The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 9780064407663

Ayaan reviewed his own copy of this book.

This is a book written by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler).

The Bad Beginning is the first book in the series: A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series, unsurprisingly, has thirteen books, and the thirteenth book ends on the thirteenth chapter! These books are about the misfortune of the Baudelaire children. 

This first book in the series is the start of the Baudlaire children’s misfortune and misery. The Baudelaire children are orphans after a fire that wiped out their parents. Violet, who is the oldest and a girl of fourteen, loves inventing. Klaus, a boy of twelve, is an avid reader. Sunny, an infant, has four sharp teeth and loves to bite things. Violet is to inherit the Baudelaire fortune when she is of age.

They are adopted by Count Olaf who is horrid and mean. But is he just mean or is something sinister going on? When they come over for dinner, his acting troupe look a bit suspicious. When the children are invited to perform in Count Olaf’s play, something seems amiss. What are Count Olaf and his troupe planning?

I would rate this book five stars as it is mysteriously interesting. This book is good for people who like mystery and are aged 9+.

Oh, by the way, the book is written in a way that not many books are written. Just something you ought to know.

(Take a sneak peek inside the book!)

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

Posted in Young Writers in Action

Young Writers in Action: An Unpleasant Surprise

Cat peeking out a doorway. Photo by Henda Watani at


by Audrey, 10, VIC

Sometimes people ask me, “Hey, if you were an animal, what would you be?”

I’d think, and then say, “A cat!”

I wonder what it would really be like…

I think cats are amazing creatures! If only I could stay up late exploring! I can’t think of anything bad about- oh wait, humans picking me up! I hate being picked up. I wonder if I should say anything else next time …

“If you were an animal, what would you be?” the new kid asks.

This time I don’t hesitate. “A cat! I love cats.”

After school, she comes up to me. “Are you sure you’d want to be a cat?” 

“Yes … why? What do you- OH!” I blink, and suddenly she’s like a giant! I close my eyes and rub them. Wait, why do I have paws? Oh no, she’s turned me into a cat!

“Turn me back into a human! I don’t want to be a cat!” I yell, but she just laughs. I must be meowing!

Suddenly, my friend Natalie appears out of nowhere! “Hey! I just saw you turn her into a cat!”

The new girl turns around quickly. “No, I didn’t! You’re going mad, Natalie.” She puts her hand on Nat’s forehead. Oh, that girl is infuriating!

Natalie moves away. “Then why is her bag there? Hair ties too! THERE’S CLEARLY A CAT IN FRONT OF YOU!” she yells.

“That’s MY bag, and I dropped my hair ties. That cat is a stray,” the new girl lies, turning red.

“I’d recognise Audrey’s bag anywhere. And those are her hair ties. I bought them for her birthday last year!” Natalie retorts, and leans forward to pick me up. “This is my friend, and you’re not going anywhere until you turn her back into a human!” I wave my paw and meow in approval.

Natalie boops my nose. “See? Even as a cat, she’s exactly the same person.”

The new girl sighs. “Fine. But it’s not going to wear off until tomorrow morning. She’ll have to stay this way until then.” 

“Drat! What will my parents say?” I meow.

As if she can understand me, Natalie strokes my head. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell your parents you came over for a sleepover. My parents will totally believe me. They believe anything I say!”

The new girl nods at us and runs off. 

The next morning, a bright sunny Saturday, I walk back home with Natalie. She waves at me goodbye. “Bye!” I yell.

Being a cat is pretty fun. I think. But I’d rather be a human.

Mum greets me at the front door. “Had a fun night? Lucky girl, I was worried you wouldn’t come home!” 

“I had a great night, thanks Mum!”

She winks at me like she knows a secret. “Staying at a friend’s house sure is the cat’s whiskers! I sure know what it’s like.”

Audrey is a frequent contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read another story by Audrey here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submissions guidelines. 

Posted in authors, interviews

Julia Lawrinson on Mel and Shell


Julia Lawrinson is an award-winning writer of more than a dozen books for children and young adults. Her books are about friendship, family and the occasional Jack Russell. We’re very pleased to be chatting to Julia today about her latest book Mel and Shell.

From the publisher:

It’s 1979. Swedish pop group ABBA rules the airwaves, rollerskating is cool, and Mel and Shell are best friends. There’s nothing they like more than making up dances to ABBA songs, and there’s nothing they like less than Scary Sharon and Stinky Simon. But things are changing, fast. Confiding in her pen pal from 1829, Shell discovers she has a lot to learn about loyalty, honesty and rollerskating.

How did you come to write a book set in 1979?

In 1979 I was in year five, and it was a hugely exciting year to be a kid. ABBA was at its most popular, rollerskating was huge, Doctor Who with Tom Baker was my favourite show, and BMX was just taking off. It was also the 150th anniversary of English settlement in Western Australia, so everyone was given a diary with lots of olden day pictures, which fascinated me.

You incorporate two timeframes from history in the book – 1979, when the book is set, and 1829, which the main character is learning about in year 5. How much did you need to research before you began writing the novel?

A lot! I went to the State Library and looked at all the old newspapers on clunky old machines called microfiche, to see what was happening in the first half of 1979, and also to remember what television shows were on when. I also had to make sure I had the right information about who was on what ships coming from England, and what happened to them on the way.

OK, we have to ask – are you an ABBA fan yourself?

ABBAsolutely! I still have an ABBA calendar every year, sent to me by my best friend who lives in England. When we see each other we still dress up and pretend to be Anna and Frida.

If you found a way to time-slip back to 1979, what would be the first thing you’d do when you arrived?

Go rollerskating, buy a yo-yo, and watch Young Talent Time.

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

My next project is my first picture book, set in 1962 in Perth, and features an astronaut. It will be out in June 2022 with Wild Dog Books.

Mel and Shell is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


Read a sample chapter from Mel and Shell

Download Teachers’ Notes for this book

Read our 2019 interview with Julia Lawrinson about another of her books, Maddie in the Middle

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

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

Book review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Algonquin Books, ISBN 9781616207465

Evie reviewed her own copy of this book.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an adventure novel that was a New York Times bestseller and won the 2017 Newbery Medal. This book is about a place called the Protectorate and the people of the Protectorate sacrifice a baby each year to the witch in the forest. But the witch, whose name is Xan, is very kind. She takes the babies left in the forest to a new family on the other side of the forest where she knows they will be happily taken in and cared for. Along the way she feeds the babies using starlight, which has a little bit of magic in it but not enough to make the babies magical. But one year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight. And moonlight is magic. For years the girl (Luna) grows up as an ordinary child with Xan, Fyrian the Simply Enormous Dragon and Glerk the monster from the bog. But what happens when Luna’s magic starts to come out … ?

I enjoyed this book as it is beautifully written and explores the meaning of memory hope, love and emotion. The characters are not perfect and that is what makes them relatable. The heroes and heroines are resilient, empathetic and show the importance of family and friends.

This book filled me with a little bit of magic and is an all-time favourite. So if you like magic, suspense and surprise then this a great book for you. This book is probably best suited to 10 to 12-year-olds.

Read an excerpt from The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Evie is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her second review for Alphabet Soup. Check out Evie’s review of Fozia and the Quest for Prince Zal! To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, refer to our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

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

Book review: Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal


Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal by Rosanne Hawke, UQP, ISBN 9780702263071

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal is an adventure and fantasy novel. This book is about Pakistan after the floods and about a girl called Fozia trying to find her family. Fozia lives with a boy called Jehan and his family after he saved her from the flood. Jehan’s family grow to love Fozia but they remind Fozia too much of her old family. So to help herself keep the memories of her family alive Fozia tells them a story. She tells a story about a prince with leprosy who is searching for his little sister in the jungle on a flying carpet. Prince Zal faces the beasts of the jungle and the pariyan to find his sister. Will he reach her before it’s too late? Everybody loves Fozia’s story but is it really fiction? Can Fozia learn to love her new family?

I liked this book as it was very original and creative talking about memory and hope as well as the love of friends but most importantly, family. The characters are very realistic, making you believe that this story actually could’ve happened, whilst still adding a bit of that fairytale magic.

This book showed me what the aftermath of a natural disaster would be like. This is the third book in the series so please read the other books first: Jehan and the Quest of the Lost Dog and Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll.

If you like fairytales, history and real life references then I recommend this book for you. This book is probably best suited to 9 to 11-year-olds.

Evie is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her first 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 Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows


Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780734420190

Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.

I found Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows to be a fascinating fantasy fiction adventure, but it is missing the absence of surprise when Wednesday made the portal back home. When Wednesday and Alfie fight off the laundry monster I imagined it wearing Alfie’s hat and I almost laughed so hard!

I enjoyed this story because of its detail and how each character showed perseverance and resilience to help family and friends. When I read Wednesday Weeks I had to notice its similarity to Scarlet and Ivy because both books try to help family and are about magic! I liked the skull, Bruce, because he was funny and helped Wednesday and Alfie.

I rate this book a full 5 stars!

Read a sample chapter of Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows!

Emily is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her first review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in authors, interviews

Meg McKinlay on Bella and the Voyaging House


Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet based near Fremantle, Western Australia. She has published eighteen books for young people from picture books through to young adult fiction. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Meg about her latest book Bella and the Voyaging House, a sequel to Bella and the Wandering House, both illustrated by Nicholas Schafer.

From the publisher:

Bella’s house likes to travel, setting sail across the ocean while everyone sleeps. Bella’s parents don’t mind as long as the house is home by daylight. One night, Bella has a wonderful idea for her grandfather’s birthday. She wants to find a figurine he made of her grandmother, lost overboard in an accident. Bella and the house go in search, but things don’t quite go according to plan . . .

Bella’s house is drawn to the sea. Is sailing something you like/have liked to do? Did you go sailing for the writing of Bella and the Voyaging House?

I have no interest in sailing myself but I do love watching sailboats, which is what I was doing when I got the idea for Bella and the Voyaging House. I didn’t need to go sailing as research for the book because the descriptions of the house sailing aren’t technical at all. I just needed to know enough to get the feeling right, and I’ve been on boats enough to have that covered.

I do have a deep love of the ocean though – I love swimming and wave-staring and just generally floating about. Actually, it was after finishing this second Bella book that I realised that in many ways, the house is me. As a child growing up in a carless family in Central Victoria, the ocean was a kind of mythical place to me. On rare visits, my father, who grew up on the coast in WA, taught us to bodysurf, and my older brother and I made a quiet pact – that whenever we were near the ocean, we would hurl ourselves into it, regardless of the weather, conditions, or whether or not we had bathers. These days, I live a 10-minute bike ride from the beach and have vowed never to move away from it. I may not be made from the wood of an old boat, but I think I’m made from my father’s love of the ocean, and long to be near it, just as the house does.

If your own house could wander/sail off to somewhere, where would you hope it would take you?

Hmmm. I think I’d quite like a trip to Antarctica. I love the idea of the white and the silence and the solitude. I generally find that the further I am away from the noise and clutter of life, the happier I am. I’d also love to see a penguin sliding on its belly!

This book is the sequel to Bella and the Wandering House. Did you find it a quicker (or slower) project to write a sequel?

Well, the first book took about 12 years from first draft to final manuscript* so I can confidently say the sequel was quicker. It still took about 18 months though; no matter what I do, I just can’t seem to write quickly. In writing the sequel, it did help that I already knew the characters and the world of the story so I didn’t have to build everything from scratch. On the other hand, my love for the characters may have slowed me down a bit; I really wanted to make sure I wrote a story that would do them justice and give them room to shine.

(*This includes 10 years when the manuscript sat in a drawer, abandoned. I’d written it as a picture book but it wasn’t working and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I eventually gave up. Ten years later, I realised it needed to be a chapter book and rewrote the whole thing; it was published about two years later.)

Will there be any more books in this series?

I have no plans to write any more. Then again, when I wrote Bella and the Wandering House, I wrote it as a standalone book, with no intention of ever writing a sequel. Then again again, I love the way Bella and the Voyaging House ended – that final image feels very satisfying to me – and I think I’d be very happy leaving Grandad, Bella, and the house right there.

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

I’m working on an odd sort of picture book at the moment. I say ‘odd’ because it’s not really a story but more like a series of instructions or guidelines. It’s hard to explain but I think it’s going to be great. It’s called Always Never Always, at least for now, and will be illustrated by Leila Rudge, who I’m very excited to be working with again.

I’m also in the home-ish stretch of the sequel to A Single Stone, and once that’s finished, I’m pretty keen to jump into some shorter novels that have been percolating for a while. They’re both fun and whimsical and I think I’m going to really enjoy writing them.

Bella and the Voyaging House is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Read a sample chapter of the book

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Read a 2015 review of Bella and the Wandering House (Book 1 in this series) by Matilda, age 9.

Bella and the Voyaging House by Meg McKinlay illust. Nicholas Schafer
Posted in Young Writers in Action

Young Writers in Action: MEOW!

MEOW! by Analia, 10, NY, USA

Black and white cat. Photo by Hugo Zoccal Fernandes Laguna on pexels.

“Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? ARE – YOU – LISTENING?”

Humans are so annoying. I just want breakfast! The humans don’t listen and it’s so annoying. They walk around the house getting themselves food and then they brush their teeth, then their hair, then they pack, and then at the last possible moment, they give you food! Maybe I’m just overreacting a tad bit. I mean it is possible that I’m the first thing they feed in the morning but get this, they wake up at 7:30 am!

It never matters how hard I yowl or scream or cry because when they sleep they never wake up unless they want to. When their eyes finally open, I take advantage. I’m actually in the middle of that right now. The owner just woke up and I’m begging her to give me my tuna, my water, and my dry food.

“Please! I’ll do anything!”

She doesn’t listen. In fact, she walks like a sloth to the kitchen. In fact, sometimes I wonder if she’ll ever get there. She finally does. Then, I wait. She takes care of my water first. Why? I need food, not water!

“Food first!”

She continues to wash out my water bowl. Sometimes, it’s pointless to argue. Finally, she’s done. Placing my water dish on the counter, I continue to follow her to the vault. A rusty midnight-colored cabinet with smoke-colored metal openings. You have to curve your fingers around the bars in order to open the cabinet. I call it the vault because there’s no way my delicate paws can open it.

She doesn’t even bother to examine what tuna can I have. She just takes the one in front of her. The green can. I alternate between purple and green. One is tuna and chicken and the other one is tuna and turkey. I always get them confused on which way is which so I call them green and purple. When she took the green can, smoke came out of my ears.

Green? Green! I had green yesterday! Give me purple! Outrageous, inconsiderate, foolish child! How dare you give me green two days in a row! I have a very delicate stomach and if you mess with my palette, you’re cleaning up the mess!

She gives me green. Some things you can’t fight. As she pours the tuna and some of its liquid into the bowl, I try to push her arms away. She fights back refusing to give me my first lick.

“Why? Why? Give me my food!”

Then, I learn the horrid secret she’s been keeping from me. The secret that makes my eyes water. She puts in antibiotic powder!


Then she lets me have it but I don’t want it. Not after she kept that awful secret from me.

In protest I march to the dining room table and lay down, making sure my white and black fur gets everywhere. Stretching out again, nobody notices the mess I’m making. She just continues to refill my dry food then moves on to the mutt’s food. The mutt they call a dog. The inferior puppy that’s been ruining my life for a year and a half now.

I continue to stretch out on the dining room table, knowing that my actions would soon bring attention to me. When the girl came for breakfast, she stared me down.

“Cookie, will you please move?”

“No!” I replied in a sarcastic tone to make sure my anger was expressed. I don’t think the message got across. I guess some battles you just can’t win.

Analia is a frequent contributor to Alphabet Soup. You can read her earlier work here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines.

Posted in authors, interviews

Samantha Wheeler and Devils in Danger


Samantha Wheeler fell in love with animals when, at the age of six, she received a tortoise. She went on to study agriculture, work with dairy farmers and teach science, until writing her first children’s book, inspired by koalas, in 2011. We’re thrilled to be able to chat to Samantha about her latest book, Devils in Danger.

From the publisher:

Killarney discovers a wild Tasmanian devil, denning under the house! Killarney is excited, but many of the locals are terrified. When rumours about dangerous devils begin spreading, Killarney is determined to protect her precious visitor. But can she convince an entire town these wild creatures are worth saving?

Have you ever seen or heard a Tasmanian devil in the wild yourself?

You bet! I first had the idea for writing this story when I saw Tassie devil footprints and scats on a path I was walking on in the Tasmanian wilderness. I was so excited, but sadly didn’t get to see that particular devil. Once I’d started planning the book though, I went back to Tassie and watched wild devils eating a carcass in the dark. It wasn’t as disgusting as it sounds, it was amazing! Killarney gets to do this in Devils in Danger and I know just how excited she would have felt! They are beautiful creatures, especially their red ears.

How did you know when you’d done enough research to start writing Devils in Danger?

 I usually go and find out what the issues are for the particular animal first (Tassie devils in this case) and what my main character needs to do to help them. This gives me a rough idea of what the story might be. Then I begin to write but always find I need more details, like how big are the animals when they’re 3 months old, 6 months old, adults, what do they eat, what do they smell like, how many teeth do they have etc. So these details I usually have to google or go and see the animals, or ask an expert once I’m already writing the story. There’s always a lot of research to do, so luckily I love it.

Do you have a favourite Tasmanian devil fact?

Absolutely. I think the fact that they are creating their own immunity to facial tumours is simply incredible. They are saving themselves. So clever. But a funny fact is the pongy smell they emit when they’re frightened, kind of like a skunk. Who would have thought? They look too cute to be stinky.

How much do you find you need to change in a book, from first draft to final draft?

Oh my goodness. Nearly everything! My first few drafts are usually very bad and I have to change them a lot to make the story any good. One thing that happens with me is that I have too many ideas and can lose the central theme of the story by going off and getting distracted by little subplots. It’s often hard to know what I’m really trying to say. It can be a little frustrating but it’s worth it in the end.

Can you tell us about your next writing project?

I’m playing with a few ideas. I’d love to write another one like this about sharks (I feel really sorry for them, they need our help) and I’m also writing a junior fiction series about a family who inherit a farm but are useless at farming. It’s so cute. Then there’s a  story I’m working on about a boy who gets left behind on a tropical island. So many ideas!

Devils in Danger is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book shop or local library.


Read a sample chapter from Devils in Danger

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

Visit Samantha Wheeler’s website for more about her and her books

Devils in Danger by Samantha Wheeler
Posted in Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Wizard in my Shed


The Wizard in My Shed The MIsadvendtures of Merdyn the Wild by Simon Farnaby and illustrated by Claire Powell

The Wizard in My Shed: The Misadventures of Merdyn the Wild by Simon Farnaby, illustrated by Claire Powell, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9781444954388

Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.

The Wizard in my Shed is entertaining and takes you on a whimsical journey through the Dark Ages to the 21st century, meeting unique characters with different personalities. All the illustrations enhance and bring to life the story in a funny way.

In the book, Rose meets new friends and gets to know her family better, and though I love all the characters, my favourite is Bubbles (Rose’s guinea pig), and all the unexpected surprises!

 I think this book is perfect for 8–10 year olds who want a hilarious and meaningful novel with a moral to read.

Indi is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her first review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!