Posted in authors, interviews, teachers' resources

Cryptosight: an interview with Nean Mckenzie

Nean McKenzieMEET THE AUTHOR

Nean McKenzie is a children’s writer and optometrist who lives in western Melbourne with her husband and two teenage children. When not writing or testing people’s eyes, Nean enjoys travelling to interesting places around the world. She also likes bush walking and reading books, especially ones for 8-12 year-olds. Earlier this year she published her first children’s novel, Cryptosight.

Rafferty Kaminski is a 13-year-old who believes in facts. Not like his Cryptozoologist father, who searches for creatures not proven to exist.

When their father disappears in the Flinders Ranges, strange things start happening to Raff and his younger sister Zara. They learn that their father belongs to a secret organisation and they are suddenly being pursued by bunyip hunters.

Today Hannah (age 13, QLD, and one of our regular book reviewers) interviews Nean McKenzie about writing Cryptosight. Over to you, Hannah and Nean!


Cryptosight by Nean McKenzieWhat inspired you to write about the wonderful world of cryptozoology?
Cryptozoology is a weird sort of world between fantasy and reality, which I thought was great to write about. While the likelihood of any of these crypto-creatures actually existing is really low, it’s still not impossible. I have had people talking to me since the book came out about things that they’ve seen, but no-one believed them! And the creatures are uniquely Australian.

Obviously a lot of research went into the creation of the novel. Can you describe how long the research period took and how the it impacted the overall story?
I like to go to the places I write about to get a feel for them, so we went to the Flinders Ranges and Mildura on family holidays. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Grampians – it’s one of my favourite places. I also went the Wombat State Forest, especially for story research. I really find it helps me to get ideas and also to describe smells, sounds, etc. I research as I write really, so it’s all part of the process.
.

When was the first moment you discovered you had a passion for
writing and it would be your career?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I was about seven. I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, an adventure story set in 16th century Scotland. I did a professional writing and editing course as an adult, which further inspired me to write. I have written quite a few books, but this is the first one to get published. I do have another job, as an optometrist which is good as it is not always easy to earn money as a writer! But when I write I can escape to other worlds and it makes me happy. I think I will always love it.

What advice would you give young writers?
The best advice I’ve been given is that writers need to write. It sounds obvious, but it’s not always easy to do. There are many things that get in the way of writing, but making time to do it and doing it often, makes the writing better, I think. I also think reading a lot is important as it feeds the mind and the imagination.

Can we expect a sequel or even a series for this novel?
I wanted Cryptosight to finish with a few unanswered questions as  cryptozoology is all about mystery and never really finding out what’s real. So I think that is the end of Raff and Zara’s story but I have written another story set in the cryptozoology world with different characters and creatures, and am working on a third. There is so much to write about!


Awesome extras:

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie

Click here for teachers’ notes.

Click here to read a book review of Cryptosight (review by Hannah, age 13).

Click here to check out Nean McKenzie’s website.

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.

Posted in authors, interviews, teachers' resources

Maddie in the Middle: an interview with Julia Lawrinson

Julia LawrinsonMEET THE AUTHOR

Julia Lawrinson was born just after the first moon landing and grew up in the outer suburbs of Perth. Julia is an award-winning author of books for children, teenagers, and adults – her latest book is Maddie in the Middle.

Maddie Lee is in year six. Her best and oldest friend Katy is busy with school duties and music and scholarship plans, and Maddie feels lost and lonely. Then a new girl starts at school. Maddie wants more than anything to become friends with her. And she does. But Samara’s friendship comes at a high price, with consequences Maddie could never have imagined.

Today we’re thrilled to welcome Julia to Alphabet Soup to talk about writing books.


Maddie in the Middle by Julia LawrinsonWhat sparked the idea for Maddie in the Middle?
The novel was sparked by a friend telling me how her daughter was caught shoplifting. It was something completely out of character for this girl, and I began thinking of all the reasons good kids might do bad things. Then I began wondering what would happen if a kid was doing bad things for a good reason. And so Maddie and her story were born!

How long did it take you to go from the initial idea to the finished manuscript?
It took a couple of years. I work full time so I write in half hour blocks early in the morning, or on weekends, so progress is slow. Also, every book seems to take at least three re-writes before I have a grip on point of view and character development, and then what feels like a million edits after that! The team at Fremantle Press [the publishers] were wonderful to deal with – direct but sensitive with suggestions.

Pen and paper, or computer?
I prefer writing with pen and paper, but I am a fast typist, due to time constraints (see above!) all my drafts are done on the screen. I am still very fond of keeping a pen and paper journal, though.

Do have any advice for young writers?
Start writing! Practice writing – anything, from fake hashtags to parody lyrics to poems, short stories and scripts. Write and don’t worry about what will happen with it. Have fun!

What are you working on next?
Its working title is The ABBA novel’ – it’s set in 1979, features roller-skating, Countdown, horses, glitter pens, and prank calls, as well as letters to someone from the past. I am having the best fun writing it.


Maddie in the Middle by Julia LawrinsonAwesome extras:

Click here to WIN a copy of the book

Click here to read a sneak peek of the book.

Click here to read a review of Maddie in the Middle. (Review by Hannah, age 13)

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Click here to visit Julia Lawrinson’s website. 

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson is out now! Find it at your nearest bookshop or library.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Maddie in the Middle

Maddie in the Middle by Julia LawrinsonREVIEWED BY HANNAH, 13, QLD

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson,
Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925815931

Hannah received a review copy of this book from the publisher. 

Maddie Lee is in year six, and she feels ordinary and dull. Her best and oldest friend Katy is Head School Counsellor and aiming at an Academic Scholarship. Maddie doesn’t have anything that is hers or anything that is special. Enter a mysterious new girl, Samara.

Maddie in the Middle, the new novel written by Julia Lawrinson, brings together the many aspects and difficulties of life as a young girl, transitioning into high school, to create an enthralling story that will keep you hooked until the very end.

I found that it was so easy to get captivated in the plot, with each chapter ending in a cliff hanger and I was wanting more and more with every word. I just could not put this book down; in fact I ended up reading the whole novel in one night! I found myself feeling the inner emotions of every character and also relating to them, rocking with anticipation as I longed for the conflict to be resolved.

This book moves at quite a fast pace, adding to the suspension and overall feels of the storyline. I think that the author has executed the characters absolutely beautifully. They are relatable and loveable while still being able to construct the main conflicts.

I would recommend this book to ages 12+ as some of the themes are quite emotionally demanding. This would be a great book to read with your children to help them understand some of the main aspects (e.g. divorce, poverty, conflict in friendships).

This would make for a fantastic movie. I would even go as far as to say it is the best psychological thriller I have read this year. I can’t wait to read her next book.


Hannah is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereIf YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Cryptosight

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzieREVIEWED BY HANNAH, 13, QLD

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie, MidnightSun Publishing, ISBN 9781925227536

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie is a wonder-filled adventure that will keep you hooked until the very end. It captures you into a world unlike any other, a world of magical creatures and escapades.

The story starts right in the action where we meet our lovable main characters. Rafferty Kaminski is 13 years old and believes in facts. Unlike his Cryptozoologist father Max, who searches for creatures not proven to exist? Raff’s younger sister Zara is stubborn and determined, aspiring to be a Crypto zoologist, willing to follow in her father’s footsteps.

When Raff’s father decides to take them on a trip to the Flinders Ranges hoping to assist them in their ‘Crypto zoology training’ he disappears and strange things start happening to Raff and his sister Zara. They learn that their father belongs to a secret organisation and that he is in great danger. Raff is reluctantly drawn into the weird world of Cryptozoology as he and Zara follow ‘sightings’ of mysterious creatures around country Victoria. Will they find their father?

Nean McKenzie has outdone herself with this enthralling novel that draws you in with every word. The book moves at a good pace which is perfect for readers of all levels. This book has so many little details and it is so interesting to see the story develop, it almost feels like you are on a detective case yourself. The story really captivates you, making you feel like you are in a whole other world.

I would recommend this book to ages 10-13. Overall a really fantastic read and great for the upcoming holiday reading!


Hannah is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereIf YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: SICK BAY

 

Sick Bay by Nova WeetmanREVIEWED BY HANNAH, 12, QLD

Sick Bay by Nova Weetman, UQP,
ISBN 9780702260322

Hannah received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Meg uses the Sick Bay to hide from other kids. New girl Riley is a type 1 diabetic with an over-protective mother. They think they’ve worked each other out, but what if they’ve got it all wrong?

Sick Bay by Nova Weetman enfolds you into the world of Meg and Riley who are both working out and living through their own issues and yet somehow they are helping each other out even more.

Riley runs with the ‘popular’ clique. She’s well respected, praised even, although her peers don’t understand her diabetes. Her friends think that it’s something that they can just wish away or make fit into their life. Her mother is manic and controlling. Riley just wishes that she could be a normal teenager with a normal body, a normal mother and a normal life.

Meg is completely different. Her current best friend is a tattered, brown, paper bag that she keeps in her front pocket. She hides in sick bay to avoid other kids and PE. Her father died six months ago and ever since this tragic event, her life has changed dramatically. Meg wears slippers to school and begs for food from the office lady Sarah. There is a rumour going around about how poor she is.

They both meet in sick bay one day, and are oblivious as to how much their lives are going to change as a result.

Nova Weetman has kept the action moving and exciting while still managing to keep the storyline relaxing. She executed the emotions of the characters beautifully and I found myself siding with them and feeling their sorrow as well as their excitement.

I would recommend this book to ages 10 to 14. If you enjoyed The Endsister by Penni Russon or Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Siobhan Curham, you are sure to love this one as well!


Hannah is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereIf YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Annabel, Again

REVIEWED BY HANNAH, 12, QLD

Annabel, Again by Meg McKinlayAnnabel, Again by Meg McKinlay, Walker Books Australia, ISBN 9781925381542

Hannah received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

‘Seven bags of pistachio nuts, twenty packets of flower bulbs, and every single book in the house, all 782.5 of them, in alphabetical order is what it takes.’

After her best friend Annabel moves to Queensland permanently Olivia sets off on a mission to ‘forget’ her. That is until she walks right back into class like it never happened after just one year. It’s Annabel, again, but this time … it’s a whole lot different!

Meg McKinlay, author of the award-winning A Single Stone, initially wrote this story in 2003. She believes that ‘language reflects the world’ so she made changes to address the advancement of technology over the years. Meg only wanted readers to focus on the heart of the story.

The book is written from the perspective of Olivia, showing her frustration over her once-best-friend Annabel, returning but now getting close to her once-enemy-Summer. This novel took quite a while to progress into the action. I felt myself neglecting to read it until I had reached the real core of the events, then I couldn’t put it down! I read most of the book in only one night (a new record for me!). I absolutely loved the way the emotions of Olivia were portrayed. I actually found myself feeling the energy of jealousy and resentment in favour of the main character. I wanted to jump into the book, be in the action, stand alongside the characters and resolve the conflict myself.

The whole storyline really is about such a simple yet understated aspect of life. As a tween, this type of thing isn’t new to me. People talking behind other’s backs, excluding friends and hating on people are all regular occurrences. To read about exactly this was quite thrilling and definitely entertaining!

I would recommend this book mostly to children aged 10 to 13 who like a quick read. It would also be great for holiday reading – which is coming up very soon!

Get excited for this new release of Annabel, Again.


Hannah is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereIf YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: One Careless Night

REVIEWED BY HANNAH, 12, QLD

One Careless Night by Christina BoothOne Careless Night, written and illustrated by Christina Booth, Black Dog Books, ISBN 9781925381856

Hannah received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

“They hunt, but they are also hunted. Carted away. Sold for bounty. And then, one careless night – the last thylacine is gone.”

This beautiful picture book portrays the story of the last known living thylacine. The thylacine has been an endangered species since the year 1936. It begins with the basic life of the featured young thylacine and her mother, listening to the whispers of the night and running to keep up with them. Hunting, playing, growing. They are living a normal life, that is until they become the hunted. She’s kept captive in an unknown forest, one of concrete and cold floors.

The illustrations in the book are absolutely stunning. They perfectly show the expression of pain and agony of the two thylacines, as well as the pure elegance and beauty of the wild and silent nights that they are sharing together. The writing of the book is also wonderful. It makes you feel like you’re right in the moment, running with the thylacines, amongst the mist of the mountains and the cold night air.

It is definitely a good book to read to older children, aged 10 to 12. It didn’t seem to be a book aimed at smaller children as the overall themes were quite dark and scary. I believe smaller children (aged 4 to 9) may find the book overwhelming, so I do not recommend the book for that age group.

Get excited for the release of One Careless Night, written and illustrated by Christina Booth, this month!


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

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Wreckers’ Revenge

REVIEWED BY HANNAH, 12, QLD

TThe Wreckers' Revenge by Norman Jorgensen (book cover)he Wreckers’ Revenge by Norman Jorgensen, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925815450

Hannah received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

The Wreckers’ Revenge, by Norman Jorgensen, is a sequel to the very successful first book in the series The Smuggler’s Curse. The Wreckers Revenge was inspired by two boys from the Cocos Islands who, after hearing one of Jorgensen’s stories, attempted to find William Dampier’s missing treasure. It is not necessary to have read the first book to thoroughly enjoy The Wreckers Revenge, which is set in the early 20th century, beginning with the anticipation of whether Red Read (the main character) is to be expelled from Christian Brothers College. After a series of crazy events – involving the nasty acts of Brother Christian – the infamous Captain Black Bowen, Red’s Guardian, comes to change the day, whisking young Red off to once more become a loyal crew member of the mighty Black Dragon. But don’t get too comfortable on this ship as there is nothing but action and adventure to be had on these decks.

In my opinion, I thought that the book moved at a manageable pace for a wide range of readers and it wasn’t over-complicated. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters as the story developed and it was interesting as each character had their own lovable and different features. Every sentence had a drip of anticipation and I really did find it quite hard to put the book down.

It would be a perfect holiday read and even a great book for adults to read to children as well. I recommend this book to 10–13 year olds as there is quite a lot of violence in it and I believe that these ages would be able to manage that.

In conclusion, it’s a really great book and is worth checking out.

Read a sample chapter of The Wreckers’ Revenge at the publisher’s website.

Download Teachers’ notes for this book from the publisher’s website.


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

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Hannah, Book reviews by kids

Book review: This is home

This is home, poems selected by Jackie French, illustrated by Tania McCartney (book cover)REVIEWED BY HANNAH, 12, QLD

This is home: Essential Australian Poems for Children, selected by Jackie French, ill. Tania McCartney, NewSouth Books, ISBN 9780642279385

Hannah received a review copy of this book from Alphabet Soup.

This is Home – a book of poetry selected for children by Jackie French and vibrantly illustrated by Tania McCartney – is our story of Australia told through verse over real time. There are different sections in the book and each section describes a different part of Australian history. This gives you the freedom to only read what section you like or of reading the whole book from the start to enjoy the progression of events that have formed the country that we call home.

The anthology just radiates pure elegance. The poems are tender and beautiful and most have gorgeous illustrations to match them. The illustrations were really powerful and calming, often playing with the words and a poem’s title.

It was so impossible to choose when my mother asked me for my favourite poem. I have to admit that the ‘Laughter’ section was the one I enjoyed the most. The selection of verse throughout the book doesn’t feel the least bit rushed. The artwork and the storylines are calming and seem to encourage the reader to take time to breathe in the words and pictures. I loved that Jackie French placed the poems in chronological order as I haven’t really seen that done before in an anthology.

I do really love this book and I recommend it to all school aged kids as it is aimed at children. This one is really worth checking out.


This is Hannah’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

 

Posted in poetry, Young Writers in Action

Young Writers in Action: Ballet

Ballet
by Hannah, 12, QLD

Pointe shoes made of pink satinI love Ballet class, for all the wrong reasons.
It’s like a comedy with varying seasons.
I watch Miss Lavender, all duck face
Boom 1. 2. 3. while watching dancers at fast pace.

There is perfect Darcy strutting around.
Nose in the air, toes pointing to the ground,
Sniffing competition, having beaten everyone.
Leotard sparkling and her hair in the latest bun.

Then there is Porscha running in late,
one ballet shoe on, and that is her fate.
A black jelly bean has stained her leotard.
Her tight bun has stopped Miss from frowning hard.

And Alena is the class clown, cunningly,
waiting for Miss Lavender to turn around.
Pulling faces and not a care in the world.
While putting a smile on every girl.

One time Miss caught Alena in the act,
but she made a quick recovery with tact.
“Sorry I just got something caught in my teeth!”
immediately turning to first position with her feet.

Ava is nowhere to be seen when class starts.
“Where is that child?” Miss Lavender asks.
“Hiding in the dressing room” Darcy tells.
Ava says Pointe class is like going to hell.

Kayla is a beautiful dancer but she is full of doubt.
She sneaks to the back but the teachers still shout.
Always trying her hardest, this girl is strong.
Tears always rolling, she is proving them wrong.

Of course Zoe is still off with the fairies.
“Child, do you even know what a Pas de duex is”?
“Um, er, um…and she trys, landing flat with a… no Miss.”
She always looks away and blushes while saying this.

We have such different lives, personalities and bodies.
But when we dance we come together like sisters at ease.
We compete in the Eisteddfods and win.
Blending together as one, limb within limb.


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