Posted in authors, illustrator

Rebecca J Palmer on Monkey Mind



Rebecca J Palmer is an author, illustrator, printmaker, educator and teacher. She is the author and illustrator of a new picture book – Monkey Mind – launched in November 2020. We’re pleased to have Rebecca stop by to talk to us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity in the process of creating Monkey Mind.

From the publisher:

Piper wants to try lots of new things, but something always stops her – her monkey!  Some monkeys are playful. Some monkeys are fun. Not Piper’s monkey. 

Piper’s monkey is very, very, naughty. Everyone else can tame their monkeys. So why can’t Piper? 

Monkey Mind is a gentle story for children and adults about the worrying thoughts that cause anxiety.

On with the questions!

Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerMonkey Mind is a book about facing anxiety. Were there any ‘monkeys’ you had to overcome in the creation of the book?
Oh Yes! Even adults have monkeys! When I first signed with my publisher, Little Pink Dog Books, I was excited and I said to myself, ‘Yay! Everyone’s going to see my story!’ But my monkey said, ‘Oh no! Everyone’s going to see my story.’
That was the start of it for me. I’m a first-time author-illustrator, so everything I did was new, and my monkey questioned everything I did. He said some really mean things like, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s too much for me,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not an author, who am I kidding?’ and worst of all ‘Everyone will find out I can’t draw either!’ He was a mean little monkey. He took some taming I can tell you.

Can you tell us about the illustrations and what materials/tools you used?
I knew I wanted to do etchings. I decided those furry little lines could be made with blue ink – because blue is used to represent depression or anxiety. I also loved the mindful aspect of creating etchings and ‘zentangles’. I thought the process should reflect the main idea of the book. Live in the present!

  • I start out with a copper plate.
  • Then I skritch skritch (what I call this part of the process), into some asphalt that I’ve poured onto the plate and allowed to dry.
  • My ‘skritches’ expose the copper.
  • Then I place the plate into a bath of citric acid.
  • The acid ‘bites’ into the copper surface, but not the asphalt, and creates a line. The longer I leave the plate in the acid bath, the deeper the line.
  • Then I clean the plate so I can see the lines, which could be a pleasant surprise or a bit disappointing, because I’m never quite sure what they will look like.
  • Then I rub soy-based inks into the scratches, wipe the surfaces gently so the ink is just left in the etched lines. This is pretty satisfying, because you can see it properly for the first time and get more of an idea of what your print is going to look like.
  • The next stage of the process is to print the etched plate. 100% cotton paper has been specially made for this process and must be torn to the correct size, soaked and then patted dry so it is damp. It then acts like a sponge and ‘sucks up’ the ink.
  • The paper is carefully placed on the prepared plate in a printing press, and I turn a big wheel like a ship’s steering wheel and the plate is placed under pressure. It travels through two big rollers that squish the ink from the plate onto the surface of the paper.
  • Then comes the exciting bit! Peeling back the paper to reveal the print.

How long did it take you to create the book, from your first draft to the book being published?
Hmm. I’d say about three years. I had already started writing the manuscript because I was teaching some adults at university who were really struggling with anxiety. I thought it was strange we didn’t start teaching ‘monkey taming’ skills using picture books earlier than this. Kids are really clever. We just need to give them the tools early, so it becomes as easy as breathing in and breathing out.

Then, a publisher opened up a submission window. I was one of eight people offered a contract from 400 applications!

But then the hard work began. I changed my etching process to dry point etching (because of the cost of the copper for the etchings). Then, as I learned this new process, I realised I’d have to learn how to use Photoshop and some other digital programs, and then learn how to do watercolour! So I had to ask for help. My publisher agreed to me doing all the graphic design, the cover, and the typography.

Then, on top of it all, I hurt my knee. I was awarded an arts grant with the DLGSCI to let me ask my school if I could take off term four in 2019 to finish the art. It was a lot of hard work! Eventually it all got done. It was hundreds of hours, but it was a chance to achieve my heart’s desire and I couldn’t give up, I thought I might not have this wonderful chance again.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write or illustrate their own books?
I have three!

  1. Ask for help when you need it. (People love to be helpful!)
  2. Turn a gift into a talent. Many people are born with a gift like – being able to draw. Others can’t draw to start with but love it and they practise a little bit every day, and end up better at drawing than the gifted person who doesn’t practise!
  3. DON’T GIVE UP. Practice whenever you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you take a break!

Etching: There are other etching processes you can try that are not so expensive and long winded as this! Your local art shop has scratch board for instance, that gives the same satisfying ‘skritch scritch’ experience.

Can you tell us something about your next author/illustrator project?
I have two manuscripts that I’m working on right now. I have one that I started working on five years ago! I say to my monkey – listen, don’t take it personally, and learn. If it’s helpful, use it, and make the work better. If it’s not, then I say to my monkey, ‘Other people’s opinions of my work is none of your business!’ Think about this. 😉

Monkey Mind is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library. 


Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerTake a sneak peek at some of the pages in Monkey Mind on the publisher’s website. 

Watch a 1-minute YouTube video showing a drypoint etching print of a page in the book.

Watch a 35-second YouTube video showing the process of making Monkey Mind.

Visit Rebecca J Palmer’s website for more about her and her book. 

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

Book review: Ling Li’s Lantern

LING LI'S LANTERN by Steve Heron and Benjamin JohnstonREVIEWED BY KOBE, 9, WA

Ling Li’s Lantern by Steve Heron, illustrated by Benjamin Johnston, MidnightSun Publishing, ISBN 9781925227673

The publisher provided a review copy of this book. 

This joyous and beautiful story is about a Chinese girl named Ling Li. She had two brothers, Jingming the oldest, Miao in the middle, Ling Li was the youngest. Their dad was Da Zhi who was considered the wisest man whoever lived. At times, Da Zhi would present a challenge to nurture his children’s wisdom. In the story he gave the toughest challenge.

Early in the morning, he asked his three children to meet him at the bridge by the three pagodas. Then he told them to spend a sum of money in a small cloth pouch to fill one of the three pagodas with anything in a day. After that, the children set off. In the book I thought that they’d all finish at the same time.

I think Ling Li did the best job because she filled the whole village with something everyone appreciated. This story also makes perfect sense because you don’t have to save all the money to fill a thing up, it’s actually better if you fill one thing up, while you fill up something else as well.

I hope that children will learn a valuable lesson from this story and that they will use this story to guide them to having true wisdom. I am certain that you will also find this story useful and amazing and be ready to be sent to your future wisdom.

Kobe is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereTo send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Chickensaurus


Chickensaurus by James Foley, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925815788 

Chickensaurus by James Foley

The publisher provided a review copy of this book. 

I liked Chickensaurus because it had some humour in it and I thought it could have a bit more humour. My favourite part was when Sally found out about Dexter’s sister (Lyssa). My favourite character was Lyssa because I liked it when she was a nice sweet girl and then she becomes a strong character. It just goes that girls can be just as strong as boys. I also like the pictures. My favourite chickensaurus was the dinosaur that was in the egg.

This book would be great for people who like humour, dinosaurs and comics. If you have read any other James Foley books and you liked them, you would like this one.

Read our interview with the author of Chickensaurus.

This is Alexia’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 Top Reads

Top reads: October 2020

October this year included CBCA Book Week, (which is usually in August, but this year it was postponed a couple of months due to COVID). We’ve loved all the fabulous photos from families and schools dressing up as book characters and students putting their favourite books in the spotlight.

It’s the last day of the month and that means it’s time for members of our Top Reads Team* to share a list of their favourite books from the last 4 weeks. You’ll find most of them at your local library or favourite bookshop.

You’ll find a recommended list from our Top Reads Team on the last day of every month (February to November). If you’d like even more recommendations, browse all through all our Top Reads ever!

*All our Top Readers are kids aged 13 and under. No grownups allowed!

Posted in authors, interviews

Kate Gordon on The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

Kate Gordon grew up in a very booky house, in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Now she’s the author of picture books, children’s novels, and novels for teenagers. We’re thrilled to have her visiting to chat to us about her writing and the setting of her new children’s novel The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn.

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon

From the publisher:

Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company.

But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart…

What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is an enchanting tale celebrating friendship, bravery and the importance of staying true to yourself.

On with the questions!

Direleafe Hall is a spooky, gothic setting for the school in The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn. Is it inspired by a real-world place?

It absolutely is inspired by a real place! The Midlands of Tasmania is a beautifully gothic landscape, just begging to be turned into (gently) dark and atmospheric stories. I travel along that stretch of road fairly frequently and my favourite thing to do on the trip is stare out the window at the historic buildings – some intact and some broken down by time – on the route. My favourite ones are the broken down ones and my favourite of all is an arched doorway that stands alone in a paddock, the rest of its structure vanished as if into the air. I finally researched the building and found it was a school, once. Of course, I had to set a story there!

How do you like to write: pen and paper, or typing straight into the computer?

A bit of both! I write notes on paper but I type the prose directly on the computer. I make too many mistakes to write my stories longhand. I’d need shares in Tipp-Ex.

How long did it take you to write The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn (from the first idea for the book, to publication)?

I looked up the first emails talking to my husband about my idea for this story. It was around six years ago! And I wrote a very rough first draft in 2015. The story came quickly but the process after that was slow. I’m not complaining at all – I feel like this was a book that needed time to breathe and to grow and the team at UQP had the wisdom to allow that. Sometimes things happen quickly and slowly at the same time and I think the best stories have a bit of both.

Do you have a writing tip for young writers?

I’m going to be that thousandth person telling you to read a lot – but it is so important. Apart from that … just love it. Pour all your love and all your heart and all your enthusiasm on to the page and your writing will sing with it. Write as if the world is ending. Write as if it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do. Write because you need to, and you love it. The reader will be able to see it and they will love the words you make as much as you do.

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?

Absolutely! At the moment I’m still deep in Direleafe territory, working on books two and three (and a sneaky extra story about a girl who runs away to the circus). I’m not ready to leave the world of Hollowbeak just yet!

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library, or order it from the publisher.

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate GordonAWESOME EXTRAS:

Read a sample chapter!

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

Visit Kate Gordon’s website for more about her and her books.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: A Crocodile in the Family


A Crocodile in the Family by Kitty Black, illustrated by Daron Parton, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780734419507

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

I like the book because it was all about family. My favourite part was when they said the crocodile was helpful. My favourite characters are the crocodile and the birds. I like the pictures and the bright colours and I also like the texture of the cover, how the words pop out and some of the birds. I also liked the end picture because the crocodile and the birds were holding hands and walking with each other.

Read an interview with the author.

This is Aiden’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, Book reviews by Anishka, Book reviews by kids

Book review: As Fast As I Can


As Fast as I can by Penny Tangey

As Fast as I Can by Penny Tangey, UQP, ISBN 9780702262814

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

Ten-year-old Vivian Hassler would like to pursue her dream of competing in the Olympics. She’s not exactly sure what she’d be good enough at to compete in, but Vivian is sure one day she could compete in the Olympics. Olivia, her best friend, supports this idea and would like to go to the Olympics herself one day too. Vivian thinks she is not even remotely good at anything (unlike Olivia) except long distance running. Vivian took part in races where she constantly won and conquered. Events take an unexpected turn – will Vivian have to give up her dream of going to the Olympics?

I think this book was targeted for readers that had interest levels in sport or just interest in stories where the main character faces difficult choices. Penny Tangey wrote As Fast As I Can and had written many other books which are all fiction and for young people. When she was in year 5, the 1992 Olympic games were held in Barcelona. Penny was inspired by the Olympics. She and her friends vowed they would become Olympic athletes. Penny wanted to write a story about girls playing competitive sport just like she did. And that was how the book As Fast As I Can was made.

I would rate this book 10 out of 10 because it is a truly magnificent book about resilience, persistence, determination and most importantly, acceptance.

Read an interview with the author of this book.

Anishka is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. You can read an earlier book review (The Friendly Games) hereIf YOU would like to send us a story, drawing, poem, or book review, check out our submission guidelines. 

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Chickensaurus


James Foley. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography.
James Foley (photo by Jessica Wyld Photography)

Chickensaurus by James FoleyJames Foley is a Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic novelist. James uses a variety of materials and tools to create his books: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and watercolour. He also uses digital tools: Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom graphics tablet, an iPad Pro and the Procreate app. His latest book is the fourth instalment in the hilarious S. Tinker Inc series: Chickensaurus.

From the publisher:

Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12, is back with a new adventure in invention. When Sally’s nemesis hatches a fowl and poultry plot, there’s no room for the lily-livered. Sally and co will need all their pluck to return the world to its rightful pecking order.

On with the questions!

Assuming you’ve never seen a real chickensaurus, how did you design your dinosauric creatures in Chickensaurus?
I started off with some of the dinosaurs that everyone is most familiar with – T-Rex, velociraptor, stegosaurus, triceratops and pteranodon (though technically that last one is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur). I drew them normal to start with, then added chicken-y details on and gave them silly names. Sometimes the bits I added were suggested by the silly name I gave them – for example, the stegosaurus became an eggosaurus, so it’s basically a giant walking egg. Some of them just started out as a silly drawing and then I found an even sillier name for them – for example, the velociroosters turned up in my sketchbook in 2016, and there were other versions of lizardy chickens in my sketchbooks as far back as 2012.

Just how many chicken puns do you have in your archives? (Would Chickensaurus win the record for the most chicken jokes in one book?)
I hope so! (Though is that really a record that I want my name to be on? Should I be proud or ashamed?) I gathered as many silly jokes as I could and then found places for them in the book. There’s one particularly pun-filled part that I’m strangely proud of, where a character gives a long ‘villain speech’ using as many chicken and egg puns as I could fit in. It’s very, VERY silly.
Chickensaurus is Book 4 in the S. Tinker Inc series of graphic novels. You also write and illustrate picture books. What’s different about the way you go about creating your graphic novels, compared to your picture books?
They’re basically the same process; graphic novels just have A LOT more drawings and A LOT more words. But there is one difference with my writing; when I’m writing a graphic novel I write it out like a movie script. It’s mostly just what the characters say to each other, with a few descriptions of the settings or the action that are basically notes for myself. On the other hand, when I’m writing a picture book the text is usually more than just what the characters say.
Do you have one tip for young storytellers who’d like to create their own comic books or graphic novels?
Yes, and it’s an easy one – read lots of comics! It doesn’t matter if they’re superhero comics, or funny comic strips, or big fancy graphic novels … just read lots of them. And while you’re reading them, pay attention to the ways that the authors and illustrators tell you the story. Notice the things you like about the comic and maybe have a go at trying some of the same drawing or writing techniques. Notice the things you didn’t like so much about the comic and then ask yourself what you would have done differently. You can learn HEAPS just by reading other people’s work.
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
My next two projects are a short Sally Tinker comic adventure that will go into next year’s School Magazine, and a picture book about animals in space!


Chickensaurus is out now! You can buy it from the publisher’s website, find it at your favourite book store, or ask for it at your library. 

Chickensaurus by James FoleyAWESOME EXTRAS:
Click here to watch an interview with James Foley for Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)
Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure


Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney with help from Greg Heffley

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney with help from Greg Heffley, Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, ISBN 9781760897888

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

Xavier’s Awesomely Amazing Book Review

When the new book arrived, I felt excited because I have been a Wimpy kid fan for a long time. I have read every book many times over, so I know the story well. The book is written by Rowley and his adventures with his best friend Greg. There are twists and turns, which you’d expect from a Wimpy kid book, but they are told from Rowley’s perspective for a change.

My favourite part would be the twist at the end (no spoilers!). My favourite character would be Greg. Life for Rowley and Greg is exciting – vacations, blizzards and weddings. Their adventures are always funny and entertaining.  

I feel like kids who like adventure and funny books would love this book since it is a combination of both. Other Wimpy Kid fans would definitely like it, there is no doubt. I believe kids aged from 7 to 13 would like this book (and series). I have read them since about 7 years old and still enjoy them at almost 12.

The book is 4.5 stars out of 5 because it is funny and you want to know the ending because Rowley is making a book which is a change from the other books in the series.

However, for me the story is quite a bit shorter than other books I am reading so I read it very quickly. If you are new to reading books and like a laugh this book is for you.

This is Xavier’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, Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Elizabella breaks a leg


Elizabella Breaks a Leg by Zoë Norton Lodge and illustrated by Georgia Norton Lodge

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

Elizabella Breaks a Leg by Zoë Norton Lodge, illustrated by Georgia Norton Lodge, Walker Books Australia, ISBN 9781760652555. 

The story starts when Elizabella goes to a theatre where she watched Rapunzel. She adored the show. Now she wants to put on a show in her school, but Mr Gobblefrump said no, unless she could make the entire play free. Elizabella was not discouraged and she decided to do the play. The other problem she faced was that her best friend Minnie was going to New York for good. Elizabella was thinking how to stop Minnie’s parents. 

I like when Elizabella and her class went to  the Rapunzel play because they talked about it and she wanted to do the play. Also, I like how Elizabella likes to do pranks such as putting undies on the flag pole. Another funny part was when Elizabella caught her brother kissing a girl. Elizabella also has a cousin called Isabeth who helps her by encouraging her. 

I give this book 4.5 stars. I recommend this book for 8 and up. 

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