Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The House with Chicken Legs

The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson and illustrations by Elisa PaganelliREVIEWED BY SADIE, 10, VIC

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, illustrations by Elisa Paganelli, cover illustration by Melissa Castrillón, Usborne, ISBN 9781474940665

Sadie reviewed her own copy of this book. 

Mariska lives with her grandmother, a guardian known as a Yaga, who’s job is to guide the dead through the gate. She knows that one day she will be the next guardian, but she doesn’t want to be a Yaga. She dreams of being with the living and does not like listening to the dead or helping them on their journey.

Mariska’s house has a personality of its own and cares for her and her grandma, Baba Yaga. The house has chicken legs, and like all Yaga houses it gets up and walks somewhere new, whenever it feels like it.
12-year-old Mariska wants nothing more than to have a friend, a friend that isn’t the house. She may be able to play fun games with the house, but she can’t talk to the house about her thoughts and problems or share secrets. So when Mariska meets Benjamin all she wants to do is be his friend. She knows not to cross the fence, but to be with a human is what she has wanted her whole life. But the house ruins it all.

I think my favourite part would be when Mariska gets startled by the sight of a girl her age sitting on the front porch. She said to Mariska that, she doesn’t want to go through the gate and wants to get back home.

This is definitely my no. 1 book this year.

Suggested age: 11+
Rating: 5 stars

Read a sample chapter from The House with Chicken Legs on the publisher’s website. 

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

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

Book review: Finding François

Finding François by Gus GordonREVIEWED BY KOBE, 9, WA

Finding François by Gus Gordon, Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, ISBN 9780143794141

Kobe received a review copy of this picture book.

Can’t find a book that’s full of love and happiness? Why not jump into a cozy little nook and read this one! Finding François is a brilliant book for everyone to enjoy, you can’t doubt that! A little peek inside this book  will lead to you being stuck to this book for a long time.

To give a tiny clue on what this unbelievable book has inside, this might help a bit: Alice wishes she had someone her own size to talk with. Then one day her wish comes true … Through hope and chance, love and loss, two little ones who need each other, find each other.

Gus Gordon is an award winning author from Sydney, Australia who has written many books like Herman and Rosie, Wendy and many more! In total, he’s written 70 books! That’s amazing!

My favourite part about Finding François was that there was a sad moment where Alice loses something really important, but later meets François. I liked it because it reminded me of when my favourite fish died, until we got a new fish that I loved as much as my old one.

Now you’ve got a brief idea about the book, you can read it! Next, you’ll probably share it with everyone! Have fun sailing a boat with Alice, exploring a lighthouse with François and, finally: reading with your beloved family! Enjoy!

Finding François by Gus Gordon

Read Alphabet Soup’s interview with the author-illustrator.

Take a sneak peek inside the book!

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 competitions

Guinness World Records 2021 (+ giveaway)

We know many of our readers are fans of the Guinness World Records books and with the release of the 2021 edition we’re excited to share a peek at one of the records – a record that’s bookish, and speedy … and involves knocking things down! We’re also thrilled to be collaborating with the publisher for a Guinness World Records 2021 giveaway. (Details at the end of this post.)

From the publisher:

– Travel through the Solar System and see the planets come to life with a free augmented-reality feature
– Encounter the cutest, weirdest, most dangerous and exotic creatures on our home planet
– Meet the world’s tallest, shortest, hairiest and heaviest humans
– Marvel at the latest high scores, speed runs and players at the top of their game in eSports and beyond
– Get the lowdown on the world’s most successful and prolific actors, musicians, TV stars and influencers
– Review the greatest sports achievements from the past year and celebrate today’s top athletes

Check out this bookish record, featured in Guinness World Records 2021:

Most books toppled in a domino fashion: Kmart Australia took an hour to set up 3000 copies of Guinness World Records — before knocking them all over — at their annual conference on 31 October 2018 in Queenstown, New Zealand. A total of 334 employees took part, beating the previous best of 2500, set by Aconex (AUS) set on 20 July 2017.
Extracted from Guinness World Records 2021, published by Pan Macmillan Australia (available now!)

Want to win a copy of Guinness World Records 2021? We have three copies of the book to giveaway, thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia. Here’s how to enter:

  • Email with GWR2021 in the subject line. In the body of the email state your name.
  • Entries close 11.59pm (AWST) on 28 September 2020.
  • The winners will be contacted by email and we will request a postal address at that time. Winners’ names and Australian states will be announced on Alphabet Soup’s blog on Tuesday 29 September 2021.
  • Entrants must be aged 18 or over (children can ask an adult to enter on their behalf).
  • The prize will only be posted to an Australian address.
  • See Terms & conditions for more information.

Good luck!

Posted in authors, interviews

Claire Saxby on Georgia Ward-Fear: Reptile biologist and explorer


Claire Saxby writes novels, picture books, nonfiction and poetry for children. Her books are published all around the world. This month she launches a new nonfiction book Georgia Ward-Fear: Reptile biologist and explorer, which is Book 2 in the new Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

 Georgia Ward-Fear’s conservation journey has seen her travel the world, empower young girls to become environmental leaders, and carry out trailblazing work to save native animals from the threat of cane toads.

An inspiring story of an adventurous spirit whose love of the natural world has made her a STEM superstar.   

Georgia Ward-Fear Reptile Biologist and Explorer

On with the questions!

You’ve written fiction and nonfiction books and poetry on a variety of subjects. Do you have a favourite nonfiction subject to write about?
It seems impossible to have a favourite when there is so many interesting things to explore. Sometimes I write what I’m in the mood to write (and I’m just the same when reading … sometimes serious, sometimes curious, sometimes silly), but mostly the idea dictates the form. I had a story I really wanted to write as a picture book but it JUST WOULDN’T FIT! So eventually I gave in and wrote it as a novel (and it took forever!), but it was right. I’ve learned to follow where the idea leads.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths. Had you met Dr Georgia Ward-Fear before you began writing the book?
Georgia and I were paired by the publisher at Wild Dingo Press. We’d not met before. I’d never heard of her before. But she’s just fabulous, and was so generous with her time and her … life! I had to ask all sorts of questions and she trusted that I would know which bits to put in, which bits belonged just to our chats.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
Firstly, I scoured the internet for information about Georgia. Fortunately, she’s done some things that make her interesting to newspapers and television so I could get to know her a little bit through them. Then I read many of her papers and articles. By then she was already my hero for teaching goannas NOT to eat cane toads. Then I emailed her and we started chatting. Every answer she gave me led to more questions. We met once in person and had some phone conversations. Once I started writing I had more questions! Curiosity was my friend.

What’s different about sitting down to write a fiction and sitting down to write nonfiction?
Georgia is a real person living a real life. She has real family and real friends. I have to be sure that I’m being true to her story. I can make up some things, for example I invented an encounter with a mob of wallabies behind her house, but although I couldn’t 100% be sure it DID happen, I knew enough about Georgia to know it COULD have happened. In a fiction story, I can follow any direction my imagination takes me, as long as I can convince my readers. But both need structure, clear language, and lots of rewrites!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
Next year is going to be a busy one. I have three picture books coming out early in the year and there could be another longer work, but I don’t have a firm date on that. The picture books are all related to the ocean. One is funny (Treasure), one is really cool (Iceberg), and the third is thrilling (Great White Shark). I love the ocean, can you tell?

Georgia Ward-Fear Reptile Biologist and ExplorerAWESOME EXTRAS

Visit Claire Saxby’s website for more about her and her books.

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

Book review: Order in the Court


Toffle Towers Order in the Court by Tim Harris and James Foley

Toffle Towers: Order in the Court by Tim Harris, illustrated by James Foley, Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, ISBN 9780143795445

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Toffle Towers: Order in the Court is the third book in the Toffle Towers series. It is about a young manager for a hotel and his name is Chegwin. It is set in a place called Alandale where there are two hotels – Toffle Towers and Braxton Hotel. Chegwin Toffle is the young manager of the hotel Toffle Towers. Chegwin has to figure out what to do when some of the guests’ belongings … disappear! To catch the thief Chegwin makes a talent show and lets everyone know that there is $2,000 to win at the back of the room! Chegwin and his friends go to the back of the room, tie a string to Chegwin’s finger and then tie the string to the prize money (Chegwin will feel a tug on the string when the thief tries to steal the money). But what will Chegwin find out in the end … ?

I like all the funny pictures and strange things in this book. For example there are these funny conversations where there are lots of spelling mistakes (put there on purpose!).

I think this is a good book for you if you are 7–10 years of age and like funny things. I rate this book 10 out of 10.

Read a sample chapter on the publisher’s website. 

Rory is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read his previous review of The Australia Survival Guide by George Ivanoff. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Nit Boy

Henry recommends NIT BOY by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Heath McKenzieREVIEWED BY HENRY, 7, WA 

Nit Boy by Tristan Bancks, illustrated by Heath McKenzie, Penguin Australia, ISBN 9781760896300

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Nit Boy was about a boy called Lewis who had lots of nits. He had a teacher called Mrs Horrock. He was never allowed to go to school because of his nits, because the kids in his class caught them from him. Lewis loved his nits, though. They were his pets. Mrs Horrock made up the nit buster to make the nits jump away.

Ned was one of Lewis’s nits. Ned was a jumping nit. Sheena also lived on Lewis’s head and was his friend.

My favourite part of the book was when Lewis played a prank on Mrs Horrock and took his Dad’s insects to school. The bit I didn’t like about the book was how it changed between Lewis speaking and Ned speaking. I thought it was tricky to read when this happened. I give the story 4 out of 5 and would recommend it though.

Check out our interview with the (itchy) author of Nit Boy

This is Henry’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 authors, interviews

Cristy Burne and Fiona Wood: Inventor of Spray-on Skin


Cristy Burne writes fiction and nonfiction and her books are bursting with adventure, friendship, family, nature, science and technology. Cristy has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across six countries. She has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, museum writer, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN, but her all-time favourite job is working with kids to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity.

Cristy’s latest book is the first book in the new Aussie STEM Stars series – Fiona Wood: Inventor of spray-on skin. 

Fiona Wood Inventor of Spray-On Skin by Cristy Burne

From the publisher:

With her invention of the revolutionary spray-on skin, Fiona Wood changed the way burns were treated forever. 

Fiona’s story is one of hard work and hope, of vision and direction, of stepping up, not giving in, and helping people rebuild their bodies and their lives.

Now – on with some questions about the book!

You’re a science writer, children’s author and presenter. Do you have a favourite subject area when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM)?
My favourite part of STEM is creativity. Every single scientific breakthrough or invention or innovation ever in the whole history of the planet is the direct result of creativity. Our world is a better place because someone imagined a solution to a problem, because someone dared to dream of a new way. So being a scientist is all about being creative.

And science is all about making a difference in our world… solving mysteries, discovering knowledge, inventing fresh ways of doing things. It’s EXCITING, and we can all be part of it.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths. How did you come to write about Fiona Wood?
I was very lucky to be asked to write this book about Fiona Wood, which is just an incredible honour.

I’d interacted with Fiona twice before: I’d seen her speak at a conference and LOVED her energy and passion immediately. Years later, I contacted her for an article I was writing for Double Helix magazine about The Great Unknown … I wanted to know what Fiona’s ‘Great Unknown’ was. I didn’t expect someone as busy as Fiona to answer, but she did, and once again I was overwhelmed by how generous she is, and how much good she does for the world. (She said she had many ‘Great Unknowns’ and finding answers to her questions is what drives her every day.)

So the chance to work with Fiona, to learn more about her, to share her incredible story with the world … it was one I just couldn’t pass up. I’m still pinching myself.

If I could have chosen any living scientist to write about, I would have chosen Fiona Wood. It’s such a huge responsibility to write someone else’s life. I totally recommend that you read this book … and your parents too. And your grandparents. And your teacher. I want to shout FIONA IS AMAZING to the rooftops.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
I started by trawling the internet for all the pre-existing interviews, videos, articles and book chapters that featured Fiona. I listened to hours of radio, watched loads of YouTube, ordered books featuring great Australians, and read everything I could get my hands on.

I had 15,000 words of research before I started writing a thing. Fiona is SO busy doing incredibly vital research and life-changing work, I didn’t want to waste a minute of her time by asking questions she’d already answered in a zillion other interviews.

Also, because I had prepared, when it came time to chat with Fiona, I could focus on more personal questions, or ask about details I needed to bring a particular story to life. I then divided and ordered all that research chronologically and thematically to see if any story structure naturally appeared.

Do you have one tip for kids who’d like to write nonfiction?
Writing non-fiction is incredibly fun! Find something you’re interested in, and learn as much as you can about it. What a great job! My big tip is: don’t be afraid to ring or email someone to ask them for information or an interview. Getting your facts directly from an expert adds so much to your work. And most people, even busy people, are happy to help. (And most scientists, even busy scientists, are passionate about their work, so they love to share it!)

What’s your next writing project? 
I’m putting the finishing touches on a chapter book adventure called Beneath The Trees, which is based on the true story of an epically awful hike my family and I did in the Queensland rainforest … it was an incredible adventure, complete with blood and tears and mud and really cute platypus. Perfect for reading while cuddled in bed!

Fiona Stanley: Inventor of spray-on skin is out now! Ask for it at your nearest bookshop or library. 

Fiona Wood Inventor of Spray-On Skin by Cristy BurneAWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download Teacher’s Notes for the book. 

Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her, her books and presentations.

Hear Cristy Burne read an excerpt from the book.

Read an earlier interview with Cristy Burne 

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

Book review: Songbird

Songbird by Ingrid LagunaREVIEWED BY SANUKI, 11, VIC

Songbird by Ingrid Laguna, Text Publishing, ISBN 9781925773538

Sanuki reviewed her own copy of this book. 

Songbird is about a girl called Jamila, she migrated to Australia as a refugee, with her mother and baby brother. She migrated to Australia from Iraq, because in Iraq there was bomb attacks at that time and it wasn’t safe to live there anymore. Her dad was still in Iraq hiding from the constant attacks.

She had to adapt to new changes such as a new house, a new school and learning a new language. All Jamila wanted was to make new friends at her school, but it was very tough for her until she joined the school choir, which made her feel liked she belonged somewhere.

I would recommend this book to someone who would like to experience the life of learning a new language, meeting new friends and many other changes.

Read a sample chapter on the publisher’s website.

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

Posted in Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: Jolie’s Adventure … A trip inside a book

by Amanda, 7, New York City, USA

Chapter 1

Hands turning an open book pageOne summer day Jolie was stuck in her bedroom looking for something to do. Jolie, an 8 year-old girl, loved her bedroom because it was her comfort zone and a space for her imagination to grow. Sitting on her canopy bed she picked up a book named ​Especial Characters ​sitting on her nightstand.​ ​Jolie, a very fast reader, loved to read drama filled stories and Especial Characters​ fit the category.

As Jolie began to read the words from the pages started to leave the book and spin around in large, round circles. Suddenly, a character appeared in real life. In that moment Jolie said to herself – what just happened​!

Jolie gasped in surprise. “Hi!” said, Lina. Lina was the character that Jolie just read about in the book. As the book described her, Lina was tall with long dark brown hair, and wore braces only on the top of her teeth. She was dressed in a blue jumper with small, green leaves covering the front of it.

Chapter 2

Jolie was so startled she couldn’t even speak. Jolie fainted because she couldn’t believe this was happening. Jolie got up as fast as a tiger chasing prey. When she woke up she saw Lina looking over her. Lina was as tall as Jolie – the height of a 8-year-old girl!

“Why are you here? Who are you?” asked Jolie.

“I am here because I need you to help me find a golden glove and my name is Lina. Most people like to call me Lin,” Lina shared with Jolie.

“So, you’re telling me you want me to help you find a golden glove?” Jolie said confused.

“Yep, just hold my hand!” Lina said happily.

“Wait! Where are we going? My babysitter will be worried if she does not find me sitting in my room!” Jolie says nervously.

“ Just hold my hand!” Lina commands. Jolie holds her hand tightly and starts to spin around like the wind in the hurricane. All of a sudden, they are in the book ​Especial Characters​! Jolie is feeling anxious. She is panicking because this reminds her of The Magic Treehouse book series … and she never imagined being Jane!

What Jolie doesn’t know is that Lina wants to find the golden glove because it will keep all of the characters inside the book. This needs to happen because in the past few months other children have been throwing the books away once they see the words spinning off of the pages. Once this happens the story changes and the characters disappear forever!

Chapter 3

Holding hands, Jolie and Lina jumped into the book and landed in C​hapter 4:​ Jane and the Treasure Map! ​Jolie hoped this was going to be another fun excursion like her journey to Mathematics Land. They found themselves in California standing in front of a townhouse. Lina knew inside this townhouse there was a treasure map. ​Knock! Knock!​ Lina knocked on the door. A girl with long golden hair opened the door. It was Jane!

“We need to talk,” Lina said in a serious voice. “Okay,” Jane said.

Jolie was wondering how Lina knew Jane. Lina and Jane knew each other because they are both characters in the same story. Lina quickly told Jane what was happening to the characters when a reader opened the book. Lina desperately asked Jane if she could look for the treasure map in her house. Jane let her in and as Jolie waited outside she thought to herself – where could the treasure map be?

Eventually, Lina found the treasure map under the bookshelf and it showed that the golden glove was at​ The Harlem BookStore, which is in C​hapter 5: TheBookstore​.Now Lina and Jolie hold hands and spin around and around again to their new destination .

Suddenly, they are at TheHarlem BookStore​ and find the golden glove between two books.

“Now that we have the golden glove what do we do?” questioned Jolie.

Lina replied, “You have to take it back with you and restart the book.”

“Restart the book?” Jolie was confused.

“Jolie, there is a key hole at the top of ​Especial Characters​ for the key that is inside this glove!” Lina explained as she took out the key. Lina took Jolie’s hand and they twirled around and around until they got to Jolie’s bedroom.

“Put the key in the book and close your eyes,” Lina said in a sad voice. As Jolie inserted the key Lina disappeared back into the book. In the next minute Jolie’s babysitter came to her bedroom and said, “Are you okay … you seem so quiet?” Jolie nodded her head and smiled. She thought to herself what will be my next adventure?

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

Posted in authors, interviews

AL Tait on writing The Fire Star


AL Tait is the bestselling author of the middle-grade adventure series The Mapmaker Chronicles and the Ateban Cipher. Her latest novel is The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery).

From the publisher:

A maid with a plan.
A squire with a secret.
A missing jewel.
A kingdom in turmoil.

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

The Fire Star is book 1 in an adventure mystery series set in Medieval times. How much research did you need to do before you began writing?

I have a strong interest in the Medieval period and I describe my novels as ’not quite history’ because they draw from that time but are then pivoted to create a whole new world. So I have a solid grounding in the flavour of the period, which allowed me to start writing The Fire Star, and then I research particular details as I go.

Sometimes, when I’m working on my first draft, I might even just put a note that says something like [insert description of Medieval kitchen here] and then go back later. That allows me to keep the story flowing. Story always comes first.

This is probably not the most efficient way to write a novel, but it works for me.

Characters’ names are an important part of their identity/personality. How do you choose the names of the main characters in your books?
Names are very important, particularly for the main characters, so I take my time to get them right. I look for names that are meaningful to the main traits of the character in question. So, as an example, I chose Reeve because it’s a Medieval word meaning ’sheriff’, which works really well for a mystery story! Maven, on the other hand, is a Hebrew name meaning ‘one who understands’, which describes Maven as a character perfectly.

If you found yourself living in Medieval times, what would your occupation/role in society be?
I like to imagine I’d be Queen of the land, but in reality I’d probably end up a peasant, running a small-holding with my husband and kids. That was the reality for most women, and it’s one of the reasons The Beech Circle exists in Cartreff, the world of my novel.

Do you have a tip (or a challenge) for kids who’d like to try writing an adventure mystery?
Writing a mystery story is a major challenge in itself. But I think my best tip is just to keep asking yourself ‘why?’. If this happens, why? If that happens, why? If you can get to the ‘why?’ of a mystery story it helps you to plot out the who, what, when and where of the crime.

So, in my novel, The Fire Star, a fabulously valuable and dazzling jewel goes missing. Instead of asking myself who took it, I looked at why someone might do it – and there were lots of reasons. So I chose the LEAST OBVIOUS answer and the story flowed from there.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project? 
I am writing a new Maven & Reeve Mystery and I am so thrilled to be back in Cartreff. The ‘why?’ of this one is a doozy!

The Fire Star is out now – ask for it at your local bookshop or library!

The Fire Star by AL TaitEXTRAS:

Click here to visit AL Tait’s resources page on kings, castles & secret societies.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes.

Read our 2015 interview with AL Tait.

Find out more about AL Tait and her books at her website.