Book reviews by Anwen, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Fantastically Great Women Artists and their Stories

Image shows the cover of a children's nonfiction book: Fantastically Great Women Artists and their Stories by Kate Pankhurst. The cover is predominantly red and shows drawings in a cartoon-like style of some of the women artists at work.

REVIEWED BY ANWEN, 8, WA

Fantastically Great Women Artists and their Stories by Kate Pankhurst, Bloomsbury, ISBN 9781526615343

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Fantastically Great Women Artists and their Stories is a non-fiction book. It is written by Kate Pankhurst and is about seven artists and one art collector. The artists in the book are Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gill, Kathe Kollwitz, Dame Laura Knight, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Faith Ringgold. The art collector is Peggy Guggenheim. She created one of the most important art collections in the world.

I learnt about the lives of these women. I knew a bit about Frida Kahlo already but I learnt more from this book. I found Kathe Kollwitz the most interesting of them all. At a time of war she showed parents and children grieving in her art works. The book made me feel sorrow and happiness. It made me feel inspired too.

The illustrations are detailed and show what the lives of the women were like. Although they have no colour they are spectacular.

I recommend this book for people who like doing art. It is good for people who are seven and over.


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

Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Creswell Eastman, the Man Who Saved a Million Brains

The image shows the cover of a children's biography: Cresswell Eastman, the Man who Saved a Million Brains by Penny Tangey. The cover is predominantly orange and shows a hand drawn illustration of Cresswell Eastman in a white surgical coat, holding a microscope. He's surrounded by doodle style illustrations of a stethoscope, a needs and a glowing lightbulb.

REVIEWED BY ELIZABETH, 9, NSW

Creswell Eastman, the Man Who Saved a Million Brains by Penny Tangey, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893526

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Creswell Eastman was the smartest child in the class. One day, Sister Francis asked Creswell to follow her in the hall. They walked through the senior school, into the classroom and he saw his older sister. He was tested to see if he was better at maths than anyone else. That afternoon a boy punched him for being better at maths. The next day at lunchtime his teacher, who was a nun, taught Creswell to defend himself. The following day the boy was waiting for Creswell. What would Cres do?

The thing I enjoyed the most about the book by Penny Tangey was learning how Creswell used medicine to help people. It is amazing that he saved so many people’s lives in Asia.

I recommend this book to 8 years old and up because it is wonderful and interesting. I rate this book 10 out of 10.

Read chapter one on the publisher’s website.


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

Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire

Image shows the cover of a children's science fiction novel: Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne. The cover of the image shows two kids and an adult running from a huge fire. The three look determined, not afraid. The boy carries a sword and the adult is wearing a cloak and carrying a staff.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire by Denis Knight and Cristy Burne, Lothian Children’s Books, ISBN 9780734420237

Emily received a review copy of this book.

Wednesday Weeks and the Dungeon of Fire is a thrilling science fiction book and the third book of the Wednesday Weeks series. In this adventure book Wednesday is given the chance to eliminate the tyrannical Goblin King, Gorgomoth, once and for all. But in order to do that she must beat the savage Gorgomoth to the powerful Stone of Power. To get to the Stone of Power Wednesday must face physical and mental challenges, all to save the world. 

I loved this book because it’s a bit different from the other Wednesday Weeks books, seeing that the challenges that Wednesday and her friends have to confront are more exciting and harder. Another outstanding feature of this book is to explain about how meaningful having friends is.

I recommend this book to ages 7+ but it can be enjoyed by people of any age. Fans of Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows and Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny will also love this book.

I rate this book a 6 out of 5!


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read more reviews by Emily here. To send us YOUR book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, interviews

Shirley Marr on All Four Quarters of the Moon

Shirley Marr is an award winning author and a first generation Chinese-Australian living in sunny Perth. Shirley describes herself as having a Western Mind and an Eastern Heart and writes in the middle where both collide. Today we’re thrilled to be talking to Shirley about her latest middle grade novel, All Four Quarters of the Moon.

From the publisher:

Making mooncakes with Ah Ma for the Mid-Autumn Festival was the last day of Peijing’s old life. Now, adapting to their new life in Australia, Peijing thinks everything will turn out okay for her family as long as they have each other – but cracks are starting to appear. Her little sister, Biju, needs Peijing to be the dependable big sister. Ma Ma is no longer herself; Ah Ma keeps forgetting who she is; and Ba Ba, who used to work seven days a week, is adjusting to being a hands-on dad. How will Peijing cope with the uncertainties of her own little world while shouldering the burden of everyone else?


Peijing and her little sister, Biju, make a paper world of their own. Is this inspired by something you and your sister liked to do when you were growing up?

This is most definitely based on a true-life event! We would draw tiny animals, cut them out and then make homes for them. It was a true paper world of our imagination, which we kept inside a cardboard box. We were still learning to speak English back then, when I was seven and my sister was four, so sometimes we would act out what happened to us during the day when I went to primary school and she went to kindy. As we had just migrated to Australia and learning to adapt was hard, it felt safer to talk about our experiences this way. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk at all, just work side by side and that was a beautiful bonding experience in itself.

Your earlier novel  A Glasshouse of Stars was written in the second person, present tense, and All Four Quarters of the Moon is written in third person, past tense. When you start writing a new book, do you already know which point of view to adopt or does it change over subsequent drafts?

I believe that when you have a story inside of you, waiting to come out that the voice will find you. That when you start writing it, you will know if it sounds right or not. A Glasshouse of Stars needed to be second person, present tense. I wanted the reader to be able to walk in the shoes of Meixing, our young migrant protagonist, and see what the experience is like for her, as she experiences it. It took me a while to find this voice, and many abandoned drafts. All Four Quarters of the Moon on the other hand, as it contains a lot of Chinese myth, felt to me like an old-fashioned story that had already happened and which I was retelling in past tense. That one I nailed on the first go, so it’s case by case for me!

How do you choose the names for the characters in your books? 

Sometimes I look at baby name lists and choose something that has meaning, like Meixing which means beautiful star in Chinese. Sometimes I name characters after whoever happens to be sitting closest to me, like the teacher Mr Brodie is actually named after a little dog who happened to be at my feet so watch out! Then at other time I will name characters after real people – Ms Jardine in A Glasshouse of Stars is named after a beloved primary school teacher of mine. It’s only just recently that a keen-eyed reader asked if I had chosen the name because it means garden in French, as gardens play such a big part in the book. It’s a happy coincidence I swear!

Peijing loves the mooncakes Ah Ma makes with an egg yolk in the middle. Do you have a favourite mooncake filling?

This will be to little Biju’s disgust, but my favourite is lotus paste with double-preserved yolk!

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

I have just submitted a brand-new middle grade manuscript to my agent! And she’s submitted it to my Australian publisher who I believe is looking at it as we speak – cross your fingers for me! If it’s good news, then it’s a completely different direction for me. Think contemporary sci-fi, time machines and ground control to Major Tom!

All Four Quarters of the Moon is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's novel: All Four Quarters of the Moon by Shirley Marr. The cover illustration shows two sisters with dark hair facing each other and holding hands around a tiny paper rabbit. Behind them is the night sky with a giant full moon.

AWESOME EXTRAS

Read an extract from the book

Discussion questions for book clubs and teachers

Read a 2021 interview with Shirley Marr about her junior fiction novel, Little Jiang

Visit Shirley Marr’s website for more about her and her books

authors, interviews

Ashleigh Barton on Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe

Ashleigh Barton lives in Sydney, Australia. She is the author of several picture books including What Do You call Your Grandpa?, What Do You Call Your Grandma? and What Do You Do to Celebrate? Today we’re pleased to have Ashleigh visiting Alphabet Soup to talk about her first children’s novel, Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe, illustrated by Sarah Davis.

From the publisher:

You’ve never met a vampire like Solomon Macaroni before – he’s friendly, polite and makes a mean tofu Bolognese. Understandably, when his parents go on a one-hundred-year cruise without him, Solomon is not impressed. Especially because it means having to stay in creepy Transylvania with his six cousins, who are the rudest and naughtiest vampires in existence. When his cousins venture into the spooky Wildwood on a dangerous mission, Solomon agrees to help rescue them. At least, that’s what he thinks he’s doing …


So … are Solomon’s cousins inspired by your own cousins?

Solomon’s cousins are probably inspired a little bit by my own family but not on purpose. I do have a lot of cousins (way more than Solomon does in fact – twenty-two first cousins in total!) and my siblings do love a good prank, but I didn’t intentionally base any of the characters on them. I’m sure some of their traits and our relationships growing up have probably showed up at least a little bit. Funnily enough, when one of my brothers first saw the cover, he thought the character illustrations were based on us. It was just a coincidence but I can see what he means – there is a bit of uncanny resemblance to our different personalities! (He thought Lucy, with her head in her book, was me.)

Did you suffer (or instigate) a memorable prank when you were growing up?

Looking back, pranking has definitely been a constant part of my life but fortunately nothing too traumatic. Everyone in my immediate family seems to love a good prank. My dad loved hiding our food if we left the room and once my brother stuck a fake spider high up on a wall to scare our dad when he got home from work. Poor Dad spent ages trying to get the spider down. A lot of my childhood friends and I loved pranking too. Some of the pranks we pulled were a bit naughty so I don’t want to share in case I give you ideas!

Which character in the book would you most like to spend an afternoon with?

Probably Uncle Dracula! He is a lot of fun and I’d be up for trying any of his whacky inventions, especially ones involving ice cream. It would also be amazing to listen to his stories and find out what life was like throughout the different centuries. Arrubakook – the wayfinding kookaburra – would also be a handy companion if I could hang out with her regularly because I can’t find my way anywhere.

Do you have a tip for children who’d like to try writing a novel?

One thing I’ve been having a lot of fun doing with kids in schools lately is coming up with a character to turn upside down the way I’ve done with vampires in Solomon Macaroni. The vampires in my story are completely different to traditional vampires – they don’t drink blood, they aren’t immortal (though they can live a really long time and age really slowly), they don’t have any powers or abilities and they can definitely eat garlic. This is because in Solomon’s world, magic has almost completely disappeared. The character of Dracula – a very well-known character from literature who is usually depicted as heartless and monstrous – is actually a very nice, caring and creative person. So, you could come up with your own character based on either a famous literary figure or a mythical creature and then completely rewrite them. Give them new characteristics and personality traits. You could even change their appearances, their family and friends, where they live and what they live for. It’s a great way to let your imagination run wild and then a story will often fall into place around this character you’re creating.

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

I’m always working on a bunch of things and constantly have ideas whirling around my head, but the project that I am properly working on now (or should be working on now) is the second Solomon Macaroni book. In book two, Solomon, his cousins and Uncle Dracula head to Paris for a family holiday that goes very, very wrong.

Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe by Ashleigh Barton. The cover is black and Solomon and his cousins are drawn in grey, purple and orange. There are purple bats the top of the cover. Solomon looks like a vampire in a purple cape lined with orange, short black hair that comes to a point over his forehead and fangs. The cousin behind him is pouring orange liquid onto Solomon's head from a glass bowl. Twin girl cousins in purple pinafores are about to cut off Solomon's ear with a pair of scissors. A young cousin in a purple cap is lying at Solomon's feet tying his shoelaces together. A girl in a purple dress and necklace of beads is pointing an airhorn at Solomon. And a girl in a yellow striped shirt and hair in pigtails stands off to one side reading an orange book and looking over her shoulder uncertainly at the others.

AWESOME EXTRAS

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Visit Ashleigh Barton’s website for more about her and her books

Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: Success, Sadness, and School

Success, Sadness and School by Analia, 11, NY, USA

My pen, my sword
My peers, my soldiers
My teachers, my trainers
My school, my kingdom

The doors gossip as I walk through the hall
Desks and computers conspiring against me
My heart – a ticking time bomb
The pressure closes around me
Even though my school is my family

It’s my hidden treasure in an unknown cave
What I rely on every day
Fighting against the perfection part of me
Striving for my wishing star
What I see before me 

Grades are the food that fuel me
The vividness of the green report card staring right at me
It giggles and laughs
Staring right at me
The pressure is still closing around me

This is all I have
Without it, I am nothing
What can I do?
Where can I go?

There are still so many years ahead of me
Yet I feel like I’ll never see school again
Every time I’m absent, I rip myself apart
A knife cutting through me, my heart is crushed

But, I must learn to control the perfection part of me
Or else it will forever control me
Even though I feel like a weathered book
My pages must turn
My story must continue 


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.

authors, interviews

Ash Harrier on The Deadly Daylight

Ash Harrier has a great fondness for puzzles, scientific facts, birds and the smell of dried tea. Today we are thrilled to chat to her about her latest novel – The Deadly Daylight, the first book in the Alice England Mysteries series.

From the publisher:

Twelve-year-old Alice England is curious, truthful and smart, but when you work in your father’s funeral home and you get messages from the dead, it can be difficult to make friends. When she comes across the peculiar case of George Devenish, who was allergic to sunlight, Alice is convinced there’s more to his death than meets the eye. With the help of George’s niece, ‘Violet the Vampire’, who shares her uncle’s allergy, and a boy named Cal, who has secrets of his own, Alice begins to investigate. It seems the truth of George’s death may never see the light of day – unless Alice and her companions can put the clues together and solve a mystery much bigger than anybody expected.


12-year-old Alice in The Deadly Daylight works in her father’s funeral home. Were you already familiar with a funeral home setting before writing the book or did you need to do some research before you began?

I didn’t grow up in a funeral home and I have never worked in one, so I had to do a lot of research to understand the kind of things Alice and her dad do each day. I started by reading articles about how funerals are planned and how bodies are prepared for funerals. I have also read documents and guidelines from the funeral industry, watched videos on Youtube and documentaries, and listened to podcasts. Some of the information is quite confronting – if you’re squeamish, you might want to avoid doing this sort of research for yourself. But I found it fascinating and enlightening.

The two main things I have discovered about the preparation of bodies for funerals are firstly that it’s highly scientific and secondly that it’s very important to funeral workers to be respectful of the dead. Because Alice England is an ongoing series, I generally have to refresh my memory or hunt for new information about death, bodies and funerals as I write each book.

Are you good at solving mysteries in everyday life too? (Do you channel your inner-Alice when unusual things happen or items go missing?) 

Now you mention it, I am a bit of an amateur sleuth! Like Alice, I’m extremely curious. I love looking into old, unsolved mysteries and trying to imagine what was likely to have happened. I also love trying to solve mysteries in movies I’m watching or books I’m reading, and I am absolutely obsessed with supernatural or paranormal mysteries. I take a highly skeptical approach and believe that, generally speaking, many “paranormal” mysteries can be explained as a hoax or something natural, but I’m intrigued and delighted when I come across things that can’t be explained. In my everyday life, I am the renowned “finder” of lost things at home, and if I suspect there is a little animal or bird rustling around in a shrub, I’ll always pause to try to find out what it is.

What’s different about writing the first book in a series compared to writing a standalone title?

I think the main difference is that you need  to know where the stories are going – you need a bit of a roadmap for the whole series, rather than just the one book. Although each book has its own mystery, there also needs to be one big overarching journey that the characters are going on. I think it would be a bit dull if there wasn’t a special, powerful story running through the entire series. Alice has some things to discover about herself and her past, and that thread runs through the whole series.

Do you have a tip for kids who’d like to try writing a mystery novel?

My biggest tip is not to take shortcuts when solving the mystery. You need to know “whodunnit” right from the start of writing the story. Otherwise, you will find yourself struggling to solve it at the end. That’s when it can be tempting to solve your mystery by having a great big coincidence happen – or even a confession. In real life, people would try to cover their tracks if they’d committed a crime. They would not, for example, leave a diary describing their burglary or murder for the sleuth to find! If you decide early on who committed the crime, then you can be looking for opportunities to drop in clues as you go, as well as working out how they have gotten away with it so far, and how you’re going to catch them.

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

Alice Book 2 is called The Eerie Excavation and it will be out next January. If you like archaeology, eerie histories or old witchcraft superstitions, then you’ll like it: 

It’s summer break in Damocles Cove and Alice, Violet and Cal are off to Archaeology Camp. Alice’s enthusiasm carries them away to the mysterious Malkin Tower on the edge of the spooky Pendle Woods. The work is hard and the findings are scanty, until the day a fellow camper turns up something shocking, and Alice is plunged into a puzzle from the past. Do curses really exist? Is a monstrous beast haunting Pendle Woods? And who is creeping around the tower after midnight? When camp ends and everyone is sent home without answers, Alice will need her logic, her unusual gift, and the support of her friends to reveal the secrets of Pendle Woods – and bring an end to a fatal family feud that’s gone on for far too long.

The Deadly Daylight is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's novel, The Deadly Daylight by Ash Harrier. The image shows three children carrying candlesticks for light and behind them is the silhouette of a house and leafless trees. Across the top of the book's cover is a drawing of a plaque with the words 'An Alice England Mystery'.

Visit Ash Harrier’s website for more about her and her books.

Are you in Perth, WA? Meet Ash Harrier at the book launch of The Deadly Daylight! (3.30pm, 11 August 2022.)

Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald. The cover is predominantly light blue and shows a wall with framed photographs of australian Prime Ministers hanging up, and the main character of this book (a girl with brown hair, pale skin and a navy blazer and red tie) holding a frame up around her face as if she is also one of the prime ministers.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702265587

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald is a humorous fiction book about a girl called Harper, her sister Lottie, and her friends.

The problems begin when Harper’s dad saves two children (and a labradoodle) from a shark! Harper’s  dad is then invited to be Prime Minister! But being Prime Minister isn’t that fun and all the pressure piles on Harper’s dad, when suddenly he decides to run away, leaving Harper to find a way to run the country, not get humiliated in her class and figure out which policy should become law – all without her dad.

I found this book fun and entertaining with bucket loads of humour. The message it teaches you is that when things are tough, you should stay strong and work through the problem. Another lesson that spoke loudly from this book was that working as a team always helps.

This book is probably going to be enjoyed by fans of Keeping up with the Dachshunds, which is also written by Carla Fitzgerald, as the same humour is used.

All ages from 6+ would enjoy this book.  I rate this an outstanding five out of five.


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read more reviews by Emily here. To send us YOUR book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, interviews

Dee White on Emma Johnston: Marine biologist and TV presenter

Dee White has published more than 20 books for children and young adults, and many articles, short stories and poems. Her writing and writing workshops have taken her all over the world and she’s prepared to go almost anywhere (even do a tour of Paris sewers) to track down a good story! Today we’re chatting to Dee about her latest book, Emma Johnston: Marine biologist and TV presenter, which is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

Professor Emma Johnston is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney. From her earliest years growing up she has had a lifelong curiosity about the marine world and has a passionate commitment to finding ways to restore the health of damaged marine systems like the Great Barrier Reef.


How did you go about your research for writing about Emma Johnston?

The first thing I did was go online and find out as much as I could about Emma and the work she did. I watched a film she had made about her time in Antarctica, I read some of the things she had written about the environment, and I read her profile on the website of the university she worked for and interviews she had done about her amazing achievements.

From that information, I developed a series of questions that I asked her on Skype. We weren’t able to meet in person because of Covid restrictions and lockdowns.

I did a second Skype interview later to clarify some things she had told me and to get more information where I needed it. I also asked Emma to send me photos from when she was a child to help me imagine what life was like for her growing up.

What is your own favourite plant or marine creature?

I really love whales. I love the way they move and the way they interact with each other and with humans.

Emma Johnston shines a light on Earth’s precious underwater/marine environments. Did researching and writing this book lead you to change your own behaviour in any way? 

Researching this book gave me a much greater understanding of the marine environment and the dangers it faces, but also how nature is fighting against threats caused by humans.

Climate change has caused temperature layers to form in the ocean, trapping cold water and nutrients in the deep. When whales move through the water, they help blend the temperature bands, and also bring species like plankton up to the surface so they can get more light to help them survive.  We need plankton because they produce most of the oxygen we breathe.

This has actually inspired me to write a book about whales and how they help the world we live in.

One of the things that appealed to me about writing Emma’s story is that I’ve been concerned about the environment for a long time. We always compost at our house. We have solar panels to produce our electricity … and about four years ago, I changed to a plant-based diet.

Researching this book alerted me to even more things I could do to help the environment – particularly reducing my use of plastics and planting more indigenous trees and bushes at my house to provide an environment to bring back native birds, animals and insects.

Do you have a tip for children who’d like to try writing a biography?

If you can, interview the person you are writing about. In an interview, you can find out interesting facts that might not be available anywhere else in books or online. In an interview, you get to ask specific questions about the things you want to know about a person. You can email them via their website or the website for their place of work and ask if they would be happy to answer a few questions via email.

A COUPLE OF OTHER TIPS

  • Pick someone you’re really interested in writing about – someone who shares the same interests as you.
  • Find out as much as you can about them – then decide what to include in your biography. Pick out the most interesting parts about their life.
  • Think about what they might want to be remembered for and make this the theme or central idea for your biography. For example, with Emma Johnston Marine Biologist and TV Presenter, the theme or main idea is finding out about the marine environment so that we can help it.

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

I always work on lots of projects at once. At the moment, I’m developing a series of animal stories. I’m also working on a true story about a boy who climbed the Berlin Wall to escape from East to West Germany to go and live with his aunt. And I’m writing an action adventure about a boy who moves to Paris, uncovers a secret and sets out to find out the truth about his family.

Emma Johnston: Marine Biologist and TV Presenter is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Image shows the cover of a children's book, Emma Johnston Marine biologist and TV Presenter. The cover is predominantly aqua coloured and features a hand-drawn illustration of Emma Johnston in Scuba gear. Emma Johnston is shown with pale skin, and very short white hair. She is surrounded by doodle style drawings of a sea star, a fish, coral, bubbles and a glowing light bulb.

Watch a YouTube video with Professor Emma Johnston: ‘Can we Save the Reef?’

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book.

Visit Dee White’s website for more about her and her books.