Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Boy at the Back of the Class

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Rauf and illustrated by Pippa CurnickREVIEWED BY MIRA, YR 5, NSW

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf, illustrated by Pippa Curnick, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9781510105010

Mira reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was longlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

This story is about a nine-year-old named Alexa and her three friends that felt so much pity for a refugee boy, named Ahmet. Ahmet ran away from war in Syria. He sailed the sea and walked for days. They run away from school, just to help Ahmet find his parents!

The main characters are Ahmet the refugee boy, Alexa, Michael and Tom. Michael, Tom and Josie are Alexa’s best friends. Tom has short, spiky hair and a side smile. He’s really small, but really funny. Tom moved from America to the UK. He has 3 older brothers. Josie has large, brown eyes and at least a million freckles on her face. She is the fastest girl in Alexa’s year and can kick a ball straight past a goalie from the other side of a pitch. Josie and Alexa’s mums were friends at school. Michael has glasses that are broken, and his shoelaces are never done right. Michael is a quiet boy, but when he does say something, adults look impressed. He can’t run fast or kick a ball in a straight line, but he doesn’t care.

Ahmet is a quiet boy and is a refugee. Although he ran away from war, he is a really nice boy, despite how many people laugh and bully him. He’s really fast and is amazing at soccer. He is from Syria and isn’t so fluent at English yet.

Alexa is Ahmet’s best and first friend. She’s really nice and is good at spelling. She helps Ahmet a lot and gets mad at people who tease and bully Ahmet.

Alexa’s courage and care towards Ahmet made a huge difference, bringing happiness into his life and taking away sadness and loneliness. They run away from school, just to help Ahmet find his parents!

It is a heart-warming story written by Onjali Q Raúf that teaches children about the power of friendship, kindness and care towards others. I highly recommend this book, especially to people who like adventure and fictional stories.


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

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

Book review: Deadly!

Deadly! by Morris Gleitzman and Paul JenningsREVIEWED BY KOBE, YR 4, WA

Deadly! by Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings, Puffin, ISBN 9780143300243

Kobe reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was longlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Deadly! is a story about a boy named Sprocket, who has lost his memory and a girl named Amy, who has lost her dad. Two of them are on a quest that will take them to the weirdest nudist colony in the world – a hidden community whose dangerous experiments are keeping the nudists alive artificially. Now their secret is out, are Amy and Sprocket’s lives in peril?

Read this Young Australians Best Book Awards 2001 and 2002 award-winning book to find out! This book is a really funny one that will make you laugh for a long, long time! So I don’t see why you should not buy this hilarious book and have a little chuckle or a big laughing party!

Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings have worked brilliantly to create such an amazing book! They have both made a lot of details about the story, for example, when Sprocket and Amy were in a room, Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman said that insects SLOWLY crawled over them and crawled into a blue fart cloud made by Sprocket. They have also completed it by so much humour, such as, Sprocket fainted in a nudist woman’s arms during a hug and found out that people were tugging him in all directions! I am sure they spent a lot of time writing this book to make it full of fun!

I hope you get to read this book over and over again, just to cheer yourself up by laughing your head off if you’re upset from a bad situation. I encourage you to buy this book and pass it on to relatives, friends or even just bring it to the bus with you because it is always nice to have a smile on your face, so that the whole world will have a glamorous smile on it! I really like the bit where Sprocket finds out what his real name is.

A moral is included in many books, for instance, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ has a moral that slow and steady wins the race.

For me, the moral of this story is that everything can be worse than you think, so don’t think your life is a wreck or a disaster, but always try to look at the bright side.

This really helps me because sometimes I worry too much. Like last time I left my bathers at the swimming pool and I thought it was the end of the world. But the next morning, I found them still lying there untouched, and that frightened feeling helped me to remember to bring them back on that day, and never lose them again.

I hope it’s useful to you, too!


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Jacqueline Harvey

MEET THE AUTHOR

Jacqueline Harvey (credit Jenni Bradley)

Jacqueline Harvey is the author of the popular Alice-Miranda series, Clementine Rose series, and Kensy and Max series. Her books have sold over one million copies in Australia alone.

Jacqueline speaks to thousands of young people at schools and festivals around the world, and says the characters in her books are often made up of the best bits of children she’s met over the years. While she is not a twin, like Kensy and Max she does have excellent powers of observation and has always thought she’d make a great spy.

Jacqueline’s latest book is Alice-Miranda in the Outback (book 19 in the series).

From the publisher:

Alice-Miranda and her friends are off to the Australian Outback! They’re going to help an old family friend who’s found himself short staffed during cattle mustering season. The landscape is like nothing else – wide open and dusty red as far as the eye can see. It’s also full of quirky characters, like eccentric opal miner Sprocket McGinty and the enigmatic Taipan Dan.

As the gang settles in at Hope Springs Station, mysteries start piling up. A strange map is discovered indicating treasure beneath the paddocks, a young girl is missing and there are unexplained water shortages. Can Alice-Miranda get to the bottom of this desert dilemma?

Alice Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey


Alice-Miranda is a well-travelled girl! Have you been everywhere Alice-Miranda has been?
Yes Alice-Miranda has travelled a lot. I’ve been to most of the places she’s been, although I haven’t ever travelled to Spain and that’s where Alice-Miranda at Sea begins. I had to do a lot of research about Barcelona particularly and in that instance I find Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Streetview invaluable. I have been to a few places in the Australian outback but Coober Pedy isn’t one of them (and part of the new book takes place there) so I have had to do a lot of research on the town and the landscape and the mines before and while I was writing the story. I find it easier to use places I’ve travelled to as it helps create the atmosphere but as I said – you can do your homework too.

Alice-Miranda in the Outback is the latest book in the series. How long did it take you to write Book 19, from first draft to final draft?
I spent a few weeks plotting and planning over the Christmas New Year period then sat down with a goal of having the draft finished in 6 weeks. I basically wrote just over 10,000 words a week for that time and achieved the goal. There would have been about another six weeks of rewriting, editing and proofreading after that. I knew that I would have to write quite quickly to meet the deadline but I found it such a fun story that it was a joy to work on each day.

When you wrote Book 1, did you write it as Book 1 in a series?
I originally thought Alice-Miranda would be a picture book. How wrong I was. Once I started to write the first book as a novel I thought it would be a series – I had ideas for about five books when I initially submitted it.

How do you keep track of all the characters across multiple books in the series?
Spreadsheets! I have a spreadsheet with the characters in all of the series so that I don’t accidentally give someone the same name. It’s a very helpful reference.

What’s your next writing project?
At the moment I am writing Kensy and Max: Full Speed which will be out in October 2020. It’s set in London and Switzerland and takes the children back to the days when their parents worked in ski resorts all over the world. I’ve wanted to write a book where they can exhibit their extraordinary skiing and snowboarding skills and this is it. I have also just finished a short story Kensy and Max: Spy Games for the Australia Reads campaign which will be out at the beginning of November. I have been working on a couple of side projects as well but they’re still top secret so unfortunately I can’t share just yet. Suffice to say I’ve been keeping busy in lockdown.

Alice-Miranda in the Outback is available from bookshops and libraries!


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Alice Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Click here to download Teachers’ Notes for the Alice-Miranda series

Click here for Jacqueline Harvey’s writing tips

Visit Jacqueline Harvey’s website for more about Alice-Miranda, colouring-in sheets & activities

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Ice Monster

The Ice Monster by David Walliams and illustrated by Tony RossREVIEWED BY KALA, YR 4, VIC

The Ice Monster by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780008164690

Kala reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was longlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition.

I first read The Ice Monster last year at school as our class novel, and it was so amazing that I wanted to read it again! I got the book for my birthday and I ended up reading it again a few weeks later.

The story starts with Elsie, who is an orphan. She escapes her orphanage called “Wormly Hall”. She goes to the Natural History Museum and finds a woolly mammoth.  Elsie brings it back to life and goes on a brave adventure to return the mammoth to the Arctic.

There are many characters but the main characters are Dotty, Woolly, Elsie and the evil professor.

Elsie is an orphan who lives on the streets for a while. Woolly is a woolly mammoth and Elsie’s friend. Everyone says that Woolly is an Ice Monster but Elsie thinks differently. Dotty is dotty by name and nature. She is a cleaning lady in the Natural History Museum. The professor is an evil person who tries to steel the mammoth.

The story is set in three places: London, the North Pole and the High Seas. The year is 1899.

This is a book full of adventure and humour. I would definitely recommend this book.

These are some of the funniest quotes from the book:

“You can’t name a mammoth Woolly, that’s like naming a dog Doggie.”

“Wow, that’s a good name for a dog, I named mine Caty.”

My favourite part is when Elsie brings Woolly back to life by shooting a lightning bolt in Woolly’s chest to restart her heart.

I like the illustrations but I think Toni Ross should add some colour to them.

I would give this book four and a half stars out of five.


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: How to Bee

How to Bee by Bren MacDibbleREVIEWED BY JOSHUA, YR 6, NSW

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble, A&U Children’s, ISBN 9781760294335

Joshua reviewed his own copy of this book. This review was longlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Set thirty years in the future, nine year old Peony wants to live out her dream of being a Bee, which is someone who pollinates fruit flowers with a feather wand because bees have died out from the overuse of pesticides. 

‘I’m real close to being a bee,’ I tell Ma.
‘You know there’s other jobs in the city for strong smart girls like you,’ Ma says like being a bee is nuthin’.

When Ma comes back for the weekend, does she want to ‘disrupt’ Peony’s dream or does Ma have a different mindset for working? Find out the answer in Bren MacDibble’s How to Bee.

I enjoyed this book because it shows two different mindsets in the family tearing them apart. It expresses emotion, feeling and is personal. I rate this book five out of five.


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Penny Tangey

MEET THE AUTHOR

Penny TangeyPenny Tangey writes humorous books for young people. She has studied Chemistry and Indonesian, and is currently studying information management to become a librarian. Penny works as a researcher for television quiz shows, and has performed stand-up comedy. Her latest book is As Fast as I Can. 

From the publisher:

Ten-year-old Vivian is determined to win a medal at the Olympic Games one day. Problem is, she hasn’t found a sport she’s any good at yet. But everyone says if you work hard enough you can achieve anything, right? So when Vivian discovers she has a talent for cross country running, finally, her Olympic dream might actually come true.

But then a family illness is uncovered and all of Vivian’s plans begin to unravel. Can she keep her dream alive? Or will she be stopped in her tracks?

As Fast as I can by Penny Tangey


As Fast as I Can is a humorous read, but involves a family learning about a serious medical condition. How much research did you need to do to write the book?
I already knew a little about the medical condition in the book because it’s an illness in my family. I needed a lot more detail to write As Fast as I Can. I read medical papers but also found first-hand stories from people with the condition. Both of these were really important.

After I wrote a draft a medical professional read it to check I had the details right. I also got feedback from my cousin who has the condition to make sure she thought the book was accurate and helpful.

Writing the book: a sprint or a marathon?
It was a marathon that I thought would be 5km. I kept telling myself the finish was just around the corner, gave up a few times, but then started again. It wasn’t a personal best time, but I’m glad I kept going.

In a parallel universe you can become an Olympic Athlete and choose your event which event would you choose?
This question is so exciting and quite tricky. I would definitely choose athletics because competing in the big stadium is the ultimate goal. I think I would have to choose running because it’s the simplest and purest sport. Sprinting is over too quickly so I think 800m would be good.

Vivian (your main character) faces down several challenges. Are you a competitive person yourself?
I am, but I’m also not a perfectionist and very happy to settle for second or third.

Can you tell us something about your next project? 
I’m writing a story for adults, mainly just for fun. It’s about a woman who starts investigating a crime while she’s on maternity leave.

Do you have a tip for young writers?
Keep a diary. It’s great practise for writing and lots of fun to read back later.

For example, in Grade 5 I wrote in my diary: “I have a dream to get to the Olympics not as a spectator but as a competitor. I am turning 11 next week, my days of being ten are numbered.”

I didn’t get to go to the Olympics as a competitor, but I’m really glad I have my diary to help me remember the dream.

As Fast as I Can is available from bookshops, libraries and the publisher’s website.


As Fast as I can by Penny TangeyAWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download Teachers’ Notes

Click here to visit Penny Tangey’s website and find out more about her and her books.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Sisters

Sisters by Raina TelgemeierREVIEWED BY MAHLIE, YR 3, VIC

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic Inc, ISBN 9780545540605

Mahlie reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was longlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition.

Raina and her family are going on a camping trip in Colorado and they are struggling to get along. When they were at Colorado they went to see their cousins.

Raina is like me, she is nice and kind.

Amara is a bit mean to Raina but not that much.

Will, their little brother, is loud and annoying.

And it is a comic. It’s about two sisters, it’s bright, and that’s why I like this book!


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland illustrated by Sir John TennielREVIEWED BY MOLLY, YR 6, NSW

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Sir John Tenniel, MacMillan Children’s Books, ISBN 9781509865727

Molly reviewed her own copy of this book. This review was shortlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fictional novel written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 and illustrated by Sir John Tenniel. It was published by Macmillan Publishers.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a story made up of many adventures. It is about a young girl named Alice. Alice follows a white rabbit down a rabbit hole and that is where her weird and wonderful journey begins. Along her journey she meets some interesting characters like the Cheshire cat, Caterpillar, Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, the Mad Hatter and many more.

One of my favourite parts in the book would definitely be the tea party with the Mad Hatter, which I would describe as, in the words of Alice, “curiouser and curiouser!” because the tea party was absolutely crazy.

I would rate this book 5/5 because it is very interesting. My favourite character is Alice because even though she is put in strange and crazy situations she manages to remain calm and reasonable. I found the book fun and exciting never knowing what was going to happen next. This book is a delightful book for any age. I found I grew more curious as to what would happen next with every page I turned. If you love adventures this book is definitely the book for you.


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in authors, interviews, poetry

Meet the author: Sally Murphy

Sally MurphyMEET THE AUTHOR

Sally Murphy is an author, poet, speaker and educator based in the South West of Western Australia. Sally has published more than 40 books, and her latest book is a verse novel for upper primary readers: Worse Things, with illustrations by Sarah Davis.

From the publisher:

After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport …

Worse Things by Sally Murphy with illustrations by Sarah Davis


Worse Things is your fourth verse novel. Your first verse novel was published in 2009. Has the way you go about writing your verse novels changed since then?
I think so. When I wrote the first one, Pearl Verses the World, I didn’t really plan – a character started speaking to me and I started writing. Pearl’s voice came in verse, and the plot emerged as I wrote. When I wrote Toppling and Roses are Blue the process was similar, though Roses are Blue took longer to get right.  When I wrote Worse Things I really wanted to do something different. I still loved verse novels but I wanted to see if I could write in multiple voices and with slightly older characters. This dictated that I needed to write more self-contained poems. I also played around more with poetic form – so there are, for example,  little definition poems scattered throughout which define key words from the  story or the themes being explored.

Worse Things includes characters who play various sports (hockey, soccer & AFL). Do you play these sports yourself?
I loved hockey and played in primary and high school and a couple of seasons as an adult. I actually wish I had kept playing for longer. I got busy as a mother and now that I have more time I am probably not fit enough. I loved soccer as a sport at school, but never played it away from school – when I was growing up there was no soccer for girls where I lived. The other sport in the novel is AFL (football) and again I didn’t have the opportunity to play, but my kids did, and so I spent a lot of time at junior matches, as well as being a mad keen Fremantle Dockers fan.

You write picture books, poetry, chapter books, and verse novels. How do you know the sort of book you’ll start writing when you have a creative idea?
Mostly the story or character presents itself and I just kind of know what is right for that story. It’s about how the story feels, although sometimes I also push myself to try a particular form, or I’m asked to. My two historical novels – 1915 and Bushfire, were both written because the publisher asked for them, and so that dictated that they would be novel-length.

Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to write a verse novel?
Read lots of verse novels to get a feel for how they work. As well as mine, there are some other excellent Australian verse novelists whose work you will love: Steven Herrick, Lorraine Marwood and Kat Apel, for starters. The other thing to do is to start by writing single free verse poems, to practice things like poetic technique, line length and portraying emotion or themes in poetic form.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
I usually have a few things on the go, and right now is no exception. I have two junior novels which need redrafting – one is set in Vietnam, and I started it when I went there for a residency. I am also doing some research for a historical idea I am interested in. And there is a voice talking to me at the moment and telling me that her story needs telling. I have a feeling she may win.

Worse Things is out now in bookstores and libraries.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Worse Things by Sally Murphy with illustrations by Sarah Davis

Watch Sally Murphy read the first chapter of Worse Things (YouTube)

Take a sneak peek at some Definition Poems from the book

Click here to download Teachers’ Notes

Visit Sally Murphy’s website for more about her and her books

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Land of Stories series

The Land of Stories seriesREVIEWED BY ANYA, 12, ACT

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer, Little Brown & Co, ISBN 9780316480840

Anya reviewed her own copies of this book series. This review was shortlisted in Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

A journey into a different dimension, the truth about the Bailey Twins and their grandmother and dad is finally uncovered, which turns their whole life upside-down. Followed by lots more breathtaking adventures, Alex and Conner have experienced something that no other person in the otherworld or Earth probably has. The twins have always faced many challenges, whether it’s evil enchantresses, queens or wicked witches, they have made it through every time with their great teamwork. They have saved the fairy-tale world from many dangers that arose across time. From one book to the next, the twins’ side by side with their fairy-tale friends have never failed to impress.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Chris Colfer’s incredible series up to number 5 at this point and I have noticed he has a really good imagination when it comes to Fantasy. The incredible modern and imaginative style of writing by the author really helps you imagine the book.

Each adventure and characters’ personalities are unique and there is always something waiting to be discovered. Personally, my favourite book of the series was the 3rd, since that was where the bigger problems arose. This book definitely has some positive role models that are brave and fearless.

The way these books have been written I am sure every single person would love it, even adults! We think fairy tales are for babies, but these are not the fairy tales we know, they have been taken to a whole new level! Everything and everyone has a different story, which is what makes this series interesting.

My recommendation to kids aged 6 to 9 is that they would love the first and second book, but the length may be daunting to some. I strongly recommend the whole series to older kids aged 10+. I would recommend this book to anyone who loved fairy tales as a young child or still does. Even if you don’t prefer books in the fantasy genre, I would recommend giving the first book a try.

There are also two other great books available, too, which relate to the main series, called Queen Red’s Guide to Royalty, and Mother Goose Diaries.

Overall, I think this series is a great read and I loved reading it and will make sure to read the 6th book.


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by those longlisted in our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition.