Book reviews by Rebecca

What we’re reading: Roland Harvey

The Wombats Go on Camp by Roland Harvey, ISBN 9781743315040, Allen & Unwin

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

the wombats go on camp
Mrs Nott and Ms Annabel are taking their students (The Wombats) on their first camp ever. Once they arrive, the kids have fun doing all sorts of activities — like exploring, cooking and performing. Each camper has a page (a bit like a diary entry) where they talk about what’s been happening that day from their point of view. Some kids are loving the camp … but not all of them!
The illustrations are recognisably Roland Harvey’s — they are so detailed and there’s something new and even sillier to see every time you read the book. (Sometimes the illustrations show the real story of camp events, despite what the camper is telling us!)
Don’t miss the endpapers where you can read all about each student and find out each one’s nickname, hobbies, enemies and more. (And a final tip: make sure you read their names out loud.)
Everything We Ever Saw by Roland Harvey, ISBN 9781743313671, Allen & Unwin
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher.
everything we ever saw
If you are a Roland Harvey fan (is there anyone who isn’t?) you might have figured out that Everything We Ever Saw is Roland Harvey’s six picture books — about a family’s trips exploring Australia — all together in one book. What a good idea.
Everything We Ever Saw includes:
At the Beach:
at the beach
In the Bush:
in the bush
In the City:
in the city
To the Top End:
to the top end
All the Way to WA:
all the way to WA
On the Farm:
on the farm
I love how different each trip is, and yet, they are all trips to different parts of the same country — Australia. I had fun recognising places I’ve been to and poring over all the parts of Australia I haven’t been to yet. Roland Harvey’s illustrations are hilarious and detailed, and studying each page closely has kept me busy for hours.
I can’t help thinking that Everything We Ever Saw would make a fantastic gift for overseas friends who are interested in Australia’s landscape, climate, people and creatures.
And — you already know how much I love looking at endpapers — this book has great endpapers, too. You’ll find a map of Australia showing the sites where the family travelled and the wildlife they spotted on the way.
This is a book that will keep you entertained all summer holidays.
© November 2013 “Reviews of The Wombats Go on Camp and Everything We Ever Saw” by Rebecca Newman (
Book reviews by Rebecca

What we’re reading: Shimmer

Shimmer by Jennifer McBride & Lynda Nixon, ISBN 97811922089434, Fremantle Press

A review copy of Shimmer was provided by the publisher.

Shimmer (cover)

One afternoon David accidentally summons a genie when he’s out walking in the bush. He can’t believe his luck — he has his own genie to grant him wishes! — but he quickly discovers that having a genie is not as easy as he thought. The teenage genie, Kora, has been sent to Earth against her will. She resents being harnessed to anyone and she is especially annoyed to be harnessed to this teenage Earth boy.

Trouble is brewing and not just on Earth. David and Kora realise they will need to join forces to protect the people they love.

Set predominantly in our everyday world, Shimmer will grab upper primary readers who love a fantasy thriller. This is a Good vs Evil story with a twist — and the plot seems to hint at a possible sequel, too.

© October 2013 “Review of Shimmer” by Rebecca Newman (
Book reviews by Rebecca

Book review: Eco Warriors to the Rescue!

Eco Warriors to the Rescue! by Tania McCartney, ISBN 9780642277800, National Library of Australia

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman. (A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.) This post is part of a Blog Tour celebrating the publication of Eco Warriors to the Rescue! You’ll find other stops on the tour here

eco warriors to the rescue!

Take a sneak peek at some of the pages inside the book, over at the author’s blog.

Banjo, Ned and Matilda are eco warriors looking for the best ways to care for Australia’s native plants. They consult their favourite book on the subject, and then find themselves falling into the book. (Now they can take us on a tour of Australia’s native plants!)

The pages of Eco Warriors feature photos of the children popping into, through and out of historical botanical paintings sourced from the archives of the National Library of Australia. Would you recognise a Kangaroo Paw, a Wattle or a Flame Tree? The three friends point out favourite plants and share tips on protecting Australian flora. There’s also a green moth to search for on every page. (Test your observation skills!)

At the back of the book you’ll find Flower Facts and a map of Australia showing the Australian floral emblem, and the floral emblem for each state/territory. Over the page you’ll find a chart with the native flower assigned to each month so you can learn what your birthday flower is — Alphabet Soup’s birthday is in October and we discovered that the native flower for that month is the Red Bottlebrush. (Excellent! We love the Red Bottlebrush!)

The artwork is bright and fun to look at and when you’ve finished following these three eco warriors, you’ll look at the plantlife in your neighbourhood with new eyes. (Follow the tips in the book and become an eco warrior too — Australia needs more eco warriors.)

Would you love to own this picture book? We have some good news — we have one copy of Eco Warriors to the Rescue to give away — thanks to the National Library of Australia. Here’s what you need to do to enter the giveaway:

  • email our editor with three details —  your first name, postal address and your state’s floral emblem
  • Put ECOWARRIORS in the subject line of your email
  • Get your entry in by 9am EST on Monday 9 September 2013.

We will put all the entries into a hat and draw one winner on Monday 9 September 2013, and announce it here on the blog.

Some fine print:

  • Entries must be emailed by 9am EST on 9 September 2013.
  • We will announce the winner (first name and state only) here on the blog on 9 September 2013.
  • We will email the winner on 9 September 2013 and post the book to them by the end of September.
  • We will post the book to the winner even if we have no response to the email.
  • Entries that do not include a postal address will not be eligible for the draw.
  • Entries that do not include the correct floral emblem of the entrant’s state will not be eligible for the draw. (Double check!)
  • We will not pass your details on to any third party except when required by law.
  • This giveaway is open to Australian residents only. Schools are welcome to submit an entry.
  • You may only send one entry in per person for this giveaway.


If you live in Canberra, you can Join Tania McCartney and her three real-life eco warriors — Banjo (Riley), Ned (Andrew) and Matilda (Claire) — as they launch Eco Warriors to the Rescue! at Canberra’s National Arboretum Gift Shop, Saturday 5 October 2013, at 11am.

Book reviews by Rebecca

Book review: Drongoes

Drongoes by Christine Bongers, ill. Dan McGuiness, Omnibus Books, ISBN 9781862919822

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

Drongoes (cover)

Jack really wants to beat Rocket Robson in the cross-country race this year. Jack’s best mate Eric has a different goal — he just wants to finish the race for a change. (Eric gets asthma and has trouble breathing if he gets nervous or too tired.) They hatch a plan, to help each other with training so that they are as ready as they can be. The day of the race finally rolls around. Jack feels good. Eric feels optimistic. Rocket Robson is as nasty as ever …

Fun and action-packed, Drongoes is a bit like a famous fable (clever readers might recognise which one). The colour illustrations, in a cartoon/comic book style, really suit the story.

This is a new title in the Mates series of early chapter books.

© June 2013 “Review of Dronges” by Rebecca Newman (
Book reviews by Rebecca

Book Review: My Book of Knock Knocks

My Book of Knock Knocks, illustrated by Christina Bollenbach, ISBN 9781742831640, Scholastic Australia

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

My book of knock knocks (cover)

I love a good Knock Knock joke. In this hardcover book you’ll find 23 illustrated Knock Knock jokes — the first part of each joke is on a right hand page and you have to turn the page for the punchline. (This means that the first time you read the book, you can even tell yourself a Knock Knock joke and be surprised by the punchline!)

Included are a selection of well-known Knock Knocks and quite a few that I’d never heard before. They are all guaranteed to make you groan. (Come on — they’re Knock Knocks, they’re supposed to make you groan.)

The big print and bright cheerful illustrations will make My Book of Knock Knocks popular with younger readers but really, who doesn’t love a Knock Knock joke? Choose your favourite Knock Knocks and try them out on your Mum and Dad, your granny, or a teacher. (Knock Knock jokes are more fun when they’re shared. But don’t try knock knocking on my door — I’ve read the book and I know all the punchlines now!)

© May 2013 “Review of My book of Knock Knocks” by Rebecca Newman (
Book reviews by Rebecca

Book Review – Ghost Club: A Transylvanian Tale

Ghost Club: A Transylvanian Tale by Deborah Abela, ISBN 9781742758534, Random House Australia

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher

A Transylvanian Tale (cover)

Edgar, Angeline and Dylan are ghost catchers and they are off to Transylvania for the annual Ghost Club Convention. This is the third book in the Ghost Club series — and Dylan is still anxious about his role as a ghost catcher. He’s terrified of … well … just about everything. He’s doing his best to be brave but his efforts to impress Angeline tend to end badly. Besides, Angeline is distracted by the celebrity Ghost Catcher Ripley Granger. In fact, everyone but Dylan seems to be distracted by Ripley. Only Dylan senses that something at the convention is not quite right — he has a feeling that something terrible is about to happen.

This is a spooky adventure story full to the brim with ghosts, vampires and kid ghost-hunters with cool gadgets (plus a touch of romance and humour.)

Read chapter one (for free!) on the publisher’s website.

© April 2013 “Review of Ghost Club: A Transylvanian Tale” by Rebecca Newman (
Anzac Day, Book reviews by Rebecca

Book Review – The Promise: The Town that Never Forgets

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets/N’oublions jamais l’Australie by Derek Guille, ill. Kaff-eine, translated by Anne-Sophie Biguet, ISBN 9780987313959, One Day Hill

A review copy was provided by the publisher

The Promise (cover)

At the end of World War I Australian soldiers were sent to regain the French village Villers-Bretonneux which Germany had invaded and occupied. After two terrible battles, Australian soldiers took the village back on 25 April 1918. When the war ended, the villagers began to rebuild and school children from Victoria in Australia raised money to help rebuild the school. The villagers of Villers-Bretonneux promised never to forget Australia and how the Australian soldiers helped the town.

This picture book came about following a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra tour to Europe. The book tells the story of the grandson of one of the soldiers who fought at Villers-Bretonneux — the grandson played the trumpet in MSO and formed a band of twelve musicians he called the Melbourne Villers-Bretonneux Brass Ensemble. The ensemble visited Villers-Bretoneux and the school there, and played at the foot of the war memorial. The performance was emotional for the villagers and for the Australian performers, too.

This story belongs to two countries and is told in two languages. On each page, the story is told in English at the top half of the page with the French translation at the bottom half. The illustrations by street-artist Kaff-eine are simple and striking.

Another great book to add to your Anzac-themed bookshelf.

© April 2013 “Review of The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets” by Rebecca Newman (

Find other Anzac-themed books on Soup blog. 

Anzac Day, Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book Review: Light Horse Boy

Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer, ill. Brian Simmonds, ISBN 9781922089137, Fremantle Press

A review copy of this book was provided by Fremantle Press

Light Horse Boy (cover)

Lighthouse Girl (cover)This new picture book was recently launched in time for Anzac Day — Light Horse Boy is a companion book to Lighthouse Girl and both are worth buying (or borrowing — ask for them at your library).

When war is declared on Germany in 1914, Jim and his best mate, Charlie, decide to sign up for the war. Jim is not quite old enough to sign up but he lies about his age. When he resigns from his job to go to war, Jim’s boss gives him a horse called Breaker, instead of his wages. Jim and Charlie think joining the Light Horse Regiment is a bit of an adventure and that the war will be over in a few months. But they quickly discover how terrible life on the frontline really is.

Light Horse Boy is based on historical events, though the characters are fictional. (On the first page, the author explains that the characters were created “after researching the records and diaries of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who served in the ‘Great War'”.)

Jim’s story is told as a narrative with charcoal illustrations, and the book includes copies of his letters and telegrams to his sister Alice. Readers are taken back in time with old photographs, maps, and newspaper clippings.

Reading Jim’s letters is like reading letters from someone you know (your own brother, or a friend).  Through Jim’s eyes we see how war affected young Australian soldiers and their horses serving in World War I, and how hard it was for friends and family left behind.

Highly recommended.

© April 2013 “Review of Light Horse Boy” by Rebecca Newman (


Read other Anzac-themed posts on Soup blog

Book reviews by Rebecca

Book Review: The Poison Plot – Sword Girl Book 2

Sword Girl: The Poison Plot by Frances Watts, ill. Gregory Rogers, ISBN 9781742377926, Allen & Unwin

A review copy of this book was provided by Allen & Unwin.

The poison plot (cover)

Thomasina (Tommy) is the Keeper of the Swords at Flamant Castle. Preparations are underway for a banquet at the castle but when Tommy is sent to town on an errand, she discovers a plot to poison Sir Walter. If she can’t foil the plot, Flamant will be at war. And there’s not much time …

This is the second book in the Sword Girl series. (Read a review of the first Sword Girl bookThe Secret of the Swords.)

The Poison Plot is an action-packed medieval adventure. There are black and white illustrations every few pages and they add to the fun—you might recognise Gregory Rogers’ style from his books The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard and The Hero of Little Street. Tommy is a brave, clever character who outsmarts bullies and makes friends with the castle’s animals. We love the poor crocodiddle with the cold, and, of course, the castle cat from the first book in the series.

A funny, fast-paced early chapter book.

© March 2013 “Review of Sword Girl: The Poison Plot” by Rebecca Newman (
Book reviews by Rebecca

Book review: Sophie Scott Goes South

Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester, ISBN 9780670880683, Penguin Group Australia

The reviewer borrowed this book from the library.  

Sophie Scott Goes South (cover)

Sophie Scott is nine, and she’s going to Antarctica with her dad—the captain of the Aurora Australis. It will take two weeks to get there, and they will be staying at Mawson Station for a week before coming home.

This is Sophie’s diary of her trip. But it’s sort of a scrapbook about Antarctica—as well as her diary entries, Sophie includes a detailed map of the ship, and photos of it, too. She describes (and draws) the special cold-weather clothes she has to wear and talks about the strange sounds and sights she sees from the ship. I love the drawings of the people on the ship and at the crew at Mawson Station and also the drawings of the animals and the environment in Antarctica. Many of the pages also feature snippets of information about the history of Antarctic explorers, and facts about the continent and the creatures that live there. (Did you know that an iceberg that sits just under the surface of the water is called a growler? Or that Roald Amundsen from Norway was the first to the South Pole?)

You’ll find a glossary at the end of the book and the endpapers show a map of the world showing Sophie’s journey to Antarctica, and a map of Antarctica from above.

On every page there are interesting things to look at, amazing photos and Sophie’s observations. One of my favourite photos shows a Weddell Seal scratching his nose. I also love the gallery of photos showing the colours of Antarctica. It’s not just white!) Sophie’s journey is based on the author’s own trip to Antarctica and many of ‘Sophie’s’ drawings in the book were co-created with children who read Alison Lester’s online diary entries during her trip. (Children sent the author artwork inspired by the online diary entries.)

This book grabs your attention from the first page. Gallop as quickly as you can to a library or bookshop if you love strange adventures, explorers, sea creatures, ships or Antarctica. Or all of them together!

© March 2013 “Review of Sophie Scott Goes South” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)