Book reviews by Joshua, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Emma Johnston, Marine Biologist and TV Presenter


Emma Johnston: Marine Biologist and TV Presenter by Dee White, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893762

Joshua received a review copy of this book.

Professor Emma Johnston, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, has a genuinely encouraging life story.

Emma was a sponge …

She loved the beach, science and asking her parents questions about the wonderful world around her. She always enjoyed looking at the fascinating marine life under the water’s surface. Her curiosity and the questions her parents answered only gave her the thirst for more knowledge. Moving to Japan, she found the curriculum way more advanced, so she enjoyed the challenge and found class engaging. After returning to Australia, she was shocked by the discrimination against the girls at her high school and she moved to Uni High, a different school, accepted in with a music scholarship. She knew she loved science, communicating with others and playing music on her flute. 

What did she do with her curious mind and knowledge of science as she grew up in this big world?

Find out in Dee White’s extraordinary biography of Emma’s inspiring story. Reading her life story motivated me to look more into science again and rediscover my passion for science I lost a couple years ago. It helped me to relate to Emma as we both love science and I can feel her struggles, opinions and feelings throughout the book.

I loved this book and would rate this book a strong 4 out of 5 for ten to thirteen year olds.

Read our interview with the author, Dee White.

Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Check out more of Joshua‘s reviewhere If YOU would like to send us a book review, please refer to our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

interviews, poetry

Amber Moffat and writing poems about animals

Amber Moffat is a writer and visual artist from New Zealand but currently based in Western Australia. She is a maker of work for both adults and children. Amber’s first picture book, I Would Dangle the Moon, was published in 2019. Her poetry has been published in The School Magazine, and in a 2022 poetry anthology Roar, Squeak, Purr. Today we’re chatting to Amber about writing poetry for this fabulous anthology.

From the publisher:

This exuberant treasury brings together over 200 animal poems by New Zealand’s best writers, and includes poems written by children. The poems were selected and edited by champion poet Paula Green, winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry [New Zealand] and creator of the popular Poetry Box blog, and teamed with Jenny Cooper’s cheeky, whimsical and adorable illustrations.
Roar Squeak Purr is destined to be a family treasure – and to inspire a new generation of poets.

You have five poems in Roar, Squeak, Purr – how did you go about writing poems for this anthology? (Did you already have these poems sitting in a drawer?)

I had one poem already and wrote the other four poems specifically for this anthology. The editor of the collection (the amazing poet Paula Green), asked me if I’d like to submit some animal poems as she knew my writing from my picture book, I Would Dangle the Moon. The poem I had already written was a poem about being cuddled up to a cat. I don’t have a cat anymore as I have two big dogs that are not cat-friendly, but when I was a kid I had several beautiful cats. That cat poem was written about that feeling when you are lazing about with a cat on your lap.

I had a couple of months to write the poems, and I wasn’t sure how many I’d write. I ended up writing one about black swans, one about a sheep-dog, one about two lions that escaped from a circus, and a riddle poem about a creature I won’t reveal here in case people want to try to work that one out themselves.

The swan and sheep-dog poems were based on memories of growing up in New Zealand. I loved to watch how both swans and sheep-dogs moved and both those poems are about trying to capture the unique ways those animals move. The poem about the lions was based on a true story that has fascinated me since I was a child. The lions were unfortunately shot after they escaped, and they are now in the Otago Museum in my hometown of Dunedin. I used to visit the lions at the museum and always imagined what they would be like running free instead of stuffed and still within a glass case. So that poem is very much about movement too actually. I really enjoyed writing from the lions’ point of view in that one, and that’s something I’d like to try again.

For me, all writing springs from something I am interested in and can’t let go of. If an idea keeps coming back to my mind then I know I have to write about it.

Do you prefer to write rhyming poems or free verse?

I definitely prefer to write in free verse and it feels more natural to me. All my poems in Roar, Squeak, Purr are in free verse. Writing in rhyme limits your options for word choice and you have to express your idea within a tight structure. I feel kind of like the lions in the circus when I’m writing in that way, and I end up wanting to escape!

If you’re writing a poem (or editing it) how do you know when your poem is finished?

It can be very hard to know when a poem is finished. Sometimes I think something is finished but if I put it aside for a few weeks and come back to it, I realise it still needs work. I’m very lucky to have some great writing friends and sometimes I show them my poems to them and get their feedback. That is a very helpful process and has made me better at editing my work. My poems usually go through about three edits to get them right. A lot of that is “tightening up” the writing, making sure every word that remains is working hard to convey the meaning of the poem.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write poetry?

Be bold and risk-taking when you are writing your first draft! All ideas are good ideas in the first draft. I try to write without thinking when I first jot down words for a poem. This helps me to avoid getting into a critical mode and lets the ideas flow freely. Then you need to be brave and ruthless when you are editing. You will probably need to change lots of things and that’s normal.

If you don’t like the feeling of cutting out parts of your poems then it might help you to have a system for saving all your different drafts, then you know you can always come back to earlier versions of the poem.

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

I’m writing a novel for teenagers at the moment. It will be about 70,000 words when it’s finished so it’s a very different writing process to writing poetry! I’m still using the technique of writing without judgement to get the ideas down though. I hope to finish the first draft in a couple of months and then I will start the first round of editing.

Roar, Squeak, Purr is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or your local library.


Take a sneak peek inside the book (see if you can solve Amber Moffat’s riddle poem!)

Download some Poem Starters from the publisher’s website and write your own animal poems!

Visit Amber Moffat’s website for more about her and her work.

The editor of this anthology, Paula Green, chose all the poems in it. Visit her website: Poetry Box

authors, illustrator, interviews

Sean E Avery on Frank’s Red Hat

Sean E Avery is a teacher, sculptor, designer, and the author-illustrator of Harold and Grace, All Monkeys Love Bananas, and Happy as a Hog Out of Mud. Today we’re pleased to chat to him about his latest picture book, Frank’s Red Hat, which is out in Australia, Korea, France and Denmark!

From the publisher:

Frank is a penguin with ideas. Mostly terrible ones. That’s why his fellow penguins are nervous when he shows them his strange new creation. Something they’d never seen or expected to see in their cold and colourless Antarctic world — a red hat.

How did you come to set a book in Antarctica?

I wanted a black-and-white setting that I could slowly introduce colour to! Antartica fit the description perfectly. 

Do you know how to knit?

I do not. My boss (the principal at the school I work at) tried to teach me once but I gave up in a huff. I may have had a small tantrum and thrown my knitting needles over my head in frustration.

Can you tell us a bit about the illustration process for Frank’s Red Hat?

I use lots of different media – paint, crayons, pencils etc – to create textures that I scan into my computer. From there, I can cut the shapes I need from the scanned textures and arrange them to make, rocks, snow, water, seals, and penguins of course! 

Do you have a writing tip for kids who’d like to write their own books?

Write a little bit every day for a few months. It’s very hard (and not much fun) to try finish a whole book quickly in a week. If you work on something slowly, but consistently over a long period of time; the result will be better.

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

I have three books coming out next year. Two of those are out next year. One is called Friendly Bee and Friends – a graphic novel about an annoyingly friendly bee who tries to make friends with every bug he meets. The other is a picture book called Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and The Hermit Crab which is an underwater adventure. 

Frank’s Red Hat is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.

Image shows the cover of a picture book: Frank's Red Hat by Sean E Avery. The illustration is of a flock of penguins and only one penguin is wearing a tiny red beanie.


Take a look inside the book!

Visit Sean E Avery’s website for more about him and his books

Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Team Trouble!


Team Trouble! by Eddie Woo & Dave Hartley, illustrated by Mitch Vane, Pan Macmillan Australia, ISBN 9781760983000

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Have you ever had a mystery to solve with your friends?  Well, then you should read this book. Team Trouble! is written by Eddie Woo and Dave Hartley and illustrated by Mitch Vane. This book is about Eddie and his sidekicks (DT and Rusty) who all love skateboarding.

In this book, the mystery is about Mr Appleby. Mr Appleby helped Eddie’s Mum and Dad when they arrived in Australia from Malaysia in the 1990s, but now Mr Appleby is old. Mr Appleby’s aged care home is closing down. What do Eddie and his friends do? What will happen next?

I like this book because it has mental and physical challenges for Eddie and his friends. I rate this book 10/10. This book is suitable for age kids 8 and over. 

Read the first chapter of this book 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!

authors, illustrator, interviews

Frané Lessac on A is for Australian Reefs

Frané Lessac is an author and illustrator and has created beautiful illustrations for more than fifty books. She was born in New Jersey and lived on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat and later London before moving to Australia. Travelling is a major source of inspiration for her work. Frané visits schools, libraries and festivals around the world sharing the process of writing and illustrating books. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Frané about her latest picture book, A is for Australian Reefs.

From the publisher:

Along the Australian coastline, underwater reefs are bustling with the most amazing sea creatures living on the planet. What can blow bubble rings and swim through them? What has teeth on its eyeballs? What creature makes itself nearly invisible to predators by using camouflage? What poops out sand? More than 25 percent of all sea creatures live in coral reefs, also called “rain forests of the sea.” This book introduces readers to everything from playful dolphins to deadly Irukandji jellyfish, leafy sea dragons to brainy octopuses, and walking sharks to whimsical-looking zebra seahorses. With gorgeous patterns and colours and substantial entries exploring each creature’s anatomy, diet, threats to survival, and more, Frané Lessac brings us a truly fascinating undersea exploration of the awe-inspiring Australian reefs.

A is for Australian Reefs is a non-fiction picture book full of fascinating facts. How did you go about your research for the book?

I love animals and especially ones that live in the ocean. I’ve been lucky to have lived close to the sea all my life. From the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea, and now, the Indian Ocean. Snorkelling is one of my favourite hobbies. To research A Is for Australian Reefs, I travelled up to Ningaloo Reef and visited the Great Barrier Reef. Closer to home, I snorkelled on Rottnest Island and got up close and personal with sea creatures at AQWA (Aquarium of Western Australia) especially rare animals like the elusive leafy sea dragon. Alongside swimming on underwater reefs, I read many books and researched online. Every page in A Is for Australian Reefs is full of facts. My publishers required that I find official proof for each fact from three reputable sources. To do this, I contacted coral reef and marine experts from all over Australia.

You create picture books about different places and creatures around Australia. Have you been to all the places featured in your books?

I’ve been fortunate to have visited many of the locations in my books. When I travel, I take lots of photos and gather information to take home. If I cannot travel to a place, I call local experts, visit websites, watch documentaries, and read as many books as possible. Once back in my studio, I sort through the enormous range of photographs, research books and online sources of information that I’ve collected. 

Everywhere I’ve travelled, there’s always something amazing to discover maybe it’s the scenic beauty, the food, or meeting the best people!

You’re the writer and illustrator of so many picture books. When you have the idea for a book what comes first for you, writing or artwork?

The idea for the book comes first. I need to write all the words first because the artwork might change if one word changes especially in the case of adjectives. It is helpful that I know what I’d like to paint, which will influence what I’m writing. After a polished draft, I decide which words appear on each page. Then I’m ready to create ‘sloppy copies’ sketches of the art.

Do you have a tip for kids who’d like to create their own picture book?

You have the best possible place nearby to help you create your own picture book the school library! It’s a wealth of knowledge with a gazillion ideas to inspire you further. In the non-fiction section, every possible subject to learn and write and/or illustrate can be found. These books are full of images and words that are easy to understand. And in the picture book section, take a close look and see all the different materials and design ideas used to make books! Everyone writes and paints differently. Believe in your words and art, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. How YOU do it is unique.

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

Currently, I’m working on a super-fun project called, The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes. I’ve chosen lots of well-known traditional English nursery rhymes and adapted them to feature Australian animals. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud rhymes and some work better than the originals! The art is bright and colourful and designed for a young audience. After I finish all the rhymes and art, it will still be an entire year before it’s out in the world. Books take a loooong time.

A is for Australian Reefs is out now! Ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop.


Image shows the cover of a non-fiction picture book: A is for Australian Reefs by Frané Lessac. The cover illustration shows a coral reef with a whale shark swimming and the additional words: a fact-astic tour.

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Watch Frané Lessac talking about how she creates her picture books (YouTube)

Visit Frané Lessac’s website to find out more about her and her books

Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Time Out!

Photo shows the cover of a children's novel: Time Out! by Eddie Woo and Jess Black and illustrated by Mitch Vane. The cover illustration features a giant question mark, and a boy in a red shirt holding a magnifying glass up to his eye.


Time Out! by Eddie Woo and Jess Black, illustrated by Mitch Vane, Pan Macmillan Australia, ISBN 9781760982997

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Searching for a new book to dive into over the holidays or when you are bored? Or figure you are a bit of a detective? Time Out! is a mystery novel by Eddie Woo & Jess Black. It is part of the Whodunnit? series currently containing two novels, the other one being Team Trouble. The main protagonist of the book is young Eddie Woo, a super sleuth and maths whizz. Together with his friends, Rusty and DT, they accidentally stumble across a treasure hunt created by Henry Cedric James in the 1880s. Even though their suburb of Red Hill is small there can still be an action-packed adventure. 

Henry was the founder of Red Hill and hand-built many public buildings like the Council school, lighthouse, old cathedrals, parks and many homes. In some of these locations he left hints and ciphers to where the next clue might be. It is rumoured that Henry worked at the Ballarat Goldfields before founding the new suburb. When he passed away, he left most of his gold hidden, rumoured to be at the end of the treasure hunt. But every good story needs an antagonist so, someone is going to take drastic measures to ensure Eddie doesn’t reach the end!

This is an awesome book including maths and instrumental talents. I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 as it has a good climax, resolution and includes maths to explain things.

Gabriel is a regular book reviewer at Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by Joshua, Book reviews by kids

Book review: All Four Quarters of the Moon

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.


All Four Quarters of the Moon by Shirley Marr, Penguin Australia, ISBN 9781760899554

Joshua received a review copy of this book.

Peijing is not from this country. Australia is such a different place to Singapore. Accompanied by Ba Ba (her Dad), Ma Ma (her Mum), her sister Biju and Ah Ma, her grandmother, Peijing is unsure of the strange new cultures and the adaptations she will have to make to fit into Australia. To Peijing’s realisation, her family are all fighting their own uncertainties in their new life. Little Biju is only in kindergarten and is struggling as her English isn’t as fluent as everyone else’s. Ma Ma doesn’t do much as she is alone without all her friends around and she can’t speak English. The only thing she finds she can do is to clean the house incessantly. Ba Ba doesn’t talk to anyone now, though he used to talk to the other men in the family. The family first moved to Australia so he could get a promotion. Ah Ma, who sits at the TV all day has nothing to do, like Ma Ma, and she also keeps forgetting things like who Peijing is, to chew food, and she dangerously wanders away from the house.

With all these problems in her family’s lives, Peijing feels that she cannot express her own issues to them so she steps up to care for the family especially Biju, who is still young and believes everything her sister says.

Helpless, the only thing Peijing knows she can control is the little world – a precious paper world where the two sisters create stories with their paper animal and plant creations. The world is filled with different creatures, real and fantasy but there are no people. To Peijing, the little world is a sanctuary of peace, a place of safety and security where she forms new stories from the shapes of different creatures.

As Peijing starts to feel at home in Australia, she questions what she can do to help her family in this foriegn land. Follow Peijing in this heartwarming book and how she leads her family through the struggles of culture shock and change. 

I particularly resonated with this book as I moved back to Australia after 11 years of living overseas and had to face changes in my lifestyle, different cultural expectations and ideals. I love the theme of identity that is interwoven throughout this book.

I would recommend this book for readers aged 9 and above. I’m sure you will enjoy this exceptional fiction novel. I rate this amazing book 5/5.

Read our interview with the author, Shirley Marr.

Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Check out more of Joshua‘s reviewhere If YOU would like to send us a book review, please refer to our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, illustrator, interviews

Helen Milroy on Owl and Star

Dr Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She was born and educated in Perth and has always had a passionate interest in health and wellbeing, especially for children. Dr Milroy is the author and illustrator of nine children’s books, including Backyard Bugs, Backyard Birds, and Wombat, Mudlark and Other Stories. Today we’re chatting to her about her stunning picture book – Owl and Star.

From the publisher:

Owl loved the sparkle of the stars. He would sit out on his tree at dusk and wait for them to appear. One evening, Owl became worried. His favourite little star had not shown herself. Owl searched far and wide. Where could Little Star be?

When creating your picture books, what comes first for you – the illustrations or the story?

Either. Sometimes I see something and I get images for a story, other times that image or thoughts about something I have noticed sets me off on the storyline first. I even go to sleep thinking about the story. Then when I start illustrating, it is like the images just fall out onto the page.

Owl knows the night sky so well that he notices even a small change. Are you a stargazer yourself?

I do love looking at the stars and wondering what it is like up there. I loved looking at the sky day or night as a kid. Making animal shapes from the clouds during the day or waiting to see a shooting star at night. I always thought the moon was a magical being and used to say hello when it was full and bright.

Can you tell us about your illustration process for Owl and Star?

In this case I had written the story before the illustrations so I wanted the illustrations to also tell the story even if you couldn’t read the words. Like two stories together. I spent a long time thinking and researching about owls before drawing any. It took me a long time before owl appeared properly on the page but once he was there, the rest was easy.

Do you have a tip for children who’d like to create their own picture book?

Yes just get started! Draw, write and tell stories, the more you do the better they get especially when they come from your heart. If you love what you are doing, it will show in the stories and images.

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

I am working on several projects at once. More birds, bugs and beasties from the bush, more tales from the bush mob and a new series about some neighbourhood pets that get together for some adventures!

Owl and Star is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or your local library.


Image shows the cover of a picture book: Owl and Star by Helen Milroy. The cover is dark blue with an owl at the centre. The owl is cradling a little star and behind him is a large yellow sun.

Take a peek inside the book

Download the teachers’ notes for this book

Watch a YouTube video of the author Helen Milroy reading another of her stories, ‘Dingo and Moon’

Visit Helen Milroy’s website for more about her and her books

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.


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!