Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Tristan Bancks

Tristan Bancks (photo Amber Melody)MEET THE AUTHOR

Tristan Bancks tells stories for the page and screen. His books for kids and teens include Two WolvesThe Fall and the Tom Weekly series. Tristan is currently working with producers to develop several of his books for the screen. His latest book is Nit Boy, which is illustrated by Heath McKenzie. 

From the publisher:

Meet Lewis Snow. He has the worst case of nits in world history. Everyone wants him to shave his head. But Lewis thinks of his nits as pets. He’s determined to keep his hair and his nits, whatever it takes.

Ned lives on Lewis’s head. He’s the first-ever jumping nit. His dad wants Ned to help nits take over the world. But Ned likes it on Lewis’s head. Ned’s vegan and hates the taste of human blood.

And you thought you had problems.

Nit Boy by Tristan Bancks and illustrated by Heath McKenzieOkay … how much scratching did you do while you were writing Nit Boy?
I scratched my head till it was raw. It’s so weird how reading or writing about itchy things makes humans need to scratch. I love reading Nit Boy chapters to kids at events just to see the ocean of scratchers in the audience.

Nit Boy is fiction and features headlice and fleas as characters, plus some quick quizzes for readers. How did you go about your nit/flea research?
I watched disgusting YouTube videos of nits feeding on kids’ scalps and presenters like Michael Mosely giving themselves head lice on purpose for the sake of science. I considered doing this but I had young kids at home, so I didn’t need to try to get nits. I had them anyway. I also read everything I could and I tried to remember what it was like having nits as a kid and having my deputy principal pick through my hair with a razor-sharp lead pencil.

Jumping competition! Who wins: Ned the-first-jumping-nit or Sahaj the flea?
Sahaj is an elderly flea and his knees aren’t what they used to be, so he mainly walks these days. Ned has been genetically engineered to be the world’s first-ever jumping nit, so I’d say Ned definitely wins the jump-off!

Do you have a writing tip for young writers?
It’s more of a challenge than a tip. Try writing a story from the point-of-view of a non-human character. So, a nit or a flea or a cicada or a dog or a guinea pig or a lion. It’s fun and takes lots of imagination to put yourself inside the perspective of another creature. It’s a good one for the Book Week theme of ‘Curious Creatures, Wild Minds’, too!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project? 
My great great uncle, Jimmy Bancks, created a comic strip called Ginger Meggs in 1921. It’s now Australia’s longest-running comic strip, in newspapers all over the country, every day. I’m writing a 100th anniversary book of short stories for release in 2021! It’s a project I’ve dreamed of for many years and I love telling stories with the characters. My Tom Weekly books and Nit Boy have been great training for tackling Ginger Meggs. I’d love to write another Nit Boy book, too.

Nit Boy is available from bookstores and libraries now!


Watch the book trailer:

How to draw Ned the Nit (YouTube video)

Read Chapter 1 of Nit Boy

Click here for Teachers Notes 

Visit Tristan Bancks’s website for more about him and his books!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Goldfields Girl

Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal (book cover)REVIEWED BY CÉITÍ, 11, WA

Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925816495

The publisher provided a review copy of this book. 

When I first moved to Australia, I lived on a street called Coolgardie Avenue. This was my first introduction to the name Coolgardie, which I learnt was a name of an early goldmining town in Western Australia. This book teaches us about Clara Saunders’ experience in the mining town of Coolgardie. Based on the true story of her life, the book tells us of the history and the happenings in the 1890s in the goldrush era.

Clara and her family come from Queensland to Perth to start a new life in WA’s goldfields to strike it rich and find gold. Clara gets offered a job in a local bar in Coolgardie. She accepts as she is always open to a new adventure and soon realises what the life-style of Coolgardie is like. She learns that water is scarce, living conditions are poor, so diseases spread easily, and it is a new town so there are not many people living there. Her friend Jack, who she meets in Southern Cross, delivers water to Coolgardie regularly. Clara does not have much female company except for Mrs Fagan, who is her boss in the pub, and later on  Florrie from England, who comes to work in the pub with Clara. Clara enjoys living there but finds it tough at times.

Goldfields Girl gives an insight into the early goldrush days in Coolgardie. Clara sees many cases of typhoid, dehydration and other illnesses. She becomes a nurse of sorts and is called out to give medical assistance in many cases. Before she leaves Southern Cross her mother gives Clara her special book, Encyclopaedia of Common Diseases and Remedies. She uses this book to help treat her patients as there are no other doctors or nurses around the area. Clara meets Moondyne Joe, a well-known West Australian bushranger, in Southern Cross and again in Coolgardie. Clara listens to Moondyne Joe telling stories of his famous escapes and adventures.

This book would be a great read for 9-14 year olds interested in historical fiction. What stood out for me was that Clara was only fourteen when she left her family and went to Coolgardie all alone. In today’s world that would never happen. I think Clara Saunders was very brave and courageous.

Read a sample chapter on the publisher’s website.

This is Céití’s second book review for Alphabet Soup. Read her earlier review. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: Pancake

by Elizabeth, 7, NSW

Gold house photo courtesy of pixabay.comBeth and Pancake are best friends in the world.

They live in a gold cubbyhouse. Pancake is an excellent and smart dog. She is a beautiful black dog. Beth is a loving, gentle and kind girl.

One day, Pancake was watering the yard and suddenly, there was a bang! The door slammed.

Beth said, “I am sorry for slamming the door. It is locked!”

Pancake said, “Do not worry. I can fix it.”

Pancake tried to open the front door but it did not work. Pancake tried to open the back door but it did not work.

Pancake climbed up to the big window and went into the cubbyhouse and got the key. Then she let her friend back in the house.

Beth said, “Thank you.” She gave her best friend a hug.

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

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Michelle Kadarusman


Michelle Kadarusman. Photo by Micah Ricardo RiedlMichelle Kadarusman writes novels for children and teenagers. Michelle grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and has also lived in Indonesia and in Canada. Her books have been translated into Spanish and Turkish. Today we’re chatting to Michelle about her own voices novel The Theory of Hummingbirds. Like Alba (the main character), Michelle was born with the condition talipes equinovarus (commonly known as club foot) and underwent operations when she was still young.

From the publisher:

Alba has been best friends with Levi since forever. They’re both obsessed with hummingbirds and spend their lunchtimes hiding out in the school library. Alba normally doesn’t mind that Levi’s got a science theory on just about everything. But when he becomes convinced the school librarian has discovered a wormhole in her office, Alba thinks maybe he’s gone too far.

Then there’s Cleo. That’s what Alba calls her left foot, which was twisted in the wrong direction at birth and has been strapped in a brace for most of Alba’s life. With the final cast about to come off, Alba is set on running in her first cross-country race. But what if Levi doesn’t believe she can do it?

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman

How long did it take you to write The Theory of Hummingbirds, from first draft to final draft?
The Theory of Hummingbirds took two years from first draft to finished book. When I initially submitted the first draft to the publisher it was a little short so I had to add more chapters to plump it up. Then I worked with the editor on revisions for many months before we felt completely happy to send it off to press.

Did you already know a lot about hummingbirds before you wrote the book?
The first hummingbird I ever saw was at a friend’s lake house in Canada. I grew up in Australia where we don’t have hummingbirds, so when I saw my first hummingbird, I was very excited. They are so tiny and dart around like fairies. I was mesmerized and knew that I wanted to include them in a story. I read all about them for research before writing the book.

Alba and Levi are both committed and persistent in working towards their goals/theories. Were they inspired by anyone you know in real life?
Like most fictional characters, both Alba and Levi have traits of real people I know, but mostly they are from my imagination.

Can you tell us a little about your next writing project? 
My current work-in-progress is a middle-grade novel set in my father’s homeland of Indonesia. It centres around a captive orangutan and two middle schoolers. One is a budding animal and environmental activist the other is the orangutan’s keeper. It will delve into palm oil deforestation, the black-market exotic pet trade, identity and belonging.

Do you have a writing tip for young writers?
 I have three tips! The first is: read a lot. Read, read, read. Reading is what all writers do to learn and become inspired.

The second tip:  let yourself be bad at first. Don’t expect to be able to write like your favourite authors right away. It will take time to develop your craft. Keep working at it and let yourself make mistakes.

My third tip: listen to feedback from people you trust, the feedback will always help you become a better writer.

The Theory of Hummingbirds is out now, and available from bookshops, libraries, and the publisher!

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle KadarusmanAWESOME EXTRAS

Find out more about Michelle Kadarusman and her book on the publisher’s website

Check out photos of hummingbirds on the National Geographic site.

Posted in Recommended reading, Top Reads

TOP READS: June 2020

It’s the last day of the month and that means it’s time for some bookish recommendations from the kids on Alphabet Soup’s Top Reads team.* Check the shelves at your school library, local library or bookshop for these page turners.

You’ll find a recommended list from our Top Reads Team on the last day of every month (February to November). If you’d like even more recommendations, browse all through all our Top Reads ever!

*All our Top Readers are kids aged 13 and under. No grownups allowed!

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

Book review: Claire Malone Changes the World

Claire Malone Changes the World by Nadia L King and illustrated by Alisa KnatkoREVIEWED BY ALBIE, 8, NSW

Claire Malone Changes the World by Nadia L King, illustrated by Alisa Knatko, Dixi Books, ISBN 9786197458794

Albie received a review copy of this book from the author.

The video below is approximately two minutes long. A text version of this book review is also provided if you scroll to the end of this post.

Video: Albie, 8, reviews Claire Malone Changes the World

Text version:

Hi, my name is Albie and today I’m going to do a book review on Claire Malone Changes the World by Nadia L King and Alisa Knatko.

Claire Malone is around 13 years old and never goes outside. At the start of the book she is grumpy, sad, bored and lonely. And at the end of the book she is happy, fun and cool. My favourite character in the book is Marmalade, ‘cos she’s a very cute cat.

Claire wrote letters and changed. She wrote letters to the Prime Minister, the weather department and the Education Department. She finally wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and asked for a new park. The town all celebrated to get their new park! Yay!

I learnt to stand up for myself and do what comes naturally. This book gave me courage. That is why I love it. My favourite page in this book is here [holds up book] where the school teacher says … ‘At school, Claire’s teacher asked her class to draw what scared them most.’ This is little Claire there [points to illustration] and she is scared of bananas and no wifi. And everyone else is scared of stuff like fires, bees, snakes, spiders, ghosts! And she’s just scared of … a little old … no wifi! and bananas.

I thought it was really good because it’s really funny. I really do hope you read this book and love it as much as I do. Bye!

Albie is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read a previous review here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines.

Posted in Young Writers in Action

Young Writers in Action: The Prisoner in the Cage

by Ever, 10, Bellevue, Washington, USA

White Pigeon in a cage. Photo by Garfield Besa on Pexels.comI gazed mournfully through the old rusty glass, scarred and dented with bruises of dirt and yellowed grass. It was snowing lightly outside, tiny specks of snowflakes, pure and clean, gently drifting down, making the journey of a snowflake’s life.

The chilly winter air was quite cold, and through the broken window, breezes sailed across the tattered room, piercing my delicate small body. I was a handsome young bird, with wings fresh and strong, and here I was, imprisoned, cut off from my world in the skies. How I wished to be free, to be soaring in the clouds with the ones of my kind.

The snowing went on for days and days, frosty winds that kept me weak whipped me, biting me with their sharp teeth and their venom of cold filled me. The wide world that I used to have with a flap of a wing now became the cage that I was set in, microscopic compared to my old world in the air, the world where I could explore every crook and nanny, that world that gave me freedom. But now here I was, powerless against the dull metal binds of the once-golden cage. The strips of my prison held me back, and each time I looked at them my heart was filled with that sense of lostness, that feeling of being forgotten and wiped from their minds.

It was a sad feeling, knowing you were known no more, knowing that you weren’t thought of anymore. I felt extinct, and the hope that was never there in my heart was blown out with the gale that came every now and then.

I was a prisoner. To think an animal that had the gift of freedom, the power of flying anywhere in the world, was trapped by thin steel cords; well, that was a thought that had never entered my mind before.

I was the lonely prisoner in the cage, in a musty and creaky room, uninhabited by anyone anymore. I succumbed to loneliness and sat down.

I waited for someone to find me, but maybe it was true that I would not be found. Maybe I would last forever in that cold, sad, room, never to be found …

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

Posted in authors

Meet the author: Janeen Brian


Janeen Brian

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and poet with over 100 books published. Janeen lives in South Australia and writes poetry, short stories, picture books, nonfiction, and novels. Her first book was published in 1984, and her latest book (June 2020) is Eloise & the Bucket of Stars.

From the publisher:

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and is made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the village or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens …

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars (cover)

How long did it take you to write Eloise & the Bucket of Stars, from first draft to final draft?
Including all the research, brainstorming, planning, and first drafting, re-working after a manuscript assessment, and many more drafts, it would’ve been over 2 years before the ‘final’ manuscript was finished — and accepted.

The book is set in the early years of the nineteenth Century — did you need to do any research before you wrote the book?
Whenever I travel, I always take dozens of photographs of anything that interests me, because I never know when I might need them for referencing or as an idea for a story or for poetry. So, I had many pics of English and Irish orphanages and workhouses that were built and used in those earlier times. From previous trips, I had photos of walled cities which also came in handy for the story setting. I always collected or bought pamphlets, brochures or from museums. I jotted in my diary too. Even an odd word or two can jog the memory of something you saw or experienced. I’d walked on cobblestones, I’d been inside old houses that lined narrow streets, I’d been in tiny market squares, seen what were used as toilets in those days and so much more. Apart from my own experiences, and photographs, I also used the internet for pictorial references. If I needed any extra information as I wrote, I scoured books or did further exploration on the internet.

If you lived in the village of Whittering, what would your occupation be?
Great question!
I would’ve been the flower-seller! Not only because I love flowers, but also because they would’ve masked the smell of animals and their droppings, rank drains, pit-sewerage and unwashed bodies! Most people had few clothes which were not washed as often as we do today, and nor did they wash very often. Hygiene was not a top priority but also houses had no running water and water needed to be heated on a stove.

How did you choose the title of the book? 
The earliest title was Girl in a Bucket, and that came as a suggestion from a Year 6 girl at a school I was visiting. It remained as that until the publisher commented that it could tell more. I thought about the main character’s name and what was important to her. And so then I had ELOISE and STARS. But I also wanted to use the original situation, of her being left as a baby in a bucket. So, finally it all came together, and the title was born.

Can you tell us a bit about your next project? 
My next project is a picture book which I’ve been working on for several weeks. It’s to do with a waterhole, the competition between several African animals and the funny set up before the animals realise what is most important.

Do you have a tip for young writers who want to try their hand at magical-realism or fantasy?
First of all, you have to believe in the story idea yourself. In this book, I used an everyday situation and setting and then created the element of fantasy and wove that into the story. I didn’t have to create a new world but I still had to make the magic believable in the story.

Eloise & the Bucket of Stars is out now and available from bookstores and libraries.


Hear Janeen Brian read an excerpt from Eloise & the Bucket of Stars (YouTube)

Eloise and the Bucket of Stars (cover)

Click here to download Teachers’ Notes for the book

Click here for more writing tips from Janeen Brian

Visit Janeen Brian’s website for more about her and her books

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.