Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Fire Star


The Fire Star by AL Tait

The Fire Star: A Maven and Reeve mystery by AL Tait, Penguin, ISBN 9781760897079

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

The Fire Star was an interesting book, though it was hard to get into at the start. Maven is a servant to Lady Cassandra and Reeve is a squire for Sir Garrick. The plot is about how a precious stone, which is the foundation of Sir Garrick and Lady Cassandra’s marriage, gets stolen. This causes a lot of accusations and uncovered secrets. The book is filled with lots of plot twists and great descriptive language. The only downside is that the plot is rather complicated and so are the characters. Otherwise, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to ages 11+. I give it seven out of ten.

Read the first chapter on the publisher’s website

Read our interview with Allison Tait about writing The Fire Star

This is Saskia’s second review for Alphabet Soup. Read her review of My Place (Younger readers edition) by Sally Morgan.

Posted in authors, interviews

Cristy Burne on Beneath the Trees


Cristy Burne holds Beneath The Trees Cristy Burne writes fiction and nonfiction and her books are bursting with adventure, friendship, family, nature, science and technology. Cristy has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across six countries. She has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, museum writer, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN, but her all-time favourite job is working with kids to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity.

Cristy’s latest book is Beneath the Trees, with illustrations by Amanda Burnett. From the publisher:

Cam and Sophie feel like they’ve been travelling forever to get to the rainforest and the river and their cousins. They just want to see a platypus in the wild, but with the rain tipping down and the river turning wild they can’t see a thing. Until suddenly, they can. A platypus is just below them, and it needs help! But when their rescue attempt goes horribly wrong, it’s not just the platypus that needs saving …

Your characters Cam and Sophie want to see a platypus in the wild. Have you ever seen a platypus yourself?
Beneath the Trees by Cristy Burne and illustrated by Amanda BurnettYes, and I loved it! In 2019 my family travelled across Australia to see platypus in the wild, just like in the book. In fact, that’s the whole reason Beneath The Trees exists. So the descriptions in the book of the forest, the rain, the river and the platypus are all real-life descriptions.

Platypus are so wonderful and so lovely to see in the wild. We need to do all we can to protect their habitat and our environment so animals like this don’t continue to decline.

You write books about kids having adventures in the great outdoors. Do any of your own childhood adventures make it into your books?
I grew up on a kiwifruit orchard and farm in New Zealand, so adventure was a huge part of my childhood. I remember being chased by bulls, rescuing a paddock of heifers from a flood, accidentally electrocuting myself with the electric fence while chasing a wayward cow through the orchard in the dead of night and in bare feet…

None of these adventures have made it into a book yet, but now you have me thinking….

Personal opinion: Leech or mosquito … which is worse?
Mosquito is way worse.

  1. Mosquito bites itch, but leeches use anaesthetic, so you don’t even know they’re biting you.
  2. Mosquitoes buzz around your room all night, but leeches are nice and quiet.
  3. Mosquitoes are responsible for millions of deaths (from diseases like malaria), but leeches are used to treat patients who are recovering from surgeries (like reattachment surgeries).

So leeches are way better than mosquitoes. And they’re way grosser too!

Do you have any tips for kids who’d like to write adventure stories?
Adventures stories are awesome to read, and awesome to write. The best bit is that you have to have experienced some adventure to write a good adventure story. You don’t need to have experienced the exact thing your character is experiencing, but you do need to know what it feels like to be frightened or lost, or how it feels to do the right thing, even when you’re afraid.

A good way to remember how you feel is to write about it in a diary each day. You’ll soon get bored of writing ‘I felt scared’ or ‘it was fun’ and you can start to experiment with new and scary and funny and original ways to describe your day. I dare you to start a diary and write in it every day for a week!

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
My next book comes out at the end of April. It’s the first in a science-meets-magic adventure series co-written with debut author Denis Knight. Book 1 is called Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows, and it’s about a schoolkid called Wednesday who mixes magic and science to save the universe from a power-crazy goblin king. It’s loads of laughs!

Beneath the Trees is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library. 


Beneath the Trees by Cristy Burne and illustrated by Amanda BurnettDownload Teachers’ Notes for Beneath the Trees

Read the first chapter on the publisher’s website

Visit Cristy’s website to see some photos of the Queensland environment where the story is set

Watch a YouTube video of Taronga Zoo Australian fauna team releasing a rehabilitated male playtpus back into the wild in NSW

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn


The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon, UQP, ISBN 9780702262821

The publisher provided a review copy of this book. 

The main characters in The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn are Mabel Clattersham, a bright young girl who has been held back by invisible strings, and Wonder Quinn a bookworm with a lot to share. Wonder has always been lonely with only a crow for company, until she meets Mabel. They become best of friends, but Mabel seems to have a secret, as she writes a strange list of things to do which she wishes to complete. Strangely, nobody else but Mabel and her crow Hollowbeak notice Wonder. Mabel soon reveals something unexpected. Can Wonder leave her somewhat dark past behind her?

I enjoyed reading about when Mabel comes back to school with a meat pie at the ready to throw at their arch enemy Georgiana. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, I loved the plot twist, and would recommend it to others.

I rate this book four out of five stars.

Read our interview with the author.

Matilda is a member of our 2020 Top Reads team. This is Matilda’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

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

Book review. Georgia Ward-Fear: reptile biologist and explorer

Georgia Ward-Fear Reptile Biologist and Explorer by Claire SaxbyREVIEWED BY KOBE, 9, WA

Georgia Ward-Fear: reptile biologist and explorer, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893342

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Do you want to visit rainforests and discover new species of animals, hold anacondas and pat great monitor lizards? You can find out a way to be that kind of person just by reading this fabulous Aussie Stem Stars book.

This book is written by Claire Saxby, an author from Melbourne. She moved to Newcastle when she was a toddler and the to Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. Claire is an amazing author for the Aussie Stem Stars series. Claire is such a good author that she makes the reader think they are a part of the story.

Georgia Ward-Fear is an outstanding reptile biologist and explorer. Since she was a toddler she loved animals and the world around her. Soon she became a reptile expert and daring explorer. And before you know it, she was an expert reptile biologist and adventurous explorer. Georgia didn’t become so excellent as quick as light although; with years and years of passion and practice, she got there in the end and she accomplished her goal. The lesson is that even though you might be good at something it takes passion and practice to be truly good at it.

I feel that this book will be most helpful to children willing to be an explorer or animal biologist. Also, I like how the Aussie STEM Stars books give a little quote from the science genius or animal expertise, this book’s quote is:

Follow your curiosity, express your unique self and always stop to observe the wonders of Nature; we are just one among millions.

I think this quote is completely correct and that you will appreciate that this book was made and published.

Read an interview with the author of Georgia Ward-Fear: reptile biologist and explorer.

Kobe is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereTo send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

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

Book review: The School for Good and Evil

Kobe recommends THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani. (This is a book for older readers.)REVIEWED BY KOBE, 9, WA

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 9780007492930

Kobe reviewed her own copy of this book.

Two girls that are friends are kidnapped at a certain time of their lives to find that one learns cruelty and evil while the other learns loyalty and good. In the end, the result is least expected because the two friends turn out to be great enemies.

Agatha was fine living in her town, Gavaldon and her friend Sophie. One night she was staying awake until she saw something black going towards Sophie’s house, she rushes over to find that they are both in a worse situation than she had planned. Then they are both kidnapped and taken to their true home. Agatha is surprised to see the location she is in because she had never known that fairy tales were real. She finds that she starts to like this new life that a black shadow of some sort has driven her in to. After that she finds that trying to be with her best friend Sophie was going to be impossible because a princess can never be friends with a witch. After an attempt to change clothes with each other, they find it not accomplishable to do.

My favourite part about this fantastic book is that this book always keeps you wondering what is going to happen, like when Agatha and Sophie both get kidnapped and Agatha tries to use matches, but it still doesn’t stop the shadow from pulling them on to a tree and a bird made from bones taking them to their rightful schools. You wonder which school are they going to go to and what they’ll learn and do in their school. I also like that it always seems that Sophie and Agatha are going to somehow die or at least be in great danger, but they always seem to avoid it, like when Agatha was hanging on the School of Evil’s roof and there was a gargoyle ready to breathe fire at her or eat her.

Kobe is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read all her reviews hereTo send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in authors, interviews

Dianne Wolfer and Munjed Al Muderis: from refugee to surgical inventor


Dianne Wolfer

Dianne Wolfer lives on the south coast of Western Australia, but she grew up in Melbourne, Bangkok and Albury. Dianne’s love of books is one reason she became a writer. She writes picture books, novels for  children and teenagers, and nonfiction for all ages. Her stories are about many things; different cultures, the environment, friendship, being brave, turns in the road and taking chances. Today we’re thrilled to have Dianne visiting to chat to us about her latest book, which is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

Munjed Al Muderis from refugee to surgical inventor

From the publisher:

Munjed is a humanitarian and world-leading pioneer of surgical osseointegration. The book follows pivotal moments in Munjed’s life: becoming a surgeon under the regime of Saddam Hussein, fleeing from war-torn Iraq and arriving at Christmas Island in a rickety boat, being held in the Curtin Detention Centre, his hard-gained medical success, and his acknowledgement as the 2020 NSW Australian of the Year.

On with the questions!

You’re a writer of fiction and nonfiction. What’s different about writing nonfiction compared to writing a fiction novel?
Writing fiction is just me and my imagination. There is some research, for example in The Shark Caller I wanted to find out more about Papua New Guinea and the practise of calling sharks, but with nonfiction you have to always check and double-check the facts that link to your book. When it’s biography, like Munjed Al Muderis from refugee to surgical inventor, and the person is alive, it’s super important to not only get the details correct but also to capture the ‘voice’ of the person you are writing about. That’s not easy. Historical fiction is different again, it sits between the two and some people call it ‘faction’. With the Light series, set in WWI, I imagined the characters; both real and fictitious. For example, when I began work on Lighthouse Girl in 2005, very little was known about Fay’s life on Breaksea Island in 1914. As time passes research sometimes uncovers interesting details that I wish I’d known way back then. Each genre has its own challenges and its own fun.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Had you met Munjed Al Muderis before you began writing the book?
No, sadly I still haven’t met Munjed. He lives in Sydney and soon after I began work on his amazing story, COVID happened.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
Munjed has co-authored two books for adults, given TED talks, been painted by Anh Do’s ‘Brush with Fame’ and been on many media shows, so although I could not meet him in person, I was able to watch Munjed on screen and listen to him speak about his life and surgical achievements. Munjed often spoke about pivotal life moments, like when he had to choose between probable death and cutting off the ears of prisoners, and coming to Australia by boat, and being locked in Curtin Detention Centre where they called him by a number instead of his name. These were some of the life-changing moments I pieced together to create the book. As I wrote I often asked myself, ‘How did these experiences shape the man Munjed has become?’

Australia is now the world-leader in osseointegration, a surgical technique that allows amputees to feel the ground as they walk, because of Munjed and his team’s surgical work. He’s the current NSW Australian of the Year and his resilience and positive ‘glass half-full’ (rather than ‘half-empty’) attitude inspired me as I drafted and re-drafted his story. “Life is about making a difference,” Munjed says. “We all have a mission in life, to leave behind a legacy.”

Do you have any tips for kids who would like to try writing a biography?
So many … capturing someone’s ‘voice’ is important. The more research you do, the better chance you will have of doing that. Then start writing and keep going until you get to the end. You can make notes along the way about things you’ll need to research in following drafts. When you’re finished a read-through, reread and let the story settle.

Then ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the heart of this story?
  • Why has my character made the choices she/he has?
  • Are there important turns in the road when they could have taken another path? Why didn’t they? Would their life have been very different if they had?
  • What does my character care most about and what drives them?
  • Who are the important mentors for my character?

Thinking about smaller things like the kind of clothes they wear, favourite music and the food they like is also a fun way to bring a character to life.

If ever I go to Iraq I will definitely try Gaymer & Kahi for breakfast.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
I thought I’d finished writing about WWI but one story kept calling me back. It’s a little like the ‘Light’ series but it’s also different (a special animal is the hero). I’ve done a lot of research and I hope I can share more about it soon. I’ve also completed a middle-grade novel which is on a publisher’s desk. Lots of other ideas are swirling about but these are the ones I’m working on.

Munjed Al Muderis is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library or order it from the publisher.


Munjed Al Muderis from refugee to surgical inventor

Download the Teacher’s Notes for this book. (PDF)

Watch a 30-second video of Dianne Wolfer talking about the book.

Visit Dianne Wolfer’s website to find out more about her and her books.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Remarkable

Remarkable by Lizzie K FoleyREVIEWED BY HARUNE, 12, JAPAN

Remarkable by Lizzie K Foley, Penguin Group USA, ISBN 9780142424100

Harune reviewed her own copy of this book.

It’s a nice spring day and the schools have just closed, letting floods of children out to the streets. Laughter rings through the air, feet patter on cobblestone. A girl and an elderly man walk into an ice cream parlour together; the waitress looks at them disinterestedly and waves them to a seat. The pair are grandfather and granddaughter, there to enjoy their Friday afternoon with vanilla sundaes. They went there every Friday, yet every week never received their orders. Why? You might ask. How? Their story begins in a small, spectacular town by the name of Remarkable.

Inside the wondrous town of Remarkable, everyone has their talent. Their gift. In fact, the citizens of Remarkable are all so extraordinary that in their everyday lives people, pets, and surroundings shine with glory. Until Jane. She was utterly, horribly normal and plain, and while the people of Remarkable, being perfect in any way, didn’t hold it against her, she was forgettable. Forgettable in such ways that you may forget to serve her and her grandfather vanilla sundaes. But when Jane meets the Grimlet siblings and a strange pirate moves into her prestigious city, her life takes an unexpected turn into pranks and friendship, danger and fun, and choices that could determine the future of Remarkable. Will Jane discover her own voice in the competitive town, scrape through a series of harrowing challenges, and protect Remarkable’s greatest secret?

I enjoyed Remarkable because it’s a story of an ordinary girl in a community full of talented and gifted individuals, trying to find her own passion while making new friends along the way. The way Jane grows and changes throughout the book is easy to follow and connected with me as a reader. Parts I enjoyed reading of Remarkable were when the Grimlet twins were dreaming up mischief or inviting Jane to find out more about herself. It is a lighthearted, amusing tale that will warm your hearts and make you smile.

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

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Mama Ocean

Mama Ocean by Jane Jolly and Sally HeinrichREVIEWED BY REUBEN, 7, WA

Mama Ocean by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Sally Heinrich, MidnightSun Publishing, ISBN 9781925227659

The publisher provided a review copy of this picture book. 

This book is about sea creatures helping Mama Ocean when she was feeling sick. Mama Ocean felt sad because she was full of rubbish. What I loved best about this book was the front cover – because I really liked the picture. I also liked the pinks and oranges in the illustrations, lots of wavy curly bits through the illustrations.
This story made me feel happy and sad. The mountain of junk made me sad, the beginning and end made me happy.
The kids in my class would like this book because of the illustrations.

This is Reuben’s second book review for Alphabet Soup. Read his review of The Hole Story here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!
Posted in Top Reads

Top reads: November 2020

It’s the last day of November and that means it’s time for some recommended reads from the members of our Top Reads team. Top Reads is a list of books nominated by the kids reading them. Every month (from February to November) we post the books our Top Reads Team loved reading during the preceding month.

Today’s post is the final Top Reads post for 2020. We hope you have a stack of great books to read over the summer holidays and we’ll be back with more recommended reading in 2021. Here are this month’s recommendations:

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 authors, illustrator

Rebecca J Palmer on Monkey Mind



Rebecca J Palmer is an author, illustrator, printmaker, educator and teacher. She is the author and illustrator of a new picture book – Monkey Mind – launched in November 2020. We’re pleased to have Rebecca stop by to talk to us about some of the behind-the-scenes activity in the process of creating Monkey Mind.

From the publisher:

Piper wants to try lots of new things, but something always stops her – her monkey!  Some monkeys are playful. Some monkeys are fun. Not Piper’s monkey. 

Piper’s monkey is very, very, naughty. Everyone else can tame their monkeys. So why can’t Piper? 

Monkey Mind is a gentle story for children and adults about the worrying thoughts that cause anxiety.

On with the questions!

Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerMonkey Mind is a book about facing anxiety. Were there any ‘monkeys’ you had to overcome in the creation of the book?
Oh Yes! Even adults have monkeys! When I first signed with my publisher, Little Pink Dog Books, I was excited and I said to myself, ‘Yay! Everyone’s going to see my story!’ But my monkey said, ‘Oh no! Everyone’s going to see my story.’
That was the start of it for me. I’m a first-time author-illustrator, so everything I did was new, and my monkey questioned everything I did. He said some really mean things like, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s too much for me,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m not an author, who am I kidding?’ and worst of all ‘Everyone will find out I can’t draw either!’ He was a mean little monkey. He took some taming I can tell you.

Can you tell us about the illustrations and what materials/tools you used?
I knew I wanted to do etchings. I decided those furry little lines could be made with blue ink – because blue is used to represent depression or anxiety. I also loved the mindful aspect of creating etchings and ‘zentangles’. I thought the process should reflect the main idea of the book. Live in the present!

  • I start out with a copper plate.
  • Then I skritch skritch (what I call this part of the process), into some asphalt that I’ve poured onto the plate and allowed to dry.
  • My ‘skritches’ expose the copper.
  • Then I place the plate into a bath of citric acid.
  • The acid ‘bites’ into the copper surface, but not the asphalt, and creates a line. The longer I leave the plate in the acid bath, the deeper the line.
  • Then I clean the plate so I can see the lines, which could be a pleasant surprise or a bit disappointing, because I’m never quite sure what they will look like.
  • Then I rub soy-based inks into the scratches, wipe the surfaces gently so the ink is just left in the etched lines. This is pretty satisfying, because you can see it properly for the first time and get more of an idea of what your print is going to look like.
  • The next stage of the process is to print the etched plate. 100% cotton paper has been specially made for this process and must be torn to the correct size, soaked and then patted dry so it is damp. It then acts like a sponge and ‘sucks up’ the ink.
  • The paper is carefully placed on the prepared plate in a printing press, and I turn a big wheel like a ship’s steering wheel and the plate is placed under pressure. It travels through two big rollers that squish the ink from the plate onto the surface of the paper.
  • Then comes the exciting bit! Peeling back the paper to reveal the print.

How long did it take you to create the book, from your first draft to the book being published?
Hmm. I’d say about three years. I had already started writing the manuscript because I was teaching some adults at university who were really struggling with anxiety. I thought it was strange we didn’t start teaching ‘monkey taming’ skills using picture books earlier than this. Kids are really clever. We just need to give them the tools early, so it becomes as easy as breathing in and breathing out.

Then, a publisher opened up a submission window. I was one of eight people offered a contract from 400 applications!

But then the hard work began. I changed my etching process to dry point etching (because of the cost of the copper for the etchings). Then, as I learned this new process, I realised I’d have to learn how to use Photoshop and some other digital programs, and then learn how to do watercolour! So I had to ask for help. My publisher agreed to me doing all the graphic design, the cover, and the typography.

Then, on top of it all, I hurt my knee. I was awarded an arts grant with the DLGSCI to let me ask my school if I could take off term four in 2019 to finish the art. It was a lot of hard work! Eventually it all got done. It was hundreds of hours, but it was a chance to achieve my heart’s desire and I couldn’t give up, I thought I might not have this wonderful chance again.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write or illustrate their own books?
I have three!

  1. Ask for help when you need it. (People love to be helpful!)
  2. Turn a gift into a talent. Many people are born with a gift like – being able to draw. Others can’t draw to start with but love it and they practise a little bit every day, and end up better at drawing than the gifted person who doesn’t practise!
  3. DON’T GIVE UP. Practice whenever you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you take a break!

Etching: There are other etching processes you can try that are not so expensive and long winded as this! Your local art shop has scratch board for instance, that gives the same satisfying ‘skritch scritch’ experience.

Can you tell us something about your next author/illustrator project?
I have two manuscripts that I’m working on right now. I have one that I started working on five years ago! I say to my monkey – listen, don’t take it personally, and learn. If it’s helpful, use it, and make the work better. If it’s not, then I say to my monkey, ‘Other people’s opinions of my work is none of your business!’ Think about this. 😉

Monkey Mind is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library. 


Monkey Mind by Rebecca J PalmerTake a sneak peek at some of the pages in Monkey Mind on the publisher’s website. 

Watch a 1-minute YouTube video showing a drypoint etching print of a page in the book.

Watch a 35-second YouTube video showing the process of making Monkey Mind.

Visit Rebecca J Palmer’s website for more about her and her book.