Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Awful Auntie

Awful Auntie by David Walliams and illustrated by Tony RossREVIEWED BY AMELIA, YR 5, QLD

Awful Auntie by David Williams, illustrated by Tony Ross, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780007453627

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

Awful Auntie is a great book with funny pictures that, despite being black and white, are very detailed and vivid. You also get to see Saxby Hall and drawings of the characters so that you know who they are if they’re in a picture throughout the book. I loved the family tree – once I tried to copy it with my own family, but it didn’t work too well.

Awful Auntie has a touch of fantasy, a touch of nonsense, a touch of mystery, and lots of funniness. I have read it lots of times since last year when I first got it. David Walliams makes it funny and mesmerising, and you just want to read it again and again and again. I love Awful Auntie.


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

Posted in authors, illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Karen Blair

Karen BlairMEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Karen Blair is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books. She loves to draw characters that are young, old and in between, as well as Australian wildlife – in the bush, the sea, the outback, or at home. She has a background in painting landscapes and loves incorporating this into her illustrations. You might recognise her work from Baby Animal FarmWhen Billy was a Dog (written by Kirsty Murrray), the Lemonade Jones books (by Davina Bell), Hello from Nowhere (by Raewyn Ciasley), and many more. Her latest book is Meet Eve in the Outback (text by Raewyn Caisley), which is part of the new Aussie Kids series. Raewyn visited Alphabet Soup recently to talk about writing the text. And now it’s time to hear from Karen about the illustrations!

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)


You illustrated Meet Eve in the Outback, written by Raewyn Caisley. How is illustrating a junior fiction book different from illustrating a picture book?
This was my first junior fiction book, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. In a picture book, I have almost unlimited space on the page to do my visual story-telling, and the words usually fit in around the images. In a junior fiction book, it’s the opposite, with a higher word count, smaller pages and much less space. It makes you really crystallise what you want to add with the illustrations, and it comes down to how can I show an interesting part of the story – the action, the emotion, or even some visual information. That might be showing some of the Nullarbor setting, and the characters’ reaction to being in that part of the story. The shape of the illustration is also more limited, and needs to be varied throughout. It was an interesting process.

What are your favourite art tools/mediums?
I love illustrating with line, and I felt brave enough to try the very traditional dip pen and ink for this book for the first time. It’s slightly unpredictable and does some great things with a big brush and just a little water. I also love drawing with charcoal, it has a life of its own, I think because it used to be twigs it is not a uniform material and can also be a bit unpredictable. I like how you can get a line that will move from delicate to strong with the slightest change in pressure.

How long did it take you to do the illustrations for Meet Eve in the Outback?
I think it was about 3 months, but I work part time. It was a 2 part process – I had to do ‘spot colour’ digitally, which I had never done before. Also nerve-wracking and I was very grateful that my friend, and brilliant author-illustrator James Foley, helped me. His knowledge of digital illustration is phenomenal. Mine is not!

Do you have a tip for budding illustrators?
So much of illustrating is about process. Find a process that you enjoy. In the beginning I would do every part of the process – character sketches (hundreds), visual research (how DO you draw a car graveyard, or a truck, a camel etc), storyboard, dummy, roughs, colour roughs, and final artwork. I still do most of those for each book. You really have to love the process, which also includes getting feedback from the publisher, or it all might be torture. It’s a bit of torture, here and there but worth it. I would also recommend playing a lot with style and materials.

Can you tell us a bit about your next creative project?
I have started writing again, which I haven’t done properly since I had children. I’m working on a book called Train Party which will be published with Penguin next year. It’s set at the miniature railway, and is a rhyming text. It was inspired by some toddler birthday parties I went to last year, including the son of my friend Briony Stewart, another incredible author-illustrator, and incredible train-cake maker! It’s such a fun experience that I think many generations of Australians have enjoyed, and I love the community aspect of the train-drivers sharing their trains with children. There’s heaps of visual research for this one, I am realising that I don’t know much about trains …

Meet Eve in the Outback is out now! Available from book stores and libraries. 


Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)AWESOME EXTRAS:

Click here to download an Aussie Kids series activity pack

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Meet Eve in the Outback.

Read our Q&A with Raewyn Caisley, the author of Meet Eve in the Outback

Watch Karen sketching & talking about her book creation (YouTube)

Visit Karen Blair’s website for more about her and her books. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Magic Beach

Magic Beach by Alison LesterREVIEWED BY KADE, 6, QLD

Magic Beach by Alison Lester, A&U Children’s, ISBN 9781741144888

Kade reviewed his own copy of the book. This was the winning book review in the Junior Category of Alphabet Soup’s 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition.  

I like this book, it made me feel calm.  Every grade, including the Kindy kids, at my school would like this book.

The words are exciting and the watercolour drawings are awesome. The main characters are kids playing at their beach. Belinda and James build sandcastles and find sticks, rocks and feathers. They’re pretending their beach is all different things like they found treasure, they’re sailing all over the world and they caught a shark.

I like the pictures and the family’s cute dog is found on almost every page. I liked the words on the last page “adrift on the evening tide”. There are parts of the story that are confusing and the picture didn’t help me.

4/5 stars


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by the winners and longlisters from our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Beast of Buckingham Palace

The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams and illustrated by Tony RossREVIEWED BY HARPER, YEAR 5, NSW

The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross, HarperCollins Children’s Books, ISBN 9780008385644

Harper reviewed her own copy of this book, and was the Primary Category winner in our 2020 Young Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Imagine the year 2120, one hundred years into the future. Evil has come knocking and Britain will never be the same. With the majority of Britain under the control of evil, it will take Prince Alfred to find the good in people. But in these times, it seems you can only trust yourself. The King’s beasts will soon be controlled by the Lord Protector, including the monstrous Griffin. Will the sickly Prince Alfred, who has never seen the world outside Buckingham Palace be able to save Britain?

David Williams has a knack of transporting his readers to thrilling new places with excitement and mystery around every corner. Even the Royal Family gets a new adventure! Readers love an unexpected hero, and Prince Alfred is just that. Sickly, small and rejected by the Lord Protector, he is proven unworthy by his Father. But he shows us that by displaying courage and making sacrifices anyone can be a hero.

I love learning about the Royal Family, so this book was exciting. This was my favourite David Williams book; I couldn’t put it down! The characters had a lot of personality and the story was very eventful. The thing I love most about this book is the different fonts that were used to show how each character felt or the mood of the scene.  For example, if the character was frightened then the words the character said would be fuzzy. It was such a fun read!


During May and June Alphabet Soup will be posting all the book reviews by the winners and longlisters from our 2020 Book Reviewers’ Competition. 

Posted in illustrator, interviews

Meet the illustrator: Mel Pearce

Mel PearceMEET THE ILLUSTRATOR

Mel Pearce is a Western Australian artist and illustrator. She takes inspiration from games, Japanese animation, machinery, childhood nostalgia, elephants, fish and teeth, to name a few things. Today we’re talking to Mel about illustrating her new picture book No! Never! written by Libby Hathorn & Lisa Hathorn-Jarman.

No! Never! cover

From the publisher:

A cautionary tale about a little girl who drives her parents up the wall when she starts answering ‘No! Never!’ to all their requests — and what happens when the tables are turned on her.

There was a child,
The sweetest ever,
Until she learned these words:
‘NO! NEVER!’


Can you tell us about the art materials/tools you used for illustrating No! Never!?
I use a variety of media in my drawings, but Suzanne, a publisher from Hachette Australia, really enjoyed a particular style I’d used in some pictures, so I used that very scribbly hand-drawn style for No! Never!. I drew most of the main drawings on slightly roughened paper with a Blackwing pencil, which is a really beautiful drawing tool and a favourite for a lot of artists, illustrators and designers because the very soft graphite allows you to draw very expressively with whatever pressure you want to use. I then scanned the images into my computer and coloured them on Photoshop using my drawing tablet.

How long did it take you to illustrate this picture book from first draft to finish?
I think I started the rough storyboard in September 2018, and handed over the final illustrations (after fixing all the bits and pieces Hachette asked me to!) in May or June 2019. So maybe 9-10 months?

What’s your favourite art medium to illustrate/create with?
Besides drawing with dark pencils, I really love using ink in my work – either with a brush or with a drawing nib. I love how you can get such a variety of tone and marks out of one medium – you can get a sharp, dark line if you use a nib, or you can water it right down and use a brush to make a soft sky. When I was in Art School I really loved doing printmaking with big metal plates, using a process called Intaglio. Unfortunately, I don’t have the facilities to be able to do that kind of printing anymore. Hopefully in the future!

Do you have a tip for budding artists?
I think it’s important to stop looking around and comparing yourself to all the other artists out there all the time. We are constantly bombarded by posts about awesome things people did and made and how clever they are, that sometimes it can make you feel like you’re never going to be as good as them, to the point where you get scared to try in case of not doing well. I am also very guilty of this! I spend so long stressing about how I can’t do what someone else can, or how I take days to do something that someone else did in a couple of hours. I went through a stage where I could not even do a simple sketch or scribble on a page because I was afraid that it wasn’t going to look good at the end. I don’t think I did a proper drawing for a good part of a year!
Just keep observing from life and drawing at least once a day, and you will definitely improve your skill.

Can you tell us something about your next project or something you’d like to work on?
I would very much like to write my own story to illustrate, and since I didn’t get to use ink in No! Never!, that’s definitely what I want to use next! However, if I get approached by a publisher with a new project, it will depend on the feel of the story for what I end up using to draw it. At the moment I’m just trying to get back into drawing for fun … usually good ideas come when you’re not trying. Or so I’ve heard!

Mel Pearce (R) holding one of her ink drawings, and Mel's sister Erin holding up a copy of No! Never!
Mel Pearce (R) and her sister Erin (L) with No! Never! & artwork created during a livestream tour of Mel’s studio for Paper Bird Books Home Club.

AWESOME EXTRAS:

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Have a look inside Mel’s studio & see her create with ink (YouTube)

No! Never! is available at book shops and libraries from 28 April 2020.

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids

Book review: My Place (Younger Readers Edition)

REVIEWED BY SASKIA, 10, WA

My Place (Younger Readers Edition) by Sally Morgan, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925816761

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

This book is about Sally Morgan’s life. It is an autobiography but it also has some information about her family history. It has four different people’s perspectives: Sally, Sally’s nan (Daisy Corunna), Sally’s mum (Gladys Corunna) and Sally’s great uncle (Arthur Corruna). Sally’s family history is rather secret and unknown, which makes the book very interesting. I learnt a lot about Australian history through her family’s stories.

I also like Sally’s writing style and the way that in the perspective of the other people she used their real speech instead of modifying it to fit her own style.

I would recommend this book to 6th to 9th grade children. There is also an adult version of the book.

Read a sample of My Place on the publisher’s website.

Click here for Teachers’ Notes


This is Saskia’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in competitions

Winner of the Home Imaginarium Competition

Our inbox was overflowing with entries for this competition and we read through some amazing action-packed, scary, mysterious and funny stories. You are wonderful creative writers.

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the Home Imaginarium Competition is:

MIRA CORRY, 11, Tasmania 

Judge’s comment:
‘Dinosaur in a Supermarket’ tells the (mis)adventures of two friends who find themselves in an unexpected situation. The story was well-structured, with effective use of imagery and language. I was particularly impressed with the story’s pacing, and Mira keeps the reader laughing from beginning to end.

Mira wins a 6-month Home Imaginarium subscription from Paper Bird Books, Fremantle, and an Australian children’s book creator will read this story live on Instagram.

Thank you to all the young writers who entered. We enjoyed reading your masterpieces! Please note that we cannot provide feedback on all your entries. (If you love entering writing competitions, check out the Comps for Kids page on Alphabet Soup’s website. Good luck!)

Posted in authors, interviews

Meet the author: Raewyn Caisley

MEET THE AUTHOR

Raewyn Caisley photoRaewyn Caisley was born in New Zealand but has lived in Western Australia for more than half her life. She’s the author of many, many books. You’ve probably read some of her books from the Aussie Bites and Nibbles titles, or perhaps her picture books Hello From Nowhere and Something Wonderful. Raewyn has two new books out in 2020 — Rocky and Louie (co-written with Phil Walleystack and illustrated by Dub Leffler), and Meet Eve in the Outback (illustrated by Karen Blair).

Today we’re chatting to Raewyn about Meet Eve in the Outback, part of  the new Aussie Kids junior fiction series.

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)

Hi! I’m Eve.
I live at a roadhouse in the Nullarbor. We don’t get many visitors. But today my cousin Will is coming. We’ll have so much fun!


Hello from Nowhere (cover)Eve is a character readers might remember from the picture book Hello from Nowhere. What was different writing about her for a junior fiction book?
Her personality had to change a tiny bit. Younger Eve wouldn’t have worried about Will not seeing the magic. She just assumed Nan would, (and of course she did), but older Eve knows a little bit more about the world. She knows Will has dolphins where he lives for example. Little Eve’s experience was only her own immediate surroundings.

Older Eve has had more experience of her own place too. She’s helped Doug with the chores on the sheep station and she is friends with Wally now. She knows about the space station and about telegraphs. It was important to include details bigger kids would be interested in.

Oh, and another thing! With junior fiction the words have to carry more of the story because there aren’t illustrations on every page but that meant I could really have fun describing all those new places, thoughts and people.

Were you in contact with the illustrator (Karen Blair) while you were writing Meet Eve in the Outback?
I wasn’t in contact with Karen while I was writing it and if she’d said ‘no’ or been too busy I would have been up the creek without a paddle. But I knew she’d love Wally …

Meet Eve in the Outback is part of a junior fiction series. Were you asked to write a particular story in the series, or did you come up with your own story ideas?
My publisher and I came up with the idea for the whole series together. I sent them this story. The original title was ‘Next to Nowhere’. They responded with, ‘What if we do a whole series of these set in all the different states and territories of Australia?’

It was a little bit of a bummer because I had five ideas for five books set out in the Nullarbor and starring Eve and Will, but being part of the Aussie Kids series has turned out really well. It’s the right series for the right time. When kids can’t get out and see Australia for themselves at least they can read about how other Aussie kids live and see our beautiful country on the pages of a book.

Do you have a tip for young writers about creating story characters?
My tip for creating characters is, decide what they’d have for breakfast! Would they cook? Would they grab a bowl of cereal? Would they spill the milk? Would there be any milk?! Would they gulp it down or would they set the table? Is there any cutlery? Has anyone done the washing up? Would they eat alone or with someone else? What time of day would they have it?

Once you know what your character would have for breakfast you probably know them well enough to start writing a story about them.

Can you tell us something about your next writing project?
My next writing project? I still want to do my own junior fiction series and I’ve got ideas for the first three. One is set in a doctor’s surgery, one is in a school, and one is set in an isolated community in the outback. More than that I cannot say … Watch this space …

Meet Eve in the Outback is out now! Available from book stores and libraries. 


AWESOME EXTRAS!

Meet Eve in the Outback (book cover)

Click here to download an Aussie Kids series activity pack

Click here for Teachers’ Notes for Meet Eve in the Outback (PDF)

Visit Raewyn Caisley’s website for more about her and her books.

Read an earlier blogpost about the settings in Raewyn’s books.

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

Book review: WeirDo 13

Kobe recommends WEIRDO 13: WEIRDOMANIA by Anh Do & Jules FaberREVIEWED BY KOBE, 9, WA

WeirDo 13: Weirdomania by Anh Do, ill. by Jules Faber, Scholastic Australia, ISBN 9781742997933

Kobe reviewed her own copy of this book. 

Thinking of a book to read in May? WeirDo 13: Weirdomania is the right book for you.

This action packed book is filled with funny pictures and amusing jokes. In this book you’ll learn who’s the famous wrestler in the Do family and you’ll be surprised to find out who it really is! I hope you like the battle between the unbeatable Block and the mystery Do wrestler.

I hope you enjoy this amazing book and once you read it you’ll be attached to this best selling book written by Anh Do. Enjoy your reading journey!


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 competitions

Winners of the Young Book Reviewers’ Competition

Confetti (image courtesy pexels.com)WINNERS

Junior section:
Kade Ennis, QLD.
Review: Magic Beach by Alison Lester

Primary section:
Harper Klein, NSW.
Review: The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams, with illustrations by Tony Ross.


SHORTLISTED

Kade Ennis, QLD

Harper Klein, NSW

Amelia Davis, QLD.

Lissy Dermody, WA

Kate Nicholas Edgar, VIC

Anya Arora, ACT

Molly Phillips, NSW


LONGLISTED

Those listed above and:

Mahlie Bond, VIC

Joshua Campbell, NSW

Kala Petronijevic, VIC

Kobe Wu, WA

Mira Nguyen, NSW


All these entrants’ reviews will be published here at Alphabet Soup over the coming weeks. If you are one of the longlisted or shortlisted reviewers above, we will be in touch soon to let you know the date that your review will appear. 

Congratulations!