Posted in book reviews

Book review: Eddie Woo, Superstar Maths Teacher

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA, 12, NSW

Eddie Woo Superstar Maths Teacher story told by Rebecca Lim

Eddie Woo: Superstar Maths Teacher by Rebecca Lim, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893403

Wild Dingo Press provided a review copy of this book.

Eddie Woo, the award winning mathematics teacher, has an intriguing past with lots of surprises. 

But was he always a superstar mathematician when he was young?

‘Catch you later,’ one of the boys hissed over his shoulder at where Eddie lay face down on the ground.

‘Drop you later, you mean!’ another one hooted over Eddie’s head.

Eddie Woo was one of the few Asian kids in his primary school. He was bullied for his short stature. Being known for studying didn’t help either. He had a lot of allergies and eczema which caused him to itch, only to be seen as a distraction in class by his teachers, who sent him to the principal’s office. He felt like no-one cared about him and he was neglected at school. He knew he was left out and overlooked, especially by his teachers. However, he always got high marks in English and History. 

What happened to Eddie that changed him from a victim of bullying to becoming a superstar mathematics teacher? Find out in Rebecca Lim’s captivating biography of Eddie Woo’s life. 

This is one of the most engaging biographies I’ve read because it is filled with surprises. Eddie shows his achievements and also his times of trouble. Throughout the book, you learn about Eddie’s emotions, feelings, thoughts and faith in God. Not only that, Eddie shows a few mathematical diagrams in the back of his book that emphasises how mathematics is everywhere in nature.

I rate this book 5 out of 5.

Read our earlier interview with the author of this book, Rebecca Lim.


Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read his 2020 review of Worse Things here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

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

Book review: Gisela Kaplan, bird and primate scientist

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 10, NSW

Gisela Kaplan Bird and primate scientist, story told by Emily Gale (book cover)

Gisela Kaplan, Bird and Primate Scientist by Emily Gale, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893465

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

How did Gisela Kaplan, a young German survivor of WWII become a world-leading expert in the behaviour of animals?

This book is a biography of Gisela Kaplan written by Emily Gale. Gisela Kaplan had a hard life in Germany after the Second World War. Then after she immigrated to Australia, the book shows how other people helped her along in her career as she played a role in primate and bird science. In addition, there are notes to help explain words you don’t understand.

When she arrives in Australia what jobs could she take? How did she learn a second language, and how does she support her daughter? Read Aussie STEM Stars Gisela Kaplan to find out more and all the answers to these questions!

I like this book and for me, it is five-star rated because it shows an emotional story of immigration. It also shows how much practice has to go into work till you can fulfil your dream, as you can see how she consistently worked away from home, in the work field.   

This book would be for ages ten and up to read by themselves although most children from the age of six to ten can read with someone to help the children understand. Go grab a copy of this amazing book either online or hard copy.

Read a sample chapter from this book

Read our interview with the author


Gabriel is a regular book reviewer at Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here.

Posted in authors, interviews

Emily Gale on Gisela Kaplan: Bird and Primate Scientist

Today’s visitor is author Emily Gale, author of books for children and teenagers. You might have read her the Eliza Bloom’s Diaries series, or the novel The Other Side of Summer. Emily Gale’s latest book is Gisela Kaplan: Bird and Primate Scientist, part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

From the publisher:

Gisela Kaplan’s story begins in post-World War II Germany. Despite incredible challenges as a child, she retained a profound curiosity, care and compassion for all living things. Her captivating, ground-breaking scientific research on Australian magpies, tawny frogmouths and other iconic bird species, as well as primates, make Prof. Kaplan a world-leading expert in animal behaviour, especially of Australian birds. Professor Kaplan is on a mission to spread the word about how intelligent and surprising birds are, before time runs out for many of them.

How did you go about your research for writing about Gisela Kaplan? 

I love research and all the different pathways it can take you down. The first thing I did was to listen to a radio interview in which Gisela Kaplan talks about how she became so interested in Australian birds that it changed her life (Conversations, ABC: Talking magpies, grieving tawny frogmouths and canny galahs). She’s written several books on birds and animals so I got those out of the library and made plenty of notes. I searched the internet for research articles that she’s written, and I also found a clip from a documentary about her work rehabilitating birds (google Compass: Paws For Thought if you want to see some clips of Gisela with a tawny frogmouth and some juvenile magpies). To immerse myself in what Gisela’s early life might have been like, I watched documentaries and movies about Germany in the 1940s to 1960s, and I spent hours and hours walking by the river near where I live so that I could observe to birds, listen to their sounds, and make notes on their behaviour. Most importantly, I had lots of phone calls with Gisela. I asked her dozens of questions about her life and work. All the research helped me to know which questions to ask.

Have you meet Gisela Kaplan in real life? (And Pumpkin?)

I’m very sad to say that I have not met Gisela, or Pumpkin the sulphur-crested cockatoo, or the lovely tawny frogmouth who has lived with Gisela for over twenty years. I wrote this book during lockdown in Victoria when we weren’t even allowed to go more than 5km from our homes, whereas Gisela lives in NSW. While I was writing the book we spoke for two hours at a time over several sessions. The time would go so quickly because Gisela is a wonderful storyteller and has had such an interesting life. We also emailed each other regularly throughout the process, and we still keep in touch.

When you’re writing an autobiography about someone like Gisela (who’s had such a broad range of experiences and achievements), how do you choose what to put into the book and what to leave out?  

As the book is for children aged 10 and over I wanted to include plenty of information about what Gisela was like at around that age. She was born during the Second World War, in Germany, and had a challenging childhood in many ways involving poverty, hunger and bullying, so I wanted to spend time showing how she overcame those struggles. 

You can’t always guess what career a person will go into, or what twists and turns there will be along the way, and I wanted to show young people that even if the journey to being a great scientist doesn’t start when you’re very young, or if it gets off-track, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to get there in the end. Gisela’s career path has gone from opera singing to teaching to roaming the jungle in search of orang-utans, and that’s all before we get to her world-famous research into Australian birds. So my aim was to write about those life-changing decisions. 

Of course, life also contains boring bits, or sad times like losing loved ones and suffering illness. In science there can be long periods of time when your research is frustrating or slow. I skipped all of that and focussed on the highlights and plot twists.

You also write fiction for young readers and teenagers. Did you find it a faster or slower process to write a nonfiction book?

I wrote the book quickly for two reasons: first of all, I had a tight deadline, and there is nothing like a deadline to make me get on with it! Second, when you’re writing fiction the possibilities are endless. In one way this is an incredible freedom and something I enjoy, but it also means you can go down all sorts of wrong pathways or tie yourself in knots finding the story (you have a sense of what that is, but it’s like playing hide n seek without knowing what you’re looking for). But when you’re writing about someone’s life, the possibilities are limited and you have to work with the facts. So it’s a case of collecting the facts, looking at them and shaping them into a narrative that people will enjoy reading just as much as they’d enjoy a made-up story.

What are you working on next?  

I’m working on another middle-grade novel similar to the one I’ve just written with Nova Weetman (Elsewhere Girls) in the sense that it takes place now but also has a strong connection to the past. The story is about a girl in Year 6. It starts during 2020 and the setting is a Melbourne school, so I’m writing about lockdown and all the upheaval of remote school, and how strange our lives were during that time. And then come the ghosts . . . I’ve written novels with ghost-like characters before and it’s something I keep coming back to because I loved stories like that when I was roughly 10–14: this one is a little bit more creepy and mysterious than The Other Side of Summer, but there are three lovely dogs, two cats and an eccentric grandmother to balance out the haunting. Since writing about Gisela Kaplan, I decided that the novel also needed a bird or two.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Take a sneak peek inside the book

Hear Emily Gale talking about the launch of the book (YouTube)

Listen to the call of a tawny frogmouth (Wild Ambience YouTube)

Visit Emily Gale’s website for more about her and her books

Gisela Kaplan Bird and primate scientist, story told by Emily Gale (book cover)
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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 authors, interviews

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

MEET THE AUTHOR

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.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

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.