authors, interviews

Shirley Marr on All Four Quarters of the Moon

Shirley Marr is an award winning author and a first generation Chinese-Australian living in sunny Perth. Shirley describes herself as having a Western Mind and an Eastern Heart and writes in the middle where both collide. Today we’re thrilled to be talking to Shirley about her latest middle grade novel, All Four Quarters of the Moon.

From the publisher:

Making mooncakes with Ah Ma for the Mid-Autumn Festival was the last day of Peijing’s old life. Now, adapting to their new life in Australia, Peijing thinks everything will turn out okay for her family as long as they have each other – but cracks are starting to appear. Her little sister, Biju, needs Peijing to be the dependable big sister. Ma Ma is no longer herself; Ah Ma keeps forgetting who she is; and Ba Ba, who used to work seven days a week, is adjusting to being a hands-on dad. How will Peijing cope with the uncertainties of her own little world while shouldering the burden of everyone else?

Peijing and her little sister, Biju, make a paper world of their own. Is this inspired by something you and your sister liked to do when you were growing up?

This is most definitely based on a true-life event! We would draw tiny animals, cut them out and then make homes for them. It was a true paper world of our imagination, which we kept inside a cardboard box. We were still learning to speak English back then, when I was seven and my sister was four, so sometimes we would act out what happened to us during the day when I went to primary school and she went to kindy. As we had just migrated to Australia and learning to adapt was hard, it felt safer to talk about our experiences this way. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk at all, just work side by side and that was a beautiful bonding experience in itself.

Your earlier novel  A Glasshouse of Stars was written in the second person, present tense, and All Four Quarters of the Moon is written in third person, past tense. When you start writing a new book, do you already know which point of view to adopt or does it change over subsequent drafts?

I believe that when you have a story inside of you, waiting to come out that the voice will find you. That when you start writing it, you will know if it sounds right or not. A Glasshouse of Stars needed to be second person, present tense. I wanted the reader to be able to walk in the shoes of Meixing, our young migrant protagonist, and see what the experience is like for her, as she experiences it. It took me a while to find this voice, and many abandoned drafts. All Four Quarters of the Moon on the other hand, as it contains a lot of Chinese myth, felt to me like an old-fashioned story that had already happened and which I was retelling in past tense. That one I nailed on the first go, so it’s case by case for me!

How do you choose the names for the characters in your books? 

Sometimes I look at baby name lists and choose something that has meaning, like Meixing which means beautiful star in Chinese. Sometimes I name characters after whoever happens to be sitting closest to me, like the teacher Mr Brodie is actually named after a little dog who happened to be at my feet so watch out! Then at other time I will name characters after real people – Ms Jardine in A Glasshouse of Stars is named after a beloved primary school teacher of mine. It’s only just recently that a keen-eyed reader asked if I had chosen the name because it means garden in French, as gardens play such a big part in the book. It’s a happy coincidence I swear!

Peijing loves the mooncakes Ah Ma makes with an egg yolk in the middle. Do you have a favourite mooncake filling?

This will be to little Biju’s disgust, but my favourite is lotus paste with double-preserved yolk!

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

I have just submitted a brand-new middle grade manuscript to my agent! And she’s submitted it to my Australian publisher who I believe is looking at it as we speak – cross your fingers for me! If it’s good news, then it’s a completely different direction for me. Think contemporary sci-fi, time machines and ground control to Major Tom!

All Four Quarters of the Moon is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: All Four Quarters of the Moon by Shirley Marr. The cover illustration shows two sisters with dark hair facing each other and holding hands around a tiny paper rabbit. Behind them is the night sky with a giant full moon.


Read an extract from the book

Discussion questions for book clubs and teachers

Read a 2021 interview with Shirley Marr about her junior fiction novel, Little Jiang

Visit Shirley Marr’s website for more about her and her books

Book reviews by Albie, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Stories 1, 2, 3, 4


Girl in striped shirt holding up the bookStories 1, 2, 3, 4 by Eugène Ionesco, translated & ill. by Etienne Delessert,
McSweeney’s McMullens, ISBN 9781936365517

Albie reviews her own copy of this book. 

The reason I like this book is because the dad is really lazy and the doctor’s banned him from going out, but he still goes out (which is the funny part).

The story I like the best is probably story 3, because he teaches the little girl how to speak different languages. And the dad stays up every night watching Punch and Judy shows and going to lots and lots of restaurants and heaps of barbers – and for that reason he’s always very tired in the morning and he sleeps in. And the little girl comes knocking at the door at the start of every story, and the dad tells her a story.

This is the best book ever!

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

Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Matilda

Book review: At My Door


At My Door by Deb Fitzpatrick

At My Door by Deb Fitzpatrick, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925162707

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

This book is set at Poppy’s house. When the doorbell rings and a car speeds away, her family discovers that a baby has been left on the doorstep. What will they do? Where are the baby’s parents?

I really liked the creativity and the language in this book. I liked how it was about a situation that doesn’t happen every day. My favourite character was Mei because she was funny and cute. I was surprised when she turned up because I didn’t expect what was left on the doorstep to be her.

This story is realistic and you feel like it could happen to you. What would you do if a baby turned up on your doorstep?

I would recommend it for kids aged 7+ and people who wonder about these sorts of things.

You can read a sample chapter of At My Door on the publisher’s website. And you can listen to the author read from the book, too.

Matilda is one of our regular book reviewers. Her most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of  The Cleo Stories: A Friend and, A Pet. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by Joseph, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Simple Things

The Simple Things by Bill Condon, ill. Beth Norling, ISBN 9781743317242, Allen and Unwin

The Simple Things (cover)


Joseph reviewed his own copy of this book.

The Simple Things is about a boy named Stephen who’s never met his great aunt Lola before. His only connection with her is the birthday and Christmas cards she sends to him with $10 inside. His family goes to stay with his great aunt because they haven’t seen her in over 10 years and they’re her only relatives left. Stephen thinks there will be nothing to do and Aunty Lola seems very stubborn — she overreacts to everything.

I enjoyed this book because I liked how the characters were reacting to their situation. The illustrations at the start of every chapter are comic-like and black and white. They suit the characters and the story, and give a bit of a hint about what’s going to happen in each chapter without entirely giving everything away.

I thought the choice of cover illustration didn’t suit the book the best. I think the picture that was at the start of chapter 4 would have been better for the cover because the whole book isn’t about Stephen going fishing (and he’s alone on the cover, but he’s almost never alone in the book.)

This is a book about unusual friendships. It was an easy, quick read for me so I think ages 8 to 12 would enjoy it.

Joseph is one of our regular book reviewers. His most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of Lennie the Legend. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!