Posted in Book reviews by Joshua, Book reviews by kids

Book review: A Glasshouse of Stars

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA, 12, NSW

The image shows the cover of a children's book: A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr. The cover illustration shows a girl with black plaits and a green tunic shirt walking into a glasshouse that looks lit-up from inside and packed full of colourful and marvellous plants, flowers and trees. Above the glasshouse it appears to be night/a dark sky.

A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Marr, Penguin Australia, ISBN 9781760899547

Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.

‘The hardest part is over. You made it.’ 

You find yourself in a new country, in a big city, in a big house. It’s all new and scary. You, Meixing, have been told you need to go to school as well. Everything is strange to you – the language, the people, the culture and the school. This is Australia. 

Your home, Big Scary, is your friend and looks out for you. Big Scary keeps you safe and protected. Everything is ok.

But everything goes wrong when Ah Ma’s wedding ring, your grandma’s wedding ring, is lent to you for good luck at school. The problem is that your supposed friend tricks you and steals the ring. You don’t know how to get it back as you can’t speak the language fluently and your now ex-friend lies and says that her parents got it for her. Distraught, you go home.

What are you going to do? What other problems will you face?

Shirley Marr’s book, A Glasshouse of Stars, expresses big, strong emotions and feelings such as when Meixing loses someone close to her and is very torn apart. Later she finds the glasshouse’s secret and is exuberant upon her findings. Marr mixes Meixing’s imagination and brings it to life, causing the reader to visualise the scene before them. The way Marr uses second person helps the reader to understand and empathise with Meixing. 

As an avid reader, I really enjoyed reading this book and every time I see the coloured cover of the book, I am compelled to pick it up and fly back to Meixing’s world. This book is very creative through the metaphors and images that connect the story together. It is also relatable as I have also faced some of the problems Meixing met. I encourage you thoroughly to pick up this book and find yourself in the shoes of a migrant girl.

I loved this book deeply and rate it a well-deserved 5 out of 5. Come read this exceptional book!

Take a sneak peek at the first chapter of the book.

Read our earlier interview with the author.


Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read his earlier review of Eddie Woo, Superstar Maths Teacher here.  If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: A Tale of Witchcraft

REVIEWED BY STEPHANIE, 11, WA (IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE)

The image shows the cover of a children's fantasy novel: A Tale of Witchcraft. The title is at the top of the book. At the bottom are the words "Bestselling author of The Land of Stories, Chris Colfer". The cover is predominantly in purples. At the centre of the cover is a circle (reminiscent of a crystal ball) with a gothic-looking castle inside. Surrounding the ball are a white wolf, young witches walking into the distance wearing black cloaks with the hoods up, and a tangle of twisty tree branches. The overall effect is spooky.

A Tale of Witchcraft (A Tale of Magic: Book 2) by Chris Colfer, Hachette Children, ISBN 9780316523547

Alphabet Soup provided a review copy of this book.

Brystal is the fairy godmother, with responsibilities stacked as high as the sky. She finds that everything is falling apart and her friendships are spiralling out of control. How will she protect herself from the righteous brotherhood and put her friendships together again?  

I don’t know how Brystal found the courage to keep going everyday, it was inspiring. Brystal taught me how to keep going even in the darkest times and to never give up no matter what the circumstances. This was the best fantasy book I have ever read, it was so engaging and each page was like its own story. I can’t wait to read the next book!

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone who loves a good page-turner, especially if you love to read fantasy. I hope that everyone is as inspired as I am by Brystal.


Stephanie is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her second review for Alphabet Soup. You can read her review of Girl of The Southern Sea here. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Boy Who Stepped Through Time

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 10, NSW

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time by Anna Ciddor, Allen and Unwin, ISBN 9781760526443

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

This fantastic book is about Perry, a boy who travels back through time to Ancient Rome. Perry learns many interesting things about the Romans such as they drizzle honey over all their meals. He learns to like different things and makes many friends. However, some of his new friends question where he came from. What should he answer? 

After a while, Perry wants to return to the modern days. But Perry knows something about his new Roman mistress and friend that she doesn’t know. He obtained this piece of knowledge from the future. Should he try to help her with the risk of never going back to his time? 

I rate this book nine out of ten because the author based it on actual facts to show how the lives of the Romans’ masters and their slaves’ lives played out. I like it a lot because there is good character development. Anna Ciddor also must have done a lot of research on Ancient Roman facts and buildings.

Read our interview with the author of The Boy Who Stepped Through Time.


Gabriel is a regular book reviewer at Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Elizabeth, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Bella and the Voyaging House

Bella and the Voyaging House by Meg McKinlay illust. Nicholas Schafer

REVIEWED BY ELIZABETH, 8, NSW

Bella and the Voyaging House by Meg McKinlay, illustrated by Nicholas Schafer, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760990695

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

The book I am reviewing is Bella and the Voyaging House. The author is Meg McKinlay and the illustrator is Nicholas Schafer.

In the book, I love how Bella’s grandad made the house so it is like a boat. Merry Annie is a statue which the grandad moulded and polished. Then he tied it on the front of the  house boat but it fell off when they were sailing. So Bella decided to sail with the house and look for Merry Annie. Will they find Merry Annie? Will the house go back home? 

I recommend seven year olds and up to read this book because it is funny and emotional.

I give this 10 out of 10.

Read our interview with the author of Bella and the Voyaging House


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

Posted in Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

REVIEWED BY EVIE, 12, WA (IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Algonquin Books, ISBN 9781616207465

Evie reviewed her own copy of this book.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an adventure novel that was a New York Times bestseller and won the 2017 Newbery Medal. This book is about a place called the Protectorate and the people of the Protectorate sacrifice a baby each year to the witch in the forest. But the witch, whose name is Xan, is very kind. She takes the babies left in the forest to a new family on the other side of the forest where she knows they will be happily taken in and cared for. Along the way she feeds the babies using starlight, which has a little bit of magic in it but not enough to make the babies magical. But one year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight. And moonlight is magic. For years the girl (Luna) grows up as an ordinary child with Xan, Fyrian the Simply Enormous Dragon and Glerk the monster from the bog. But what happens when Luna’s magic starts to come out … ?

I enjoyed this book as it is beautifully written and explores the meaning of memory hope, love and emotion. The characters are not perfect and that is what makes them relatable. The heroes and heroines are resilient, empathetic and show the importance of family and friends.

This book filled me with a little bit of magic and is an all-time favourite. So if you like magic, suspense and surprise then this a great book for you. This book is probably best suited to 10 to 12-year-olds.

Read an excerpt from The Girl Who Drank the Moon.


Evie is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her second review for Alphabet Soup. Check out Evie’s review of Fozia and the Quest for Prince Zal! To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, refer to our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal

REVIEWED BY EVIE, 12, WA (IONA PRESENTATION COLLEGE)

Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal by Rosanne Hawke, UQP, ISBN 9780702263071

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Fozia and the Quest of Prince Zal is an adventure and fantasy novel. This book is about Pakistan after the floods and about a girl called Fozia trying to find her family. Fozia lives with a boy called Jehan and his family after he saved her from the flood. Jehan’s family grow to love Fozia but they remind Fozia too much of her old family. So to help herself keep the memories of her family alive Fozia tells them a story. She tells a story about a prince with leprosy who is searching for his little sister in the jungle on a flying carpet. Prince Zal faces the beasts of the jungle and the pariyan to find his sister. Will he reach her before it’s too late? Everybody loves Fozia’s story but is it really fiction? Can Fozia learn to love her new family?

I liked this book as it was very original and creative talking about memory and hope as well as the love of friends but most importantly, family. The characters are very realistic, making you believe that this story actually could’ve happened, whilst still adding a bit of that fairytale magic.

This book showed me what the aftermath of a natural disaster would be like. This is the third book in the series so please read the other books first: Jehan and the Quest of the Lost Dog and Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll.

If you like fairytales, history and real life references then I recommend this book for you. This book is probably best suited to 9 to 11-year-olds.


Evie is a member of Iona Presentation College’s student reviewers’ team. This is her first review for Alphabet Soup. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in authors, interviews

Meg McKinlay on Bella and the Voyaging House

MEET THE AUTHOR

Meg McKinlay is an award-winning children’s writer and poet based near Fremantle, Western Australia. She has published eighteen books for young people from picture books through to young adult fiction. Today we’re thrilled to chat to Meg about her latest book Bella and the Voyaging House, a sequel to Bella and the Wandering House, both illustrated by Nicholas Schafer.

From the publisher:

Bella’s house likes to travel, setting sail across the ocean while everyone sleeps. Bella’s parents don’t mind as long as the house is home by daylight. One night, Bella has a wonderful idea for her grandfather’s birthday. She wants to find a figurine he made of her grandmother, lost overboard in an accident. Bella and the house go in search, but things don’t quite go according to plan . . .


Bella’s house is drawn to the sea. Is sailing something you like/have liked to do? Did you go sailing for the writing of Bella and the Voyaging House?

I have no interest in sailing myself but I do love watching sailboats, which is what I was doing when I got the idea for Bella and the Voyaging House. I didn’t need to go sailing as research for the book because the descriptions of the house sailing aren’t technical at all. I just needed to know enough to get the feeling right, and I’ve been on boats enough to have that covered.

I do have a deep love of the ocean though – I love swimming and wave-staring and just generally floating about. Actually, it was after finishing this second Bella book that I realised that in many ways, the house is me. As a child growing up in a carless family in Central Victoria, the ocean was a kind of mythical place to me. On rare visits, my father, who grew up on the coast in WA, taught us to bodysurf, and my older brother and I made a quiet pact – that whenever we were near the ocean, we would hurl ourselves into it, regardless of the weather, conditions, or whether or not we had bathers. These days, I live a 10-minute bike ride from the beach and have vowed never to move away from it. I may not be made from the wood of an old boat, but I think I’m made from my father’s love of the ocean, and long to be near it, just as the house does.

If your own house could wander/sail off to somewhere, where would you hope it would take you?

Hmmm. I think I’d quite like a trip to Antarctica. I love the idea of the white and the silence and the solitude. I generally find that the further I am away from the noise and clutter of life, the happier I am. I’d also love to see a penguin sliding on its belly!

This book is the sequel to Bella and the Wandering House. Did you find it a quicker (or slower) project to write a sequel?

Well, the first book took about 12 years from first draft to final manuscript* so I can confidently say the sequel was quicker. It still took about 18 months though; no matter what I do, I just can’t seem to write quickly. In writing the sequel, it did help that I already knew the characters and the world of the story so I didn’t have to build everything from scratch. On the other hand, my love for the characters may have slowed me down a bit; I really wanted to make sure I wrote a story that would do them justice and give them room to shine.

(*This includes 10 years when the manuscript sat in a drawer, abandoned. I’d written it as a picture book but it wasn’t working and I didn’t know how to fix it, so I eventually gave up. Ten years later, I realised it needed to be a chapter book and rewrote the whole thing; it was published about two years later.)

Will there be any more books in this series?

I have no plans to write any more. Then again, when I wrote Bella and the Wandering House, I wrote it as a standalone book, with no intention of ever writing a sequel. Then again again, I love the way Bella and the Voyaging House ended – that final image feels very satisfying to me – and I think I’d be very happy leaving Grandad, Bella, and the house right there.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?

I’m working on an odd sort of picture book at the moment. I say ‘odd’ because it’s not really a story but more like a series of instructions or guidelines. It’s hard to explain but I think it’s going to be great. It’s called Always Never Always, at least for now, and will be illustrated by Leila Rudge, who I’m very excited to be working with again.

I’m also in the home-ish stretch of the sequel to A Single Stone, and once that’s finished, I’m pretty keen to jump into some shorter novels that have been percolating for a while. They’re both fun and whimsical and I think I’m going to really enjoy writing them.

Bella and the Voyaging House is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS

Read a sample chapter of the book

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Read a 2015 review of Bella and the Wandering House (Book 1 in this series) by Matilda, age 9.

Bella and the Voyaging House by Meg McKinlay illust. Nicholas Schafer
Posted in authors, interviews

Denis Knight, Cristy Burne and Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows

MEET THE AUTHORS – DENIS KNIGHT & CRISTY BURNE

Denis Knight and Cristy Burne
Denis Knight & Cristy Burne

Science fiction and fantasy author Denis Knight is a computer programmer who grew up geeking out about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. He has also worked as a technical writer, a delivery boy, a tutor, and, for one glorious summer, a tour guide on Rottnest Island.

Cristy Burne has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across Australia, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, US, South Africa and beyond. She has performed in a science circus, worked as a garbage analyst, and was a reporter at CERN when they turned on the Large Hadron Collider. Her books include To The Lighthouse, Off The Track, Beneath the Trees, and a non-fiction book, Zeroes and Ones. In 2020, she told the story of the inventor of spray-on skin in Aussie STEM Stars: Fiona Wood.

Denis and Cristy decided to collaborate on a book and the result is a hilarious new series featuring the adventures of a girl named Wednesday Weeks. Today Alphabet Soup is super excited to have Denis and Cristy visiting to tell us about co-writing Book 1 in their series – Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows.

From the publisher:

Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows.


One book, two authors. What was it like trying to write a book using two brains?

DENIS: Writing a book with two brains! I love that. It’s actually a great way to describe it. Although sometimes it feels like we only have half a brain between us. Ouch! Cristy just kicked me under the table.

CRISTY: Only because you kicked me first! It was actually really exciting, writing with Denis, because I could never predict what he would write, and I was always literally laughing out loud to discover what Wednesday and Alfie had been up to while I was away.

DENIS: Right. It was a lot of fun. But it was challenging, too – in a good way. When you’re working on your own, you can let yourself get away with stuff. But when you’re writing with a partner, you can’t do that any more. You have to level up.

How did you come up with/agree on the name for your main character?

CRISTY: Denis came up with the concept of Wednesday Weeks, a reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice, and in that very first chapter, he invented many of our favourite characters and names: Wednesday Weeks, Alfie, Mrs Glock … and of course, Abraham Mordecai Weeks (otherwise known as Grandpa).

DENIS: That’s true. Although, Wednesday’s character started out as something quite different from where she ended up. Cristy doesn’t know this, but my first idea was for a space bounty hunter named Serenity Weeks.

CRISTY: A what? Pardon?

DENIS: Then she was going to be a paranormal investigator named Wednesday Weeks. Wednesday’s character and voice started to develop when I wrote some short scenes where she and Alfie were searching for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. Then the reluctant sorcerer’s apprentice idea popped into my head, and that was kind of the final piece of the puzzle.

CRISTY: More like the first piece of the puzzle. From there, we started writing. At first, it was literally a game. Denis wrote Chapter 1, and after reading this chapter, I wrote Chapter 2, and then Denis wrote Chapter 3. And we just trusted the story to evolve.

DENIS: I think the lesson here is to give yourself the time and space to play with an idea and see what develops. Also, that space bounty hunters are awesome. What do you think of the name Serenity Jones?

CRISTY:

CRISTY:

CRISTY: … I hope you’re not asking me?

How did you know/agree when Book 1 was finished and ready to submit?

DENIS: We wrote our first super-quick, super-short draft of Book 1 in early 2018.  

CRISTY: That first draft was only around 25,000 words long, but it was enough for us to get to know Wednesday and her world, and to know we wanted to write more.

DENIS: We had the first ten pages critiqued by a publisher in June 2018, and she gave us some really good feedback.

CRISTY: Over the next year, we both worked on other projects, but we kept coming back to Wednesday.

DENIS: We rewrote the opening chapters based on the publisher’s feedback, and we fleshed out the middle section, adding in the Sword of Reckoning and the laundry kraken. In June 2019 we had the opening chapters critiqued again by a different publisher, and she loved it. So that’s when we knew it was ready to submit.

CRISTY: Later, as we worked with Hachette to progress the manuscript through the various editing stages, we had three different editors all offering their advice, and there were thousands of new notes on each fresh edit that we completed. Getting the story just right was a whole lot of work!

Do you have any ‘Must Do’ or ‘Must Not Do’ tips for young writers who might like to collaborate on a story?

CRISTY: Respect for the other author’s creative brain is really important. A big part of the game we play as we write each Wednesday Weeks book is to take up the reins from where the other author has left off, and to then drive the adventure where we think it needs to go.

DENIS: Be open to your partner’s ideas, and have fun.

CRISTY: Another Hot Tip is to trust. As you write, remember that you teamed up with this other creator for a reason, and although smooshing two brains into one story can be difficult, the results will be worth it.

DENIS: Also, don’t expect it to be brilliant right away. It won’t be! But if you keep working on it, you’ll get there.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re writing next?

CRISTY: We’ve just finished putting the finishing touches on Book 2 of the Wednesday Weeks series.

DENIS: It’s called Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny and it’s out in September 2021.

CRISTY: We love it because it has all our favourite characters, plus more page-time for Adaline, our punk faery-friend from the laundry.

DENIS: There’s also some advanced magic for Wednesday to tackle, a hippo-bugamus, a giant pinball machine of death, a visit to outer space and, of course, some snarky Bruce-jokes.

CRISTY: And don’t forget a whole lot of dirty-rotten evil-doing from Gorgomoth.

DENIS: Right. Oh, and also, Grandpa gets turned into a frog for a while.

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

See Denis Knight & Cristy Burne talking about the book [YouTube]

Take a sneak peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Visit Denis Knight’s website for more about him and his books

Visit Cristy Burne’s website for more about her and her books

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows
Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Kobe

Book review: A Hidden Enemy

Kobe recommends SURVIVORS 2: A HIDDEN ENEMY by Erin Hunter

REVIEWED BY KOBE, 9, WA

Survivors: a Hidden Enemy by Erin Hunter, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 9780062102607

Kobe reviewed her own copy of this book.

A mysterious book prowls through the tall grass. It pounces on a startled reader. The reader screams with surprise. After the reader had a cool down from the fright, the reader had a look at the cover. It couldn’t be, it was the book! Survivors: A Hidden Enemy, written by Erin Hunter the famous author. The reader started to read. Then after the reader finished, she wrote a review of what she thought of the book.

Survivors: A Hidden Enemy is written by Erin Hunter, the writer of the series Warriors and Seekers. This story is about dogs and about wolves. It is suitable for young readers because it doesn’t include a lot of violence and a lot of death. It is a brilliant book and it has a lot of exciting things in it too! It is so good I don’t know how good I should say it is! It has lots of climaxes in it as well as lots of problems.

My favourite part was when Squeak wanted to outsmart a wolf and then Mother Dog told Squeak not to try, because it was funny how Squeak and Mother Dog had opposite thoughts! I thought it was funny because it reminded me of when I had an argument with my friend about flipping a bottle and whether having it land on its bottom was skill or luck.

I hope you will read this book and enjoy it because I loved it a lot.

Now the reader had finished the review and she made lots of people read the book she read. Enjoy an epic journey by the side of a scruffy little dog and see amazing sights no one else will ever see in their life!


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 review: The Lost Stone of SkyCity

REVIEWED BY EVA, 11, WA

The Lost Stone of SkyCity by HM WaughThe Lost Stone of SkyCity by HM Waugh, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781925815948

Eva received a review copy of this book.

The Lost Stone of Skycity is written from the main character, Sunaya’s, point of view. Sunaya and her friend Danam discover the land of where the ice people live. In the beginning of the book they think it is just a legend but they discover that the ice people are real! The ice people find Danam and he gets taken away to take the dragon tests. The dragon tests are tests to see if he is strong and powerful enough to defend the Queen from anything bad, and if he passes the tests, he would become the cloud dragon. There is a really cool twist, that you won’t see coming!

This book is awesome because it was exciting! I’ve got a favourite part of the book but I can’t tell you about it as it will spoil it for you – but believe me you have to read this book!

I think the author is very talented. I liked imagining the pictures in my head. It had lots of action in it which was exhilarating! My favourite character was Sunaya. It was a joy to read!

I think other people should read it because there is no other book like it. It is really unique – I like the gotals. The book encourages people to be strong, never give up, and to trust their instincts.

I hope there is a second book soon! I loved the book so much I might dress up as the character, Sunaya, for book week at school!

Read a sample chapter from The Lost Stone of SkyCity.

Read Alphabet Soup’s interview with the author.


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