Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Pippa

Book review: The Amazing Spencer Gray

The Amazing Spencer Gray by Deb Fitzpatrick, ISBN 9781922089328, Fremantle Press

Reviewed by Philippa, 11 (A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.)

The Amazing Spencer Gray (cover)

Spencer Gray, his mum and dad, and his younger sister Pippa live in the country, near Perth. Spencer’s dad loves to fly in a glider over the mountains and Spencer is finally old enough to join him. His mum is not so sure about him going, and then one rainy night Spencer and his dad don’t come back after a flight. It seems that no-one knows where they are or if they are hurt …

I like the pictures this story paints in your mind and the excitement and fear of Spencer’s flights in the glider. You may have read part of this book serialised in the West Australian — and I can recommend reading this longer book version. I think The Amazing Spencer Gray is suitable for 9 to 12 year olds who like a bit of adventure.

teachers' resources

Meet Ken Spillman – author of the Jake books


"Jake's Gigantic List""Ken Spillman"

Our visitor today is Ken Spillman, author of many books, including Jake’s Gigantic List and Jake’s Monster Mess. The third book in the series Jake’s Balloon Blast will be out in March 2011.

What made you become a writer?

Quite simply, a love of stories.  That developed early and by the age of 8 I was a keen writer, even during school holidays.  When I was 15, my English teacher told me to keep writing.  He forgot to tell me to stop writing, so I’m still going.  It’s all his fault.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

It was, actually, but before that I’d published a lot of short stories and poems, while having quite a few rejections as well.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I had many, including adventure stories like Robin Hood and Tom Sawyer.  But an enduring favourite was – and IS – The Little Prince.  That always gets me thinking – I can revisit it every year and learn something new!

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?

It’s very difficult not to get ideas – so the trick is to give some time to the ideas you do have.  For me, watching and listening leads to imagining, and that’s where story begins.  After that, it’s all about work.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?"Jake's Balloon Blast"

I like to read!  But I also love sports and enjoy swimming or kicking a ball around.  Travelling is also great, and recently I’ve enjoyed talking to big groups of Jake fans in Asian countries.

Are you working on a book at the moment?

I’ve always got a few books on the go.  Chris Nixon is illustrating the fourth Jake book – with a sporting theme – and I’ve written two more.  I’m also working on a picture book for Scholastic and a new series for release by Puffin India later this year.

When you are writing the Jake books, do you work closely with Chris Nixon, or do you finish the text and then leave him to do the illustrations?

I finish the story first, but since the first Jake book I’ve been able to imagine what Chris will be able to do with it as I go along.  He nailed the Jake character straight off, so I know he’s always going to really ‘get’ what I write.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

First and foremost, have fun.  What a magical thing it is to create whole worlds – with just paper and ink!  If you enjoy writing, you’ll do it often – and that’s the second thing … work!

authors, teachers' resources

Meet the author: Laura Dudgeon!

"Laura Dudgeon, author"
Laura Dudgeon. Photo courtsey Fremantle Press.

Have you ever thought it’s too hard to be a writer when you are still growing up? Keep writing, and don’t give up! We’re thrilled to have teenager, Laura Dudgeon, visiting us today. Her first book, Lilli and Her Shadow was published earlier this year. Laura Dudgeon was born in Darwin in 1993 and is descended from the Beniol Bardi people from north of Broome.

Before we begin, here’s a bit about the book.

Lilli and Her Shadow is a first chapter book about a girl whose family is moving to the city from the bush. Lilli is not looking forward to it and knows she’ll miss everything about the bush, including her cousins and especially her nan. But when she gets to the city, she discovers Nan has sent her something to help her settle in to her new place. A secret Shadow …

Lilli and Her Shadow is part of the Waarda series, a new Indigenous children’s series published by Fremantle Press. (Waarda is Nyungar for talking and sharing stories and information).

Lilli and Her Shadow was co-written with your aunt, Pat Dudgeon. How did you come to write the book?

I have been writing short stories ever since I was 8, so when Aunty Pat got this opportunity she asked me if I would like to be a co-author with her.

Is the character, Lilli, like you?

Yes she is. Lilly’s experiences and emotions where based on my own when I moved from Darwin to the big city of Perth when I was 8.

What do you love best about being a writer?

I love how I have no limits to the creation of a story. I have always had a wild imagination and putting it on paper and sharing it with others brings me great joy.

Is there any ‘downside’ to being a writer?

When you do something you love and get paid for it there really isn’t a downside.

When do you find time to write?

On the weekends and after school if I don’t have much homework.

What was your favourite book when you were younger?

Where’s Wally? I was interested in the adventures and trying to find Wally.

What sort of books do you like to read now?

Adventure books, scary books and books that I can relate to and give you something to think about.

Do you have any pets?

Yes, a miniature Fox Terrier crossed with a Jack Russell, named ‘Monty’.

"Lilli and Her Shadow"Where did you get the idea for Lilli and Her Shadow?

It was based on my own experience when I moved with my family from Darwin to Perth, the feelings I had to deal with leaving family especially my nana and the difficulty changing schools and making new friends.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Just being a normal teenage girl, shopping and hanging out with friends.

Do you prefer to write on paper, or on a computer?

A bit of both, but mainly computer because I can’t lose it.

Lilli and Her Shadow is a chapter book for early readers. How important do you think it is for children to have access to books with Indigenous characters in them?

I think that it is very important. Children growing up from all nationalities need to feel they are important enough to be written about. Through inclusion we are all important and this is a step forward to get rid of issues such as racism.

What is positive and what is challenging about co-writing a book?

Co-writing allows you to grow your ideas through brain storming and building of the creativity of each other. I think at the end of the manuscript you have a greater story.

Are you working on another book?

I have been co writing with my Aunty Pat another book about a young girl’s secret struggle which is expected to be released later this year. Besides this I am always writing short stories especially when I am in a creative mood to challenge my imagination and when I have an important topic to talk about. One day I hope to be able to use these materials in other stories.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Keep a diary, this is where you can write down everyday events that affect you emotionally. At this real time you can feel and express on paper with greater accuracy and therefore relate to real events and real readers about an issue or something that you feel passionate about. Later on you can use this material in your stories.

Also have a book that you write down brilliant ideas as soon as they come into your head as they can be quickly lost, then you can also use this book to stimulate your creativity when writing.

Thank-you for giving me the opportunity to share my story and give other kids ideas for writing.

Thanks for answering our questions. We loved having you here!

Lilli and Her Shadow, by Pat Dudgeon and Laura Dudgeon, ill. by Tracey Gibbs and Sally Morgan, published by Fremantle Press.

teachers' resources

Rosalie writers’ festival … and book trailers by kids!

Today I was at the Rosalie Writers’ Festival. Rosalie Primary School have a three-day festival every second year, where local authors and illustrators (and editors!) come in and talk to the students about their books and work.

I was lucky to meet the year 2s and 3s and watched them write some amazing poetry! (It was also fun to catch up with a bunch of authors and illustrators in the staffroom in between sessions!)

On their festival website, you can find book trailers made by the year 4 students. The one at the top of this post I especially liked, for Lighthouse Girl, by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Brian Simmonds. You can find more of the Rosalie students’ book trailers on the festival website. Do you have a favourite?

illustrator, info, teachers' resources

Meet the illustrator: Chris Nixon

In every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine, we interview an author or an illustrator. We can’t include all their answers in the magazine (we only fit so much into two pages!) and we like to put the whole interview on Soup Blog so you don’t miss out! Issue 6 of Alphabet Soup magazine includes a Q&A with Chris Nixon.

Chris Nixon lives in  the southern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. He is a freelancer for a design studio and has also illustrated Crocodile Cake, by Palo Morgan, and Jake’s Gigantic List, by Ken Spillman. Jake’s Monster Mess will be published in May 2010.

When did you start drawing?

My earliest memory of drawing is when I was 5 or 6 and I was drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved drawing and painting animals and things outside so I started taking art classes painting in oils and sketching in charcoal and pencil. Most of the time the classes were outside so I would get to go on bushwalks and go exploring, which was great fun.

Did you have a favourite artist/illustrator as a child?

I wouldn’t say I had a favourite artist, but I did love the book Where the Wild Things Are. I loved the artwork and story then, and now Maurice Sendak is one of my favourite illustrators.

At the launch of Jake's Gigantic List, signing a copy of Crocodile Cake

What was your favourite book as a child?

Apart from Where the Wild Things Are, I loved Winnie the Pooh and all the Disney books that were adapted from films. I really liked 101 Dalmatians.

Why did you decide to become a children’s illustrator?

I was always interested in art but I

didn’t know how to turn it into a job. I studied design and illustration at university and in my last year I wrote and illustrated my own picture book. I researched a lot of kids’ books and found I really liked the characters. Up until then, I hadn’t picked up a children’s book since I was child. I really enjoyed them again and saw a good outlet for my artwork and passion for bringing good stories to life.

Was it easy to get your first job as an illustrator?

I have been very lucky and haven’t had to go looking for work; it’s always come to me. Fremantle Press saw my work at my graduate exhibition from uni and saw that I had illustrated a crocodile in one of my designs. They had a story called Crocodile Cake and needed an illustrator, and that was enough for them to pick me … very lucky! A few weeks later, I was working on my first picture book.

Do you have a preferred medium? Why?

I have found a medium that really works for me and my style and that is a blend of traditional and digital techniques. I use pencil and watercolour as an under painting and then I finish the work digitally. This allows me to make easy changes on the computer, but allows the work to have a traditional hand painted and drawn look to it.

What do you like to do when you are not working on your art?

I love being outside and traveling so I love surfing, kayaking, mountain biking and seeing as much of the world as possible. I’ve played basketball since I was 6. I also like music, film and cooking, so there is never enough time to fit it all in!

Where do you get your inspiration?

I watch a lot of films, particularly animated and kids’ films. They are like kids’ books brought to life and I always look to them for inspiration. I plan to work in the film industry one day, making movies and bringing great stories to life with my artwork.

Are you influenced by anyone’s work?

The artists working in the film industry are some of the best artists in the world, particularly the artists from Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios. I follow all their work and use it as a goal for my skill as an illustrator. In the book world, I really like Shaun Tan’s work. His career path is something I follow closely as he is also from Perth and now working as an artist making films.

Do you need to meet with the author when you are illustrating their books?

I never met the authors until the books were completed. I worked closely with the publisher to make decisions on my illustrations.

Does the story influence your choice of materials?

Absolutely. If the story is set outside with a more natural setting I will use more traditional materials like watercolour to create a more flowing illustration. If the story is more energetic and fast paced, I might use effects on the computer to make it more convincing.

How long did it take for you to illustrate Crocodile Cake and Jake’s Gigantic List?

Crocodile Cake was my first book so it took a lot longer to finish. From start to finish it took a little over a year.  Jake’s Gigantic List took about 3 months.

Are you working on illustrating a new book?

I just finished my third book, which is called Farmer Mick: Harvest Time Havoc, which is all about farming with some really fun characters including talking horses and tractors. I’m also finishing off my own book I started writing and illustrating in uni. It’s called Chasing Zach and I hope to have it finished this year.

Do you have any advice for young artists?

Find a certain artist or style, or even part of art that you really like and research it to find out what other people in the world are doing. Other than that; practice and more practice. Take a sketchbook and pencil with you in case you see something that inspires you. I have a sketchbook in my car, in my bag and next to my bed in case I dream about something really cool and I need to draw it so I don’t forget it.

teachers' resources

Win a copy of Bush Secrets by Tjalaminu Mia and Jessica Lister!

Thanks to everyone who entered our Wombat Divine giveaway. (Refer to the comments at that post to see who won, if you haven’t already!)

We thought we could squeeze in one last book giveaway before Christmas is upon us. A while back we reviewed Bush Secrets, by Tjalaminu Mia and Jessica Lister, about a granddaughter sharing a secret with her grandfather, and then Grandpa sharing a special place in the bush with her.

We have one review copy to give away! To enter, leave a comment at any post on Soup blog, telling us the title of a children’s book you love (0r loved as a child!) that has a Christmas theme.

This giveaway has been extended and entries close on Thursday 24 December 2009 at 5 pm Perth time (that’s Perth in Western Australia!).

Christmas, info, teachers' resources

A subscription for Christmas!

Alphabet Soup is a magazine about books and creative writing for primary-school aged kids. A subscription would make a fantastic Christmas gift for your favourite young bookworm. (A 1-year subscription only costs $29.80.)

All our subscribers for issue 5 go into a draw for a chance to win a book pack from Fremantle Press, worth $200.00!*

*Books in book pack may differ from those pictured.

Subscribe now to ensure your first issue arrives in time to go under the tree!

Inside issue 5:

  • Kids’ writing competition (win a $20 book voucher!)
  • Q&A with Christine Harris, author of the Audrey books
  • Meet an astronomer
  • Stories, poems and book reviews
  • 6 pages of kids’ writing (kids’ stories, poems, book reviews and artwork!)
  • Writing tips for kids

Merry Christmas from Alphabet Soup!

illustrator, teachers' resources

Jake’s Gigantic List trailer

The current issue of Alphabet Soup includes a review of Jake’s Gigantic List. And today I came across a book trailer, made by Chris Nixon, the illustrator. (We’ll be interviewing Chris Nixon in the autumn 2010 issue of the magazine, so stay tuned!)

authors, teachers' resources

Two book reviews: Bush Secrets, and The Great Cold

Waarda is Nyungar for talking and sharing stories and information. And it is also the name of a new Indigenous children’s series launched this week to coincide with Indigenous Literacy Day!

We’ve read the first two books in the series, Bush Secrets, and The Great Cold, and we loved them. So, we thought this might be a good day to share them with you! As well as some great stories, at the back of each book you can read a bit about the authors, and where they grew up.

Bush Secrets by Tjalaminu Mia and Jessica Lister, illustrated by Tracey Gibbs (Fremantle Press, 2009)

Bush Secrets coverDebbie has two secrets and she doesn’t want to tell her brother, Billy, because she doesn’t think he ‘really understands what a secret is.’ But when her grandfather, Dada Keen comes for a visit, she knows she can tell him. And Dada Keen has a secret to show Debbie too – a special place in the bush! Debbie hopes that they can go bushwalking to find it, without Billy.

Will Dada Keen bring Billy with us when we go bushwalking tomorrow? I hope not. I’ve never had a special outing on my own with Dada Keen. It would be lovely if, for once, it could just be the two of us.

I cross my fingers and make a wish. Please let me go bushwalking with Dada Keen alone tomorrow.

Will my wish come true?

This book was written by a grandmother and her granddaughter. They show what’s special about the Australian bush, and how important it is to look after it.

The Great Cold by Gladys Milroy, illustrated by Tracey Gibbs (Fremantle Press, 2009)

The Great Cold (cover)‘The Great Cold is coming,’ said Magpie as Crow shivered in her nest.

‘You must leave before it’s too late.’

Ever since Moon became jealous of Sun and started a battle, everything had changed. If Moon won, there would be no light left, and everything outside the cavern would freeze. Crow is sitting on an egg in her nest and she doesn’t want to leave it. She decides to try to fly to the cavern with her nest in her beak. Will she make it in time? The Goannabird is her friend. But, on his own, can he stop the Great Cold from spreading?

This is a story about friendship and bravery, and about working together to help everyone in your community.

(Teachers can request free teaching notes for both of these books by emailing Claire Miller at Fremantle Press.)

Our review copies were sent to us by Fremantle Press