authors, interviews

Ashleigh Barton on Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe

Ashleigh Barton lives in Sydney, Australia. She is the author of several picture books including What Do You call Your Grandpa?, What Do You Call Your Grandma? and What Do You Do to Celebrate? Today we’re pleased to have Ashleigh visiting Alphabet Soup to talk about her first children’s novel, Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe, illustrated by Sarah Davis.

From the publisher:

You’ve never met a vampire like Solomon Macaroni before – he’s friendly, polite and makes a mean tofu Bolognese. Understandably, when his parents go on a one-hundred-year cruise without him, Solomon is not impressed. Especially because it means having to stay in creepy Transylvania with his six cousins, who are the rudest and naughtiest vampires in existence. When his cousins venture into the spooky Wildwood on a dangerous mission, Solomon agrees to help rescue them. At least, that’s what he thinks he’s doing …


So … are Solomon’s cousins inspired by your own cousins?

Solomon’s cousins are probably inspired a little bit by my own family but not on purpose. I do have a lot of cousins (way more than Solomon does in fact – twenty-two first cousins in total!) and my siblings do love a good prank, but I didn’t intentionally base any of the characters on them. I’m sure some of their traits and our relationships growing up have probably showed up at least a little bit. Funnily enough, when one of my brothers first saw the cover, he thought the character illustrations were based on us. It was just a coincidence but I can see what he means – there is a bit of uncanny resemblance to our different personalities! (He thought Lucy, with her head in her book, was me.)

Did you suffer (or instigate) a memorable prank when you were growing up?

Looking back, pranking has definitely been a constant part of my life but fortunately nothing too traumatic. Everyone in my immediate family seems to love a good prank. My dad loved hiding our food if we left the room and once my brother stuck a fake spider high up on a wall to scare our dad when he got home from work. Poor Dad spent ages trying to get the spider down. A lot of my childhood friends and I loved pranking too. Some of the pranks we pulled were a bit naughty so I don’t want to share in case I give you ideas!

Which character in the book would you most like to spend an afternoon with?

Probably Uncle Dracula! He is a lot of fun and I’d be up for trying any of his whacky inventions, especially ones involving ice cream. It would also be amazing to listen to his stories and find out what life was like throughout the different centuries. Arrubakook – the wayfinding kookaburra – would also be a handy companion if I could hang out with her regularly because I can’t find my way anywhere.

Do you have a tip for children who’d like to try writing a novel?

One thing I’ve been having a lot of fun doing with kids in schools lately is coming up with a character to turn upside down the way I’ve done with vampires in Solomon Macaroni. The vampires in my story are completely different to traditional vampires – they don’t drink blood, they aren’t immortal (though they can live a really long time and age really slowly), they don’t have any powers or abilities and they can definitely eat garlic. This is because in Solomon’s world, magic has almost completely disappeared. The character of Dracula – a very well-known character from literature who is usually depicted as heartless and monstrous – is actually a very nice, caring and creative person. So, you could come up with your own character based on either a famous literary figure or a mythical creature and then completely rewrite them. Give them new characteristics and personality traits. You could even change their appearances, their family and friends, where they live and what they live for. It’s a great way to let your imagination run wild and then a story will often fall into place around this character you’re creating.

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

I’m always working on a bunch of things and constantly have ideas whirling around my head, but the project that I am properly working on now (or should be working on now) is the second Solomon Macaroni book. In book two, Solomon, his cousins and Uncle Dracula head to Paris for a family holiday that goes very, very wrong.

Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe by Ashleigh Barton. The cover is black and Solomon and his cousins are drawn in grey, purple and orange. There are purple bats the top of the cover. Solomon looks like a vampire in a purple cape lined with orange, short black hair that comes to a point over his forehead and fangs. The cousin behind him is pouring orange liquid onto Solomon's head from a glass bowl. Twin girl cousins in purple pinafores are about to cut off Solomon's ear with a pair of scissors. A young cousin in a purple cap is lying at Solomon's feet tying his shoelaces together. A girl in a purple dress and necklace of beads is pointing an airhorn at Solomon. And a girl in a yellow striped shirt and hair in pigtails stands off to one side reading an orange book and looking over her shoulder uncertainly at the others.

AWESOME EXTRAS

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Visit Ashleigh Barton’s website for more about her and her books

Book reviews by Emily, Book reviews by kids

Book review: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald. The cover is predominantly light blue and shows a wall with framed photographs of australian Prime Ministers hanging up, and the main character of this book (a girl with brown hair, pale skin and a navy blazer and red tie) holding a frame up around her face as if she is also one of the prime ministers.

REVIEWED BY EMILY, 10, WA

How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702265587

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald is a humorous fiction book about a girl called Harper, her sister Lottie, and her friends.

The problems begin when Harper’s dad saves two children (and a labradoodle) from a shark! Harper’s  dad is then invited to be Prime Minister! But being Prime Minister isn’t that fun and all the pressure piles on Harper’s dad, when suddenly he decides to run away, leaving Harper to find a way to run the country, not get humiliated in her class and figure out which policy should become law – all without her dad.

I found this book fun and entertaining with bucket loads of humour. The message it teaches you is that when things are tough, you should stay strong and work through the problem. Another lesson that spoke loudly from this book was that working as a team always helps.

This book is probably going to be enjoyed by fans of Keeping up with the Dachshunds, which is also written by Carla Fitzgerald, as the same humour is used.

All ages from 6+ would enjoy this book.  I rate this an outstanding five out of five.


Emily is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Read more reviews by Emily here. To send us YOUR book review, read our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Glenridge Elementary School

Book review: HiLo

Image shows the cover of a children's book: HiLo, The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick. The cover illustration shows a boy with yellow hair, a red shirt with a letter H on it, blue jeans and sneakers. He's holding his hands up in the air and each hand is in a fist, circled with yellow glow. Behind him is a boy with short black hair and a girl with brown skin and a pink shirt. They are all standing on a road.

REVIEWED BY EZRA, SECOND GRADE, MISSOURI, USA

HiLo by Judd Winick, Penguin UK, ISBN 9780141376929

Ezra read his school’s copy of this book.

Have you ever read a graphic novel with a funny robot? Well then HiLo is the book for you. I think you should read it because there are portals and powers/magic.

In the story, HiLo and Izzy came from a planet of powers/magic. And they are both robots. Their best friends are DJ and Gina. DJ is funny and is a normal person. Gina, on the other hand, is also a normal person but she learns crazy good magic from their friend, Polly. Polly is a cat that can talk and he came from the same planet as RAZORWARK. RAZORWARK was a good robot to protect the earth. But then someone changed his orders.

One reason I like this book is because I like robots. In the story HiLo is a robot and he shoots coins out of his bellybutton! Another reason I like this book is because HiLo and Izzy are hilarious. For example HiLo and Izzy poop out pencils! And that is my favourite part of HiLo. The third reason why I like this book is that in the story Polly makes up the funniest jokes EVER!

I hope you can read this book right away. I recommend this book for kids ages 6 and up. I give this book 10 out of 10 stars.


Second grade students at Glenridge Elementary School (Missouri, USA) are guest reviewers at Alphabet Soup. Click here if you’d like to read more book reviews by Glenridge Elementary School. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Glenridge Elementary School

Book review: Back to School, Splat!

Image shows the cover of a children's book: Splat the Cat, Back to School, Splat! by Rob Scotton. The cover illustration shows a black cat with a pink tummy. He's wearing scuba goggles, a snorkel, a colander for a hat, and carrying a soccer ball, & a wooden sword. There is a small grey mouse sitting atop the ball. Behind him is a small white cat in a pink top and wearing a pink bow on her head.

REVIEWED BY CALLIE, SECOND GRADE, MISSOURI, USA

Splat the Cat: Back to School, Splat! by Rob Scotton, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 9780061978517

Callie reviewed her school’s copy of this book.

Do you like books with cats that act like humans? Then I think you should read Splat the Cat: Back to School, Splat! In this book, Splat the Cat goes to school looking happy and comes back from school looking sad because he already has homework.

I think you should read this book because Splat the Cat is so funny. In this story he has homework on the first day of school and his tail dragged behind him as he walked home. The second reason you should read this book is because his little sister is so sweet and cute, for example she gives him a new soccer ball and gives him cupcakes. The third reason you should read this book is because he goes to CAT SCHOOL! These are some of the reasons you should read this book.

I hope you read this book right away. Do you want to find out more about this book? Visit your local library. I recommend this book for kids ages 7, 8 and 9. I give this book 8 out of 10 stars.


Second grade students at Glenridge Elementary School (Missouri, USA) are guest reviewers at Alphabet Soup. Click here if you’d like to read more book reviews by Glenridge Elementary School. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Glenridge Elementary School

Book review: Pizza and Taco series

Image shows the cover of a children's book: Pizza and Taco Too Cool for School by Stephen Shaskan. Cover illustration shows a piece of pizza in sunglasses and a taco in sunglasses in front of a red brick wall.

REVIEWED BY ETHAN, SECOND GRADE, MISSOURI, USA

Pizza and Taco series by Stephen Shaskan, RHUS Children’s Books, Book 4 ISBN 9780593376072

Ethan read his school’s copies of the books in this series.

Do you like comics and friends and funny beginnings? Then the Pizza and Taco series is for you.

Pizza and Taco are always competing. And I think you should read this book because Pizza and Taco have so much fun together. But Pizza and Taco have one enemy: it’s Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger is Hamburger’s cousin. And some of Pizza and Taco’s friends are Ice Cream and Cake and the Chicken Tender Twins and Hamburger and Hotdog.

One reason I like this book is because Pizza and Taco are hilarious, one time they created a comic which had a lot of funny things. And Pizza and Taco are very nice to each other, but they get into a lot of trouble. In Pizza and Taco Too Cool for School, they get into trouble. The second reason I like this book is because it has imaginative pictures. Another reason I like this book is because they are a bit realistic. For example Pizza is a bit realistic. The third reason I like this book is because Pizza and Taco are so funny and sarcastic.

Do you want to find out more about this series? Visit your local library. I recommend this series to ages seven and up. I give this series 8 out of 10 stars.


Second grade students at Glenridge Elementary School (Missouri, USA) are guest reviewers at Alphabet Soup. Click here if you’d like to read more book reviews by Glenridge Elementary School. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Reuben

Book review: Pow Pow Pig

Pow Pow Pig: An Unexpected Hero by Anh Do and Peter Cheong

REVIEWED BY REUBEN, 8, WA

Pow Pow Pig: An Unexpected Hero by Anh Do, illustrated by Peter Cheong, Allen and Unwin, ISBN 9781760526405

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Pow Pow Pig is about a pig named Piccolo who joins an organisation called CHOC because he wants to help animals in need, but he ends up always on kitchen duty …

My favourite character is Piccolo. Books about pigs always seem like funny books. This is a hilarious book. I even love the cover. The size of the title makes me laugh. The illustrations suit the story and are also hilarious. There are also stickers inside, at the back of the book.

Pow Pow Pig is similar to the Captain Underpants books and The Bad Guys series. Kids who like pigs, funny books, exciting books and novels (there are nine chapters in this book) will love this too.

I think 7 to 10-year-olds would enjoy this book most. Kids older than 10 would still enjoy it though, and kids who are younger than 7 would enjoy it if someone reads it to them.

I give it 5 out of 5 stars!

Pow Pow Pig: An Unexpected Hero is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library!


Reuben is a regular book reviewer for Alphabet Soup. Check out his earlier reviews here. To send us YOUR story, poem, artwork or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by Aashi, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Tom Gates Ten Tremendous Tales

REVIEWED BY AASHI, 7, VIC

Ten Tremendous Tales

Tom Gates: Ten Tremendous Tales by Liz Pichon, Scholastic UK, ISBN 9781760974282

Aashi reviewed her own copy of this book.

Ten Tremendous Tales is a book with ten stories, all of the different ten stories are written by Liz Pichon.

The main character of the book is Tom Gates who likes to doodle. You must be wondering what doodling is. Well, it is practically drawing!

I like the book because there is a whole range of stories to read. Each story is unique and has a different moral, like one of them is about always to have hope. I liked this moral because in Covid times having hope is so important!

After reading this book I feel like I could read many more books where Tom Gates is the main character. He is super-duper at doodling but always gets into trouble. I won’t say more about Tom to keep some surprises for you.

This book is also cool as it is the tenth book in Tom Gates series by the author. The Brilliant World of Tom Gates was the first book and sent out to stores in 2011.

I would rate this book 9/10 because I think that some of the stories could continue a little bit longer. It will be enjoyed by children who are ages 7-11.

I hope you would like to read Ten Tremendous Tales.


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

authors, interviews

Oliver Phommavanh and Brain Freeze

Oliver Phommavanh is the author of many books including Thai-riffic!, The Other Cristy, and Con-nerd. He loves to make people laugh, whether it’s on the page writing humour for kids or on stage as a stand-up comedian. He also shares his passion for writing with kids, using his experience as a primary school teacher. Oliver has performed at various comedy and writers festivals around Australia and Asia. His latest book is Brain Freeze.

From the publisher:

A crazy collection of funny short stories. From a dog who accidentally becomes the first animal on Mars, a hopeless chess player dealing with his sports-mad dad, and a girl whose dreams are getting too big for her bed, to a boy who has had 1000 names – so far. Not to mention, the strange boy who never seems to get brain freeze (until…), these short stories will blow your mind.

On with the questions!


You’ve written nine novels – how did you come to write Brain Freeze, a collection of short stories?

I’ve always been a fan of short stories and have been writing them since I was a kid. I do love contributing to anthologies and collections, but I’ve kept some of my personal favourites for me, to one-day include in a short story collection. So, when I had enough stories, I wanted to bring out a collection. 

If you had control of the app in the first story in Brain Freeze, would you opt to change your name? 

I’m a big Turtles fan, so Donatello would be the name I would choose haha. I’m also a Sonic fan, so Sonic Phommavanh would have been the best too.

How do you decide what sort of stories to include in a short story collection? Did you have extra stories that were left out of the book?

The original title for this collection was The Odd Bunch, so I wanted to include stories that had characters who were odd, but had to step up and be brave. So, with that theme, it was easy to pick the stories that would make the Odd Bunch. I wrote 20 short stories so there were a few stories that didn’t fit that ‘odd’ description. Maybe I’ll put them in another collection or use them for an anthology.

Have you read any books recently that you’d recommend?

I loved Pawcasso by Remi Lai. It’s a graphic novel about a dog who manages to be a neighbourhood hero. I’ve also enjoyed Huda and Me by H. Hayek too, it’s a tender-sweet tale of a brother and his savvy sister who hop on a plane across the world to see their parents. 

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

Yes, I’ve just finished a story called What About Thao? It’s a story of a kid who moves to a tiny country town and enjoys being the new kid for once. 

Brain Freeze is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Take a sneak peek inside Brain Freeze

Hear Oliver Phommavanh talking about Brain Freeze (YouTube)

Read one of our earlier interviews with Oliver

Visit Oliver Phommavanh’s website for more about him and his books.

Brain Freeze by Oliver Phommavanh
authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Chickensaurus

MEET THE AUTHOR

James Foley. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography.
James Foley (photo by Jessica Wyld Photography)

Chickensaurus by James FoleyJames Foley is a Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic novelist. James uses a variety of materials and tools to create his books: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal and watercolour. He also uses digital tools: Adobe Photoshop, a Wacom graphics tablet, an iPad Pro and the Procreate app. His latest book is the fourth instalment in the hilarious S. Tinker Inc series: Chickensaurus.

From the publisher:

Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12, is back with a new adventure in invention. When Sally’s nemesis hatches a fowl and poultry plot, there’s no room for the lily-livered. Sally and co will need all their pluck to return the world to its rightful pecking order.

On with the questions!


Assuming you’ve never seen a real chickensaurus, how did you design your dinosauric creatures in Chickensaurus?
I started off with some of the dinosaurs that everyone is most familiar with – T-Rex, velociraptor, stegosaurus, triceratops and pteranodon (though technically that last one is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur). I drew them normal to start with, then added chicken-y details on and gave them silly names. Sometimes the bits I added were suggested by the silly name I gave them – for example, the stegosaurus became an eggosaurus, so it’s basically a giant walking egg. Some of them just started out as a silly drawing and then I found an even sillier name for them – for example, the velociroosters turned up in my sketchbook in 2016, and there were other versions of lizardy chickens in my sketchbooks as far back as 2012.

Just how many chicken puns do you have in your archives? (Would Chickensaurus win the record for the most chicken jokes in one book?)
I hope so! (Though is that really a record that I want my name to be on? Should I be proud or ashamed?) I gathered as many silly jokes as I could and then found places for them in the book. There’s one particularly pun-filled part that I’m strangely proud of, where a character gives a long ‘villain speech’ using as many chicken and egg puns as I could fit in. It’s very, VERY silly.
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Chickensaurus is Book 4 in the S. Tinker Inc series of graphic novels. You also write and illustrate picture books. What’s different about the way you go about creating your graphic novels, compared to your picture books?
They’re basically the same process; graphic novels just have A LOT more drawings and A LOT more words. But there is one difference with my writing; when I’m writing a graphic novel I write it out like a movie script. It’s mostly just what the characters say to each other, with a few descriptions of the settings or the action that are basically notes for myself. On the other hand, when I’m writing a picture book the text is usually more than just what the characters say.
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Do you have one tip for young storytellers who’d like to create their own comic books or graphic novels?
Yes, and it’s an easy one – read lots of comics! It doesn’t matter if they’re superhero comics, or funny comic strips, or big fancy graphic novels … just read lots of them. And while you’re reading them, pay attention to the ways that the authors and illustrators tell you the story. Notice the things you like about the comic and maybe have a go at trying some of the same drawing or writing techniques. Notice the things you didn’t like so much about the comic and then ask yourself what you would have done differently. You can learn HEAPS just by reading other people’s work.
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Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
My next two projects are a short Sally Tinker comic adventure that will go into next year’s School Magazine, and a picture book about animals in space!

 

Chickensaurus is out now! You can buy it from the publisher’s website, find it at your favourite book store, or ask for it at your library. 

Chickensaurus by James FoleyAWESOME EXTRAS:
Click here to watch an interview with James Foley for Paper Bird Books Home Club (1/2 hour YouTube video)
Book reviews by kids

Book review: Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure

REVIEWED BY XAVIER, 11, NT

Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney with help from Greg Heffley

Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney with help from Greg Heffley, Penguin Australia Pty Ltd, ISBN 9781760897888

Xavier received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Xavier’s Awesomely Amazing Book Review

When the new book arrived, I felt excited because I have been a Wimpy kid fan for a long time. I have read every book many times over, so I know the story well. The book is written by Rowley and his adventures with his best friend Greg. There are twists and turns, which you’d expect from a Wimpy kid book, but they are told from Rowley’s perspective for a change.

My favourite part would be the twist at the end (no spoilers!). My favourite character would be Greg. Life for Rowley and Greg is exciting – vacations, blizzards and weddings. Their adventures are always funny and entertaining.  

I feel like kids who like adventure and funny books would love this book since it is a combination of both. Other Wimpy Kid fans would definitely like it, there is no doubt. I believe kids aged from 7 to 13 would like this book (and series). I have read them since about 7 years old and still enjoy them at almost 12.

The book is 4.5 stars out of 5 because it is funny and you want to know the ending because Rowley is making a book which is a change from the other books in the series.

However, for me the story is quite a bit shorter than other books I am reading so I read it very quickly. If you are new to reading books and like a laugh this book is for you.


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