Book reviews by Aashi, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Tom Gates Ten Tremendous Tales


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.


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


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.
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.
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.
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


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!

Young Writers in Action

Young writers in action: Life of a Rotten Potato

by Angus, 10, Bowral Public School

Potatoes dug up from the garden. Image courtesy of pexels.comHello there, I’m a potato. Today I’m going to tell you how the life of a rotten potato works. At the start of my life I was stuck under this icky brown stuff, I was under there for weeks until a human finally pulled me out. That was the first time I met my family. My brother’s name was Spud, my mum’s name was Beryl and my dad’s name was Mark. My brother always teased me and said that I was rotten. I felt left out all the time because all my friends ditched me when they found out I was rotten. I asked Mum and Dad if I was rotten. They said I wasn’t, but I knew they were saying that to be nice.

The next stage of my life was being cleaned. It was one of the most horrible things that had happened to me ever. My second cousin drowned. His name was Fred, it was really quite sad. When I had to be washed I was exited I thought the mould and stuff would come off but it didn’t, it was horrible.

The third stage was being cut up, this was usually the end of a potato’s life — but I was rotten so they didn’t cut me up into little bits, they just threw me in the trash. I was super sad for the next few days because my mum, dad and brother got cooked and eaten. I was lonely in the garbage. The only thing to talk to was a mouldy banana named Rick. He said the same sort of thing happened to his family except they just got eaten not cooked. The next day the evil humans put all the garbage into one big metal bin with all the dead foods that nobody had eaten.

There was a mandarin that nobody had eaten. I said he was lucky he was alive, but then he said he was inhabited by worms. Sadly Rick the banana didn’t make it, he fell out of the bin and got stepped on and he got splattered everywhere it was disgusting. When we were first put into the metal bin we got put on a truck and got driven to a place called the tip. There were so many other foods that were still alive. My best friend became a brussels sprout named Rick, just like my friend Rick the banana but we do not speak of Rick the banana any more. After six months in the tip at night, I was laying looking up at the stars thinking about my family and friends, how they died. I thought that I should stop thinking about them and think about how I made new friends and how I’m still alive today instead of thinking about all the bad things in life like being rotten. That night I went to sleep a happy potato and I lived out the rest of my life as one. And that is the life of a rotten potato.

We will be sharing writing from students at Bowral Public School over the next few days. If you’d like to send us YOUR book review, story, poem or artwork, check out our submission guidelines

Book reviews by kids, Oxley Christian College

Book review: I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend by Heidi McKinnon. Image: Front cover of picture book. Black background and title of book is in teal. Illustration is a giant yellow alien head with owl like enormous white eyes. REVIEWED BY LEVI, 10, VIC

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon,
Allen and Unwin, ISBN 9871760294232

Levi borrowed this book from the school library

I Just Ate my Friend is about an alien who ate his friend. He tries to find a new friend but they are too big, small or scary. He just can’t find the perfect fit. Is all hope lost or can he find a friend!

The illustrations are great and the colours blend and contrast. The characters in this book are all different and play their own roles in the story. They make the story different and interesting all the way through.

I rate this book as suitable for children 5-8 years old. The will love to read this book because the illustrations are cartoon-like.

If you’d like to read more book reviews by Oxley Christian College students, you can click on ‘Oxley Christian College’ in the grey categories box in the right column of this blog. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Oxley Christian College

Book review: The Wolf, The Duck and the Mouse

The Wolf The Duck and the mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Image: Picture book with the title in black print on a white banner at the top of the book. Bottom two-thirds of the book shows a tree trunk with a wolf hiding behind it and a duck and mouse sitting against the the front of the tree trunk. REVIEWED BY ISABEL, 8, VIC

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen, Walker Books, ISBN 9781406377798

Isabel borrowed a copy of this book from her library.

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse is about a mouse in the woods unexpectedly swallowed by a wolf.

It is the beginning of the story, but is this the end already? What does the mouse find in the dark tummy of the beast? What is life like on the inside?

This book shows what it feels like for every character in this book.

This book is great for children between 7-10 years old, with remarkable illustrations and some silly nonsense.  The illustrations have been created to give watery paint and collage effects.  Others like the wolf are textured and maybe you might see some splatter paint on every page. This book also tells you a back story about why the wolf howls at the moon.

What challenges must the animals overcome to save their lives?

I give this humorous book a 5-star rating.

If you’d like to read more book reviews by Oxley Christian College students, you can click on ‘Oxley Christian College’ in the grey categories box in the right column of this blog. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Oxley Christian College

Book review: Mopoke

Mopoke by Philip Bunting. Image: picture book cover with black background and a southern boobook Owl sitting on a branch. The title MOPOKE is in white under the owl. REVIEWED BY CHARLIE, 8, VIC

Mopoke by Philip Bunting, Scholastic Australia, ISBN 9781742991658

Charlie read a copy of this book at his school library.

Mopoke discovers new ways to be an everyday owl. That’s hard for an owl to do when all you do every day is sit on a branch.

Come along on a journey. High in a tree.

The imaginary life of Mopoke, a Southern Boobook, is amazing. Characters include other mopokes, other animals and everyday objects. They try different ways to annoy Mopoke.

The illustrations are amazing as they help the reader really get to know Mopoke and his friends. My favourite character is the ‘fropoke’ because of the clever rhyme with an unusual word. Read this book to find out more about the interesting vocabulary.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 definitely because Philip Bunting has alternated pages with text and pictures in perfect balance.

I recommend this book for children aged 3-9 years old because it’s easy for them to copy and draw their own versions of mopokes.

If you’d like to read more book reviews by Oxley Christian College students, you can click on ‘Oxley Christian College’ in the grey categories box in the right column of this blog. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids, Oxley Christian College

Book review: Rodney Loses It

Rodney Loses It by Michael Gerard Bauer and Kristina KrebsREVIEWED BY RACHEL, 8, VIC

Rodney Loses It by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Christina Krebs,
Scholastic Press, ISBN 9781742991900

Rachel read a copy of this book in her school library.

Wow! Look at Rodney, a crazy rabbit.  He totally lost it, but what did he lose?

Read on to find more clues.

Rodney loved everything, but the one thing he loved the most was drawing.  Rodney sketched all the time. He treasured his pencils, pen and textas.

Chrissie Krebs uses such impeccable pencil skills to give great clues and encourage children to really dive deep into this book.

Michael Gerard Bauer uses amazing adjectives to play with words, such as ‘bonkers’, that children would find funny.

I love this book because it’s hilarious.

I give this book a 10/10 rating for children in aged 8-11.

This is Rachel’s first book review for Alphabet Soup. If you’d like to read more book reviews by Oxley Christian College students, you can click on ‘Oxley Christian College’ in the grey categories box in the right column of this blog. To send us YOUR book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, Pass the Book Baton

Pass the book baton: Michael Gerard Bauer




This is our first Pass the Book Baton for 2017! What is Pass the Book Baton? Every Friday we feature a book creator who answers one question before throwing a new question to the next Friday visitor. (It’s kind of like a book relay in slow motion.) Make sure you check out all all the posts from the Pass the Book Baton series so far.

To start off this year’s series, the baton is passed to Michael Gerard Bauer.

Michael Gerard Bauer


Michael Gerard Bauer is the author of many books for children and young adults. His latest book is a young adult title — The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and me and he has a picture book coming out soon (stay tuned!). You might recognise some of these books:

Last year Wendy Orr asked:
I’m curious whether, like me, you draw on different parts of yourself to create your characters (even if other people might not be able to see that ‘seed’ that started the process). Do you use any techniques to find these beginnings, or does the character appear to grow spontaneously, and you only recognise later the bit that sparked its creation?

Michael answers:

Bauer's latest young adult novel

I think I do draw on different parts of myself to create characters but I don’t think in most cases that I do it deliberately or consciously. I can certainly see myself, or aspects of myself, in main characters like Joseph in The Running Man, Corey from Just a Dog and Ishmael from the Ishmael series. Even the character of Maggie from The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and Me shares quite a bit in common with me — although I’d have to admit, there’s also a fair bit of me in The Pain! Having said that, I don’t ever see myself as being those characters, despite any similarities that might exist in our personalities and attitudes. I doubt that I could write about, or would want to write about, a central character to whom I couldn’t relate or empathise.

I really don’t apply any techniques to help find character beginnings. My characters seem to emerge and grow from the situations that I imagine them in and that’s more of a spontaneous thing. So with Joseph in The Running Man it started with me imagining a boy living next door to a mysterious and reclusive neighbour and wondering how he would deal with each situation as it arose. As a writer you find out more and more about your character as you develop your story. I think the part of you that is in the character is probably the strongest and most obvious at the start, and as you unearth the story and the character is placed in different situations, they take on different layers and dimensions and so they grow away from that seed of you to become unique identities in themselves.

Ultimately I believe the best thing you can do when developing characters is to stop thinking about them as characters but rather think about them as real people. Try to imagine their life outside the limits of your story for example and how they have become the people they are. When you stop looking at them as your ‘creation’ and give them room and freedom to grow, they tend to take on a life of their own and often reveal themselves to you in surprising ways.

Want to know more about Michael Gerard Bauer and his books? Visit his website:

The WishbirdAnd now Michael passes the baton to the next Friday visitor — Gabrielle Wang. Gabrielle is the author of picture books and novels, including two series in the Our Australian Girl series. Her latest novel is The Wishbird.

Michael asks:
In general I’d love to know how being an illustrator impacts on your writing. For example, if you are writing a novel, do you find yourself creating illustrations for the characters or scenes even though they might not be included in the published work? Have characters or stories ever started from something you have drawn? Is visual imagery an important part of your writing style?
Check in every Friday for questions and answers from children’s authors and illustrators.
See you next week!