Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Lizard’s Tale

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Lizard's Tale by Weng Wai Chan. The cover illustration shows a building in Singapore prior to World War II.

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 12, NSW

Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan, Text Publishing, ISBN 9781925603910

Gabriel received a copy of this book to review.

Lizard’s Tale is written by Weng Wai Chan and is set before WWII in Singapore, featuring a young boy named Lizard and his best friend, Lili. Lizard’s guardian, Uncle Archie, disappears without explanation. As an orphan, Lizard barely scrapes by as he has to buy food and rent a tiny apartment, so he does odd jobs for random people and theft for Boss Man Beng.

Lizard had almost choked on his noodles. One hundred dollars! Nearly one year’s worth of rent and food.

Lizard had just got himself the dream job. All he had to do was to steal a teak box from the Raffles Hotel which belonged to a British army visitor and deliver it to the train station at 10pm. Otherwise, he would expect the worst. It couldn’t be that hard, could it?

Lizard soon dives into a world where conspiracies and secret codes thrive, buzzing around concerning the next war. How will Lizard deal with all these problems, especially since his best friend isn’t who he thought she was? Can Lizard reveal the plot in time and save his friends and other people he loves? Will he be able to succeed in foiling his enemy’s plan by himself?

I recommend this book for preteens or young kids who love history and exciting adventures. I would rate this book 9/10 as there are great themes and it’s also a family friendly book. You can find this book online on Amazon as a kindle copy or a paperback, or even in your local bookstore. Have fun reading!


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

Book reviews by kids

Book review: Astonishingly Good Stories

REVIEWED BY HANNAH, 10, QLD

Astonishingly Good Stories by RA Spratt, Penguin Australia, ISBN 9780143779261

Hannah reviewed her own copy of this title.

Image shows the cover of a book of short stories for children: Astonishingly Good Stories by RA Spratt. The cover illustration is filled with tiny illustrations of characters from inside the book: a child with an axe, a monster with a giant lollipop, a mer-pig.

Astonishingly Good Stories is a very funny, heart-warming collection of short stories including characters from RA Spratt’s other book series. The stories include Fractured Fairytales and stories of Nanny Piggins’ stunningly beautiful relatives (aunts and grandmothers). For Friday Barnes fans there is a short Friday Barnes story based on Christmas.

I like a lot of the stories but I actually liked the Friday Barnes one best. I am surprised by this because I thought Friday Barnes was too old for me and I didn’t understand the plot of other Friday Barnes stories, but I did understand the plot of this story and it was really good.

The prequel to Astonishingly Good StoriesShockingly Good Stories – was equally good and I suggest you read both of them. I would not change this book at all.

I’d recommend this book to people who like books that make you laugh and ‘myths and legends as you’ve never read them before’. Ideal for ages 8 and up.

Take a look inside this book on the publisher’s website.


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

Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: The Jammer

Image shows the cover of a children's book with a girl wearing shirt and shorts, helmet, long socks, knee pads and roller skates. She's crouching and looks serious.

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 12, NSW

The Jammer by Nova Weetman, University of Queensland Press, ISBN 9780702265426

The publisher provided a review copy of this title.

Being someone who others would consider nomadic is the norm for Fred, the main character. But in her life, there were always two constants – family and roller derby – until there weren’t anymore. This foundation crumbles to rubble in the first chapter.

After arriving in Melbourne, where her mum grew up, Fred soon discovers that everyone she meets knew a different side to her mum. 

How does Fred get used to this unwanted new life? Does she go back to roller derby or are the memories too much? How does Fred sew up the gaping hole of loss that she feels?

I recommend this book for readers who like roller derby and also those aged eight to thirteen, especially if they have lost loved ones unexpectedly. I like this book due to the way Nova Weetman puts this fantastic idea into words.

The Jammer is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


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

authors, interviews

Cristy Burne on Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano Hunter and STEAM Warrior

Cristy Burne writes fiction and nonfiction and her books are bursting with adventure, friendship, family, nature, science and technology. Cristy has worked as a science communicator for nearly 20 years across six countries. She has been a science circus performer, garbage analyst, museum writer, and atom-smashing reporter at CERN, but her all-time favourite job is working with kids to embrace the intersection between science, technology and creativity.

Today Cristy is chatting to us about her latest book in the Aussie STEM Stars series – Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano hunter and STEAM Warrior.

From the publisher:

Geologist Suzy Urbaniak is a limbo-dancer, a crepe-baker, a risk-taker and a question-asker. Winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Prize for her out-of-the-box teaching, Suzy is all about passion, innovation, and doing things your own way.


How did you come to write a biography of Suzy Urbaniak – is geology a subject you’ve studied?

I collected rocks as a kid, but never went any further with my geoscience interest. If I’d met someone like Suzy, I could very well be a geologist today! The geologists I’ve met – Suzy obviously included – are incredibly passionate about rocks and our planet. They can look at a landscape and see into our past. That’s a magical ability!

Did you meet Suzy Urbaniak in person or gather your information for her biography another way?

Suzy Urbaniak and yr 10 students in the classroom. Photo courtesy Cristy Burne.
Ms Urbaniak & yr 10 students.
Photo courtesy Cristy Burne.

I first met Suzy six years ago, in person, when I interviewed her for a newspaper. She was teaching at Kent Street Senior High School and had just won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Teaching – it was an incredible experience and I never forgot the buzzing energy of her students as they busily (and mostly autonomously) worked on their science learning.

Suzy and I stayed in touch (social media is good for something) and when she wanted help writing her life story, I immediately thought of Aussie STEM Stars. And the rest is history!

Just as for my Fiona Wood biography, Suzy and I did our interviews for the book over the phone. I think it’s easier to dive deep into memories when you’re not also thinking about eye contact, body language and social niceties. Over the phone, all you need to do is let your mind drift deep into childhood.

You’re passionate about science (and also adventures!) – have you ever stood on a volcano?

I grew up in New Zealand, so I’ve climbed in to the mouth of an extinct volcano (back when you could do that in Mt Tarawera) and hiked a whole bunch in Tongariro National Park, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire (where you can see steaming vents and boiling mud). I grew up close to Rotorua, where geothermal activity is literally just below the surface (and sometimes even on top!). I have a very healthy respect for volcanoes.

Photo shows children in blue jackets climbing in volcanic areas with green-blue lakes behind them and steam rising from the ground.
Volcano hunting! (Photo courtesy Cristy Burne)

Do you have any advice for young writers who would like to write biographies?

Biographies are non-fiction, but that doesn’t mean they’re just a long list of facts. To bring a biography to life we need to have stories, because stories bring emotion and connection. A good way to bring these stories out is to ask open questions that encourage longer answers, like: ‘Can you tell me about a time that …’

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

I’m working on a graphic novel with publisher Larrikin House. It’s a wild comedy with aliens, explosions, disgusting adventures and desperate escapes, featuring a science-loving kid named Violet whose best friend is a conspiracy theorist and whose pet hermit crab can talk. It’s ridiculous, non-stop, unapologetic science-meets-comedy FUN!

WA (Fremantle) families: MEET Cristy Burne, Suzy Urbaniak and HM Waugh at 11.30am THIS Sunday 26 February 2023 at the Perth Festival, Fremantle Arts Centre! FREE. Includes a drop-in ‘make your own mini Mars-machine’ session.

Suzy Urbaniak: Volcano hunter and STEAM warrior is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Watch Suzy Urbaniak talking about winning the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools [YouTube]

Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book

Download Cristy Burne’s Volcanic Science and Art activity ideas [PDF]

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

Book reviews by Joshua, Book reviews by kids

Book review: When the War Came Home

Image shows the cover of a children's historical novel: When the War Came Home by Lesley Parr. The cover illustration shows two girls and a boy running across a field with blue skies above and the scene is framed with red poppies.

REVIEWED BY JOSHUA, 13, NSW

When the War Came Home by Lesley Parr, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 9781526621009

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

World War I has ended. Twelve-year-old Natalie is outraged at her mother, Ffion, who was fired from work and is a month overdue on rent. On top of that, they are moving away to Ysgol Ynysfach, to her uncle’s smallhold. Her mother is an advocate for the underdog but she gets herself into trouble. Natty meets her cousins Nerys, who is a know-it-all and Huw, a seventeen year old, who was in the war. In the park, Natty meets two other war veterans, Johnny and Charles. Johnny has lost his memory, known as hysterical fugue, and the doctors tried everything they could think of to help him. Natty wants to help. But how can she?

I enjoyed this novel because I can relate to Natty and how she feels emotionally and personally. It also shows the growth and development of Natty’s mind and beliefs. The author relates to the audience, making it personal, bringing the story to life. As it is a historical fiction novel I really appreciated getting an inside view of the lifestyles back then.

In this captivating book, follow Natty’s adventure in finding her purpose and her confidence. I rate this five out of five, for ages 9 to 15.


Joshua is a regular contributor to Alphabet Soup. Read more of Joshua‘s reviews here If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by kids

Book review: Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again

Image shows the cover of a children's novel, Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again by Kathryn Lefroy. The cover illustration shows a girl with long black hair waving in the wind. She's holding a tiny black box up above her head and there appears to be a glow about the box. In the other arm she cradles a small plant in a black pot. Surrounding her and looking on are four alpacas, one black, one brown, one beige and one white. Above them is a stormy dark sky with two forks of lightning.

REVIEWED BY MIA, 10, WA

Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again by Kathryn Lefroy, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760991739

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Alex and the Alpacas Ride Again is a terrific novel written by Kathryn Lefroy. It is the second in a series of two books.

My favourite chapter was chapter 32, the last chapter, because it tells me what the alpacas will going to do with their lives next. And it wrapped up the story in an incredible way! (but I won’t give that away!)

I liked the book because it had so many twists in it and so many discoveries. It kept me reading until the very end.

In my opinion, the funniest chapter was chapter 31 because when Alex’s mum walked in, Griffin was struggling to say anything in front of her, and straight away I knew that Griffin had a crush on her!

I would recommend this book to anyone ages 9 to 13 as it has some difficult words in the novel. I would also recommend this book to anyone who is fussy with their books, because this one will surely keep you reading until the very end!   

Read an excerpt from the book at the publisher’s website!


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

Book reviews by Iona Presentation College, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Footprints on the Moon

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

Footprints on the Moon by Lorraine Marwood

Footprints on the Moon by Lorraine Marwood, UQP, ISBN 9780702262838

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Sharnie Burley is in her early teens and is struggling with the problems of life. The year is 1969, around the time of the first moon landing and the Vietnam war. Sharnie’s sister Cas meets a soldier who has returned from the Vietnam war, after being conscripted. Cas becomes an anti-war protester, which causes conflict within the family …

The story is told through the eyes of Sharnie, as she starts to deal with the difficulties of adolescence. She is beginning her high school journey and finding it difficult to make new friends. It is a story about family relationships and growing up in challenging times.

This captivating and engaging story is easy to read and has an interesting storyline. I think that this book would suit children aged around 10-13 and I would definitely recommend it!

Read our interview with the author of Footprints on the Moon.


Iona Presentation College students are members of Alphabet Soup’s review team. This is Charlotte’s first review for Alphabet Soup. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Book reviews by Iona Presentation College

Book review: Girl of the Southern Sea

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

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman, UQP, ISBN 9780702262937

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

When Nia’s life is turned upside down, can she still find the strength to keep going and persevere? I love how Nia is faced with so many difficult challenges throughout the book and how she gets through them all. 

Her mother died giving birth to her younger brother, Rudi, her Bakap (dad) is always getting drunk and her best friend is making her keep a bad secret. Yet, Nina still has time to work the fritters cart, to help pay the rent, and look after her brother, Rudi. I think Nia is the strongest character from any book I have ever read, she is smart, helps others and is very devoted to her family. 

If I had to rate this book I would give it 100 out of 10,  that is how good it is. I loved learning some Indonesian words, I feel that it was a great touch to put Indonesian words in a book based in Indonesia. Overall, this is one of the best books I have ever read. I hope I can be as strong as Nia when life faces me with challenges.

Read our interview with the author of Girl of the Southern Sea.


Stephanie 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!

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Top reads: November 2020

It’s the last day of November and that means it’s time for some recommended reads from the members of our Top Reads team. Top Reads is a list of books nominated by the kids reading them. Every month (from February to November) we post the books our Top Reads Team loved reading during the preceding month.

Today’s post is the final Top Reads post for 2020. We hope you have a stack of great books to read over the summer holidays and we’ll be back with more recommended reading in 2021. Here are this month’s recommendations:

You’ll find a recommended list from our Top Reads Team on the last day of every month (February to November). If you’d like even more recommendations, browse all through all our Top Reads ever!

*All our Top Readers are kids aged 13 and under. No grownups allowed!

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!