Posted in authors, interviews

Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Just Write


Teena Raffa-Mulligan writes poetry, short stories, picture books and novels. She has also worked as a journalist and editor. Today we’re pleased to welcome her to Alphabet Soup to chat about about her latest book, Just Write – an easy guide to writing stories.

From the publisher:

Just Write can help to kick-start the process for kids who are stuck at the start. Find out how to come up with ideas, create interesting characters, paint word pictures and more in this easy-to-follow guide full of activities and helpful examples.

How did you come to write Just Write?

I never had any trouble writing stories when I was a kid. My pen flew over the page and I could barely keep up with the ideas spilling out of my imagination. I had a head full of stories and would even run home from the park to write them down. When my children were in primary school, I became a parent helper in the classroom and realised there were lots of kids who struggled with story writing.

Around the same time, my first picture book was published and I did some school visits. The idea of putting together a book for children about writing took shape as I had more books released and continued to share my love of stories in talks and workshops. The first version, which was called What Comes Next? Story Writing Made Easy for Children, was accepted for publication but that never happened so the manuscript stayed in my filing cabinet for years.

Last year I had extra time at home because of the COVID lockdowns and restrictions but I didn’t feel like writing anything new. I did need a project to work on so I decided to take another look at some of my unpublished manuscripts. You Can Be a Writer came out in January and is a picture book for early primary children that is based on a talk I give in schools. Just Write is the next level up, so it’s for mid to upper primary age.

I hope the books will encourage children to see story writing as a fun activity. There’s a blank page waiting for our imagination to take us on an exciting adventure and we don’t know where it will lead until we start out.

What’s the WORST writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Be disciplined, write for set hours every day, work on one story from start to finish, and stick to one genre so readers know what to expect.

This may be excellent advice for another writer – I’ve learned it isn’t a fit for me, so I don’t have a set routine. I’m always working on a range of different stories and I don’t work from start to finish. A lot of the time my stories come together like jigsaw puzzles.

You write poetry, picture books, children’s novels, novels for teens and novels for adults. Which do you find easiest to write?

Anything short that I can write quickly and move on to the next bright, shiny new idea! It takes a lot of focus to write a novel and I am easily distracted so sometimes it will be months between writing one chapter and the next. I used to get really cranky with myself for not being more disciplined and concentrating on one story at a time. I’ve now realised this stop and start approach to novels works really well for me because when I return to the story after a break it will head in unexpected directions.

You love reading as well as writing! Can you recommend a book you’ve enjoyed recently?

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson kept me so engrossed in the story I read it in two sittings. I had to stop for lunch! It is all about friendship and breaking the rules and Julia captures Maddie’s voice brilliantly. Another story I loved recently was Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay, set in 1979 when the world was waiting for pieces of Skylab to fall back to Earth. Meg is one of my favourite authors and everything she writes is exceptional, from the language she uses to her vividly drawn characters and understanding of human nature.  

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

I’m working on a novel about a kid who finds a mysterious object at the local quarry the night after his next-door neighbour claims to have been chased by a flying saucer. That night Callum notices his toes have turned red and as the days pass the bright stain creeps steadily up his body. He can’t let Mum know or she won’t let him go to his first ever school camp. Lara from up the street has a secret too, and when the aliens turn up in search of the missing bits of their spaceship, the two kids have to decide what to do. It’s the sort of story I like writing because I let my imagination run free and until I write each scene, I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Just Write is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.


Read our 2019 interview with the author

Visit Teena Raffa-Mulligan’s website for more about her and her books

Just Write by Teena Raffa-Mulligan
Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Gisela Kaplan, bird and primate scientist


Gisela Kaplan Bird and primate scientist, story told by Emily Gale (book cover)

Gisela Kaplan, Bird and Primate Scientist by Emily Gale, Wild Dingo Press, ISBN 9781925893465

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

How did Gisela Kaplan, a young German survivor of WWII become a world-leading expert in the behaviour of animals?

This book is a biography of Gisela Kaplan written by Emily Gale. Gisela Kaplan had a hard life in Germany after the Second World War. Then after she immigrated to Australia, the book shows how other people helped her along in her career as she played a role in primate and bird science. In addition, there are notes to help explain words you don’t understand.

When she arrives in Australia what jobs could she take? How did she learn a second language, and how does she support her daughter? Read Aussie STEM Stars Gisela Kaplan to find out more and all the answers to these questions!

I like this book and for me, it is five-star rated because it shows an emotional story of immigration. It also shows how much practice has to go into work till you can fulfil your dream, as you can see how she consistently worked away from home, in the work field.   

This book would be for ages ten and up to read by themselves although most children from the age of six to ten can read with someone to help the children understand. Go grab a copy of this amazing book either online or hard copy.

Read a sample chapter from this book

Read our interview with the author

Gabriel is a regular book reviewer at Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here.

Posted in competitions

Guinness World Records 2021 (+ giveaway)

We know many of our readers are fans of the Guinness World Records books and with the release of the 2021 edition we’re excited to share a peek at one of the records – a record that’s bookish, and speedy … and involves knocking things down! We’re also thrilled to be collaborating with the publisher for a Guinness World Records 2021 giveaway. *** THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED***

From the publisher:

– Travel through the Solar System and see the planets come to life with a free augmented-reality feature
– Encounter the cutest, weirdest, most dangerous and exotic creatures on our home planet
– Meet the world’s tallest, shortest, hairiest and heaviest humans
– Marvel at the latest high scores, speed runs and players at the top of their game in eSports and beyond
– Get the lowdown on the world’s most successful and prolific actors, musicians, TV stars and influencers
– Review the greatest sports achievements from the past year and celebrate today’s top athletes

Check out this bookish record, featured in Guinness World Records 2021:

Most books toppled in a domino fashion: Kmart Australia took an hour to set up 3000 copies of Guinness World Records — before knocking them all over — at their annual conference on 31 October 2018 in Queenstown, New Zealand. A total of 334 employees took part, beating the previous best of 2500, set by Aconex (AUS) set on 20 July 2017.
Extracted from Guinness World Records 2021, published by Pan Macmillan Australia (available now!)

Want to win a copy of Guinness World Records 2021? We have three copies of the book to giveaway, thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia. Here’s how to enter:

  • Email with GWR2021 in the subject line. In the body of the email state your name.
  • Entries close 11.59pm (AWST) on 28 September 2020.
  • The winners will be contacted by email and we will request a postal address at that time. Winners’ names and Australian states will be announced on Alphabet Soup’s blog on Tuesday 29 September 2021.
  • Entrants must be aged 18 or over (children can ask an adult to enter on their behalf).
  • The prize will only be posted to an Australian address.
  • See Terms & conditions for more information.

Good luck!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Kobe

Book review: Minecraft Guide to Survival


Minecraft Guide to: Survival by Mojang AB, Egmont UK, ISBN 9781405296502

Kobe reviewed her own copy of this book.

ARGH! You just can’t find the right book to guide you through Survival Mode in Minecraft, what should you do? Well, I’ve got the perfect solution for you: read the amazing, fantastic, and spectacular Minecraft Guide to: Survival book! This official book is developed by Mojang, the creators of Minecraft and it is absolutely the unmistakable guide to Survival Mode in Minecraft with every piece of info and tips!

I believe that this book is totally and utterly the most ultimate Survival guide you can wish for! There, solved your problem, but here comes another, how do you use the book? Using the book is quite easy because all you need to do is read the book through and if you come across ANY problems, really look and seek some information to help yourself to any situations you have! How simple is that?

Now imagine you’re playing just fine, hold on! What’s that thing right next to you? Hmm, looks like some sort of creature that swims in water, EEK! It also has some creepy teeth and weird eyes! That’s exactly what happened to me! I was doing amazingly well looking at the stream I was next to behind my tree, then weird tentacles rose out of the water and with circle of teeth! But how could I know that it was only a squid rather than a nerve racking monster without this amazing guide book? If I had that book at that time, I wouldn’t be so creeped out!

Now you can immediately see how your brain is urging you to get that book! I’m just saying, you are not going to survive in Survival Mode for that long if you’re a beginner and you haven’t gotten this book already because when I tried Survival without the book, it was only a matter of time before a creeper exploded right next to me, so I died.

Now I am 100% sure you are going to get this book as soon as possible! Have a good time reading, adventurous reader!

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, Oxley Christian College

Book review: Koala

Koala by Claire Saxby and Julie Vivas. Image: picture book with blue sky background and an illustration of a koala in the crook of a gumtree branch. REVIEWED BY CINDY, 7, VIC
Koala by Claire Saxby,
illustrated by Julie Vivas,
Walker Books,
ISBN 9781925126396

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

A koala mum ignores her own little baby koala and says ‘Climb, little koala, it’s time to find your own way’.

Why can’t Koala jump back into his mother’s pouch now? Will his mother come to save him if he falls off the branches on his way to find his own home?

This book is a story about a young koala and his mother advising him about what he should be able to do as he’s growing up.

The book has the extra features of non-fiction text and a poem on each page.

I recommend this book for kids who love koalas, particularly kids who are 3-7 years old. I give this book a rating of 8 out of 10.

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!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Matilda

Book review: Do not lick this book

Do not lick this bookREVIEWED BY MATILDA, 11, WA

Do not lick this book by Idan Ben-Barak, illustrated by Julian Frost, A & U Children’s, ISBN 9781760293055

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

This picture book is an information book about germs — how small they are, and where you’ll find them. This is an interactive book and as part of the story you have to take Min (a microbe) on an adventure. Do not lick this book includes photographs taken with a microscope to show close-ups of paper, teeth, your shirt, and your belly button (your skin), as well as comic-style illustrations.

I like how it turns a serious topic into a fun story with cute germ characters. I found the teeth page very interesting with the close-up view of your teeth.

This book is bright, funny, and child-friendly. It’s great for ages 4+. I’m  11 and I still found it entertaining and interesting. So did my mum (and she’s 43).

Matilda is one of our regular book reviewers. You can read Matilda’s other reviews here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by kids, Book reviews by Matilda

Book review: Amazing animals of Australia’s national parks


Amazing animals of Australia's national parks.Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks by Gina M Newton, National Library of Australia, ISBN 9780642278883

Matilda received a copy of this book from the publisher.

In this nonfiction book about Australian animals, there is one page for each animal with the headings:

What is it?

Where does it live? and

What is its life like?

I like the way the book is split up into the climates that the animals live in and the photographs are extremely professional. There is a ‘how to use this book’ page, which is really helpful for understanding certain symbols used in the book.

My favourite animal in this book was the Rufous Bettong (Aepyprymnus rufescens). This animal lives in woodlands, grasslands and forests.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves animals and wants to know more about Australian animals.

Matilda is one of our regular book reviewers. You can read Matilda’s other reviews here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Joseph, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Letters and Numbers


Letters and Numbers book cover

Joseph reviewed his own copy of this book.

Letters and Numbers by Armand Jammot, Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 9781742700687

This book includes actual rounds of puzzles from the tv show Letters and Numbers (in the UK the same show is called Countdown). It consists of letter games (you are allocated letters and you have to make the longest word you can), number games (you are given a list of numbers to use and you can use any mathematical operation to arrive at a target number), and ‘word mixes’ (like a single crossword clue, plus a list of letters and you must solve the crossword clue by rearranging the letters to reveal the right word).

Each player is on their own when attempting the puzzles and it’s a competition to see who’s the best at each puzzle.

You have to complete each puzzle in 30 seconds, but in my family we always play for one minute. That way the youngest family members have more of a chance. I always like to play a round at dinner time with all my family having a go. The puzzles are challenging for all ages.

In the book there are 50 rounds of puzzles and the answers from the tv contestants and tv ‘masters’ are included at the back of the book.

I would recommend this book for families with children 9 and above, because younger kids probably won’t keep up with the style of puzzles.

I would rate this book 9 out of 10 because I thoroughly enjoy playing it.

Joseph is one of our regular book reviewers. His most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of Mister Cassowary. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Joseph, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Australian Kids Through the Years


Australian Kids Through the Years

Australian Kids Through the Years by Tania McCartney, ill. Andrew Joyner, NLA Publishing, ISBN 9780642278593

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Australian Kids Through the Years is an easy-to-read, informative, and beautifully illustrated picture book about Australia’s history. It is taken from the point of view of kids from different time periods.

The book has a different era every four pages — the first two include a brief description, and the next two are a setting from the era.

This book feels light in mood. The illustrations are much like colourful cartoons, with clear yet complex pictures. You might recognise the illustrator from Too Many Elephants in This House (a picture book written by Ursula Dubosarsky). My favourite pages in the book are the 1990s — everything seems modern but it’s still different from how things are now.

At the end of the book there is a summary of each time period, including photographs and paintings from each time.

I like that you can extract lots of information really easily. This is a great book for kids aged 7+ because of the easy language and because it’s fun to read.

Joseph is one of our regular book reviewers. His most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of Ugly. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

Posted in book reviews, Book reviews by Joseph, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Ugly by Robert Hoge


Ugly (cover)

Ugly by Robert Hoge, Hachette Australia, ISBN 9780733634338

Joseph borrowed a copy of this book from his local library.

Ugly is Robert Hoge’s autobiography (this is the edition for children). It starts with Robert being born at the hospital and there’s a debate about whether or not his parents will even take him home because he has a tumour on his face and there’s something wrong with his legs. Eventually his brothers and sisters vote to keep him, and he does come home.

In the book you learn about his early childhood, primary school and high school years. There’s a lot about how he made friends and overcame teasing, lots of operations and walking with artificial legs. There’s a list of nicknames he was called in high school (some are good and some are bad).

This was a very interesting book and I liked the attitude that we’re all different in some way and there’s always a way to overcome differences. I would have liked the book to be longer, and I would have liked to read something about Robert after high school and into adulthood.

Mature readers aged 9 and above would enjoy this book and learning about Robert’s challenges in childhood.

Read an extract from Ugly on the publisher’s site.

Joseph is one of our regular book reviewers. His most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of Adam Spencer’s Big Book of Numbers. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!