Book reviews by Gabriel, Book reviews by kids

Book review: Mars Awakens

Image shows the cover of a children's novel: Mars Awakens by HM Waugh. The cover illustration shows the silhouettes of two children, standing face to face. Behind them is a greenish sky over the red ground on Mars.

REVIEWED BY GABRIEL, 11, NSW

Mars Awakens by HM Waugh, A&U Children’s, ISBN 9781760526979

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Mars Awakens is a sci-fi novel written by H. M. Waugh. The book is set in the future after humans colonised Mars. Something falls out of the sky near two separate colonies. Is it backup and resources from Earth? Holt from the first colony and Dee from the other one separately fly over to the crash site to investigate and meet for the first time. One of the colonies thought they already knew about the other colony and despised them, while the other didn’t even know that the first colony existed.

Dee and Holt face many troubles and will need to work together to survive and tell their communities about some new information they just obtained.  

What I liked about the book was how the author used science and accurate facts to form the story. I also appreciate it because it has a fun and enjoyable storyline. 

I recommend the book for people in primary school around 3rd to 6th grade, also for children that enjoy sci-fi and science.

Check out our earlier interview with the author, HM Waugh.


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 reviews by Rory

Book review: Stellarphant

REVIEWED BY RORY, 9, WA

Stellarphant by James Foley, Fremantle Press, ISBN 9781760990732

The publisher provided a review copy of this book.

Stellarphant is an inspiring story to teach young children about persisting. Stella the elephant wants to become an astronaut but there are many things that hold her back such as she needs a spacesuit, a rocket, space education and crew!

It’s an ordinary Monday at 9am when suddenly an elephant bursts into Space Command asking to be an astronaut! Stella doesn’t understand when the recruiter says she can’t. Stella then sets to work trying to become an astronaut but along the way she faces many challenges. Once again, she asks the recruiter one more time to get his response …

My favourite part in Stellarphant is when Stella is determined to become an astronaut by working hard because if you work hard, you can get anything! Also, I liked the timeline at the end of the book listing all the animal things that have been into space. Did you know that in my birthyear (2011) a bobtail squid was sent into space! Also, the weirdest one I read was in 1989 fertilised chicken eggs were sent into space!

Overall, I’d rate Stellarphant ten out of ten because it’s inspiring, funny and reaching for the stars!

Take a sneak peek inside Stellarphant!

Read our interview with the author-illustrator, James Foley


Rory is a regular reviewer for Alphabet Soup. You can read more of his reviews here. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

authors, illustrator, interviews

James Foley on Stellarphant

MEET THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

James Foley makes picture books, middle grade novels and comics for kids. His work has been published as books, in anthologies, and in magazines and newspapers. Today we are thrilled to chat to James about his latest book, Stellarphant.

From the publisher:

Stella wants to be an astronaut. There is only one problem – Stella is an elephant. Every time she applies to Space Command, they come with a new reason she can’t join. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and Stella is determined to reach for the stars.


What sparked the idea for this story?

I was at our annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Rottnest Retreat, June 2014. Sitting around in the cottage with my friends and we were all sketching and scribing away. I made this random pen and watercolour sketch of an elephant and penguin as astronauts. Elephants had turned up in my sketchbooks regularly over the years, but never as an astronaut. The story that became Stellarphant grew from there. 

I’m also a massive nerd who loves learning things, and I was reading about all the species that have been to space. The back endpapers of the book were another early image I couldn’t get out of my head. 

The endpapers showcase the huge number of animals sent to space since 1947. Was there a particular animal you were surprised to discover had been to space? 

I was most surprised that the first earthlings to circumnavigate the moon were not humans; it was some tortoises, mealworms and wineflies, sent by the Soviets! I also loved that there was an experiment that sent fertilised chicken eggs to space – it was called ‘Chix in Space’ and was sponsored by KFC. 

The endpapers in Stellarphant aren’t even the full number of animals that have been to space, they were just a bunch of the most fascinating ones. 

Stella shows resilience, persistence and creative problem solving skills in the face of repeated ‘no’s. Have you ever been told it’s not possible to do something and persisted anyway?

I was really lucky that when I was younger, and being a writer/illustrator was still just a dream, I didn’t have anyone tell me I couldn’t do it. My parents and siblings and friends were all very supportive of my creativity. Though I can be incredibly stubborn, so maybe they knew that they couldn’t stop me if I really wanted to try.

Sometimes it’s your own head that is telling you no; that often happens to me when I’m in the earliest stages of a new project, or even just starting a new page. The little doubting voice flares up, and I wonder if I’ll be able to finish the task ahead. When that happens, I find that my fear of not meeting my deadline usually trumps the fear of failure, haha! I know that I just have to get the work done. 

The book is definitely about determination, but for me it’s also about discrimination, and diversity, and equity, and feminism. And it’s also about learning to let go of what other people think of you; to stop looking for approval from others, and to realise that you are good enough the way you are. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you went about creating the book? Words or illustrations first?

The whole story grew from that image of the elephant and penguin spacewalking. 

That’s how it goes with my stories, most of the time; they start with an image (either in a sketchbook or in my head), then the plot grows from there. 

When I first started trying to write the text for Stellarphant I was pretty inexperienced at writing. The manuscript was, uh, not great, haha! It took me a while, and it took writing a bunch of other stories, to figure out how to make Stellarphant click.

Now I’ve learned from experience that it’s best for me to hold off on writing down a new idea until I’ve thought about it for a really long time; I need to let the ideas percolate and simmer in my head until I’ve got all the plot beats. I’m definitely a planner; I need to know the beginning, middle and end of the story. I won’t start writing unless I know where it’s going. 

As I’m brainstorming and writing, I’ll get pictures in my head. So once I have the story completely written out, it doesn’t usually take too long to scribble out a sketchy little storyboard for the whole thing. From there I can edit, improve, rearrange, until the words and pictures are fitting together just so. 

That’s how it worked with Stellarphant. I did one scribbly little version of the storyboard; then maybe two full-size black and white rough versions of the book. Then I figured out the colour scheme and did a colour rough for the book. Then I did the finals. It was a fairly straightforward process compared to my first book, where I made 13 different storyboards! 

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

I’ve got two projects on the go – the first is a comic short story which will be published in 2022.

The other is a MASSIVE project that I’d love to talk about, but it’s still super secret! It’ll come out in early 2023. 

Stellarphant is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookstore or local library.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Meet James Foley: Come to a free book signing + drawing workshop! 13 November 2021 [WA event]

Take a peek inside the book!

Download the Teachers’ Notes

Download fantastic Stellarphant activities and templates [click & then scroll down the page]

Young Writers in Action

Young Writers in Action: My Alien Friend

My alien friend

by Anouksha, 10, VIC

Today at school we had art. The teacher said that you could draw anything you wanted to draw. I drew a spotty alien with four arms, two tentacles and an eye. Behind it in the background was planet Mars with a beautiful starry night sky to go with it. We were allowed to take our artwork home so I took it home and stuck it on my bedroom door.

The next day I woke up to a rustling sound. I looked everywhere but all I could see was my very own room with nothing unusual. That was strange. Then I kept on looking for the mystery sound. Wait a minute, suddenly my alien artwork I did at art yesterday caught my eye. It was MOVING!!! Suddenly out popped an ALIEN!!! It popped out from my alien artwork. I screamed and then mum came in. I pointed my finger straight at the alien but then it vanished! I told mum there was an alien before but it vanished. Mum took no notice of it and said I was daydreaming but I wasn’t.

Just when Mum left, the alien reappeared! I didn’t scream again because I’m pretty sure the alien would vanish again. Suddenly the alien started talking in a really weird language that I did not understand. I gave a puzzled look in return. Well, I guess the alien understood because the alien gave me a pair of headphones. I put it on my head and when the alien spoke, it would translate into English. “That is so cool” I said.

The alien said: “My name is Zing Zang. I have been transported to earth by your wonderful alien drawing, but I can’t find my way back to Mars. Can you help me?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Tomorrow we can camp outside in tents so we might be able to find Mars,” I suggested.
“Ok,” said Zing Zang.

It was nearly night. We set our tents up and we were now gazing into the stars.Stars. Photo from pexels.com

“All I can see is billions and billions of stars,” said Zing Zang. After a few minutes I heard Zing Zang shout out “Spaceship,spaceship,spaceship!”
“Zing Zang did you find Mars?” I asked surprised.

“No, but I found a spaceship that was a spaceship from Mars,” Replied Zing Zang. “Now all we have to do to get their attention is turn around 3 times, jump two times and clap,” said Zing Zang.

So we turned around 3 times, jumped 2 times and clapped. Suddenly a big shiny spaceship landed on our garden. Our garden was big enough for the spaceship to land. The spaceship landed and signalled something to Zing Zang. I gave Zing Zang a great big hug even though he was pretty slimy! Zing Zang walked into the spaceship and then I waved goodbye. The spaceship zoomed away into the starry night sky. In the sky the Spaceship was as small as a speck of dust.
“Oh no, I forgot to give Zing Zang the headphones,” I said. At least I could keep it to remember Zing Zang.

“Anouksha, Anouksha,” said someone. Tap, Tap! I woke up and saw my mum tapping on my shoulder and saying wake up. So all this was a dream?
“Awww” I moaned. I wish it was real. When my mum left I heard a rustling sound. “Maybe this wasn’t a dream after all.”


This is Anouksha’s first story published with Alphabet Soup. If YOU would like to send us a story, drawing, poem, or book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy writing!

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Summer 2009 issue – out 16 November!

Issue 5 cover, Alphabet SoupIssue 5 will be arriving in your letterboxes from 16 November. We love the bright and summery cover – it was designed by Kate Larson, winner of our design-a-cover competition!

We received many many excellent entries and choosing a winner was very difficult. We thought Kate’s cover was eye-catching, we loved the kids on the beach, and the design left room for the Alphabet Soup logo and a few words about what’s inside the issue. Congratulations Kate!

So, what will you find inside the upcoming issue?

  • Q&A with Christine Harris, author of the Audrey of the Outback series.
  • Meet an astronomer, Peter Birch.
  • Stories, poems and book reviews.
  • Crossword.
  • Kids’ writing.
  • Summer writing competition (win a $20 book voucher!)

If you’d like to buy a copy online, subscribe, or renew your subscription, visit our website: www.alphabetsoup.net.au.

Keep reading and writing!

Rebecca Newman, Editor