Exhibition of picture book artwork

Artwork from Mirror by Jeannie Baker. (Ipswich Art Gallery, Queensland)

"Mirror (cover)"See the artwork from the picture book, Mirror—detailed collages in the book show the similarities in the life of a boy living in Sydney and a boy living in Morocco.

This exhibition is suitable for all ages and there will be art activities available.

When: Monday, 18 July – Sunday, 2 October 2011
Where: Children’s Gallery, Ipswich Art Gallery, d’Arcy Doyle Place, Nicholas Street, Ipswich (Central Queensland)
For more info: Tel: 07 3810 7222 or email the art gallery.
Book reviews by kids, Duncraig Primary School

Book reviews by Duncraig Primary: Day 5 pt 2

Duncraig Primary School (in WA) has sent us some year 5 students’ book reviews.* We’ve been posting two reviews a day for the last 5 days and this is the final review. Well done to all the students for their fabulous reviews and for sharing some great books!

Pearl Verses the World, by Sally Murphy, ill. by Heather Potter. ISBN 9781921150937, Walker Books Australia.

"Pearl Verses the World"Reviewed by Lauren, age 10, Duncraig Primary.

This award-winning book is fantastic if you love reading books with characters, through their eyes and about their lives.

This book has won TWO awards WOW! One is a bronze award for a short-listed book and the second award is for a silver award for an honour book.

Pearl is a girl who is very fond of her grandma. She tells us at the beginning of the book that she is alone and that she is a group of one. Some of the groups at school which are not groups of one and are very tight are the ballet girls, rough kids and footy boys. Pearl tells us about her life at home and at her school. She soon finds out that she is really good at writing poems.

The wonderful illustrations that Heather Potter has done really put the picture in your mind, like you are there watching it in your own eyes. So, if you like books that make you feel you’re there watching the story, borrow it from a friend or take it out of the library today or buy it at a local book store.

I loved reading this book because it had poems in it and I especially loved the poem at the end. This book also has a bit of sadness in it, therefore I would recommend it for ages between 8 and 12 years.

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

*Duncraig Primary is a member of our Undercover Readers Club. Books reviewed here are the students’ own.

"Undercover Readers Club logo"

authors, info, teachers' resources

Interview with Sandy Fussell, author of the Samurai Kids series

Author, Sandy Fussell. Photo courtesy of the author. Artwork by Sarah Davis

Our author Q&A in issue 7 features Sandy Fussell, author of the Samurai Kids series, Polar Boy, and Jaguar Warrior. We could only include a selection of questions in the magazine, so we thought we’d post the full interview on Soup Blog. Enjoy!

Where do you live?

I live on the south coast of New South Wales, on the escarpment, which means I live between the mountains and the sea. What I like best is the wildlife we find in our backyard – possums, pythons, parrots, blue tongues, tree frogs, water dragons, a wallaby and once, even an echidna.

What made you become a writer?

My 10 year-old-son stopped reading overnight. One day he was an avid reader and the next day he was insisting ‘all books are boring’. Nothing I tried would change his mind so I suggested he write a story that wasn’t boring. It was my job to write his words down. I found that by the time the story was finished, I really wanted to write one of my own.

What do you do when not writing?

I love reading. Being a reader is an important part of being a writer. I also like to do puzzles like crosswords and sodoku. At the moment I am learning to draw manga. I never get bored because there are so many things I want to do that I will never even get close to starting.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

I was lucky. A commissioning editor at Walker Books heard me read a few pages at a workshop and she liked it enough to ask to see the complete manuscript. Two months later it was accepted and I was on the way to becoming a published author. I did however have wait two years before the book was finally available. Part of the reason for the delay was the beautiful illustrations by Rhian Nest-James. Definitely worth waiting for!

What was your favourite book as a child?

I didn’t really have a favourite as a child although I have many favourite children’s books now. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the library but I didn’t own many books. The only ones I had were birthday and Christmas presents. When I was nine I was given a set of two books for my birthday – one was stories about wizards and the other stories about witches. I don’t remember the titles but I remember how magical it felt to be reading them.

My current favourite children’s books are The Tale of Despereaux (although I didn’t think the movie was half as good as the book), The Graveyard Book, The Ranger’s Apprentice series and The Dragonkeeper series.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere. Sometimes it’s a strange word I hear, like ‘snizzle’ (I used that one in Polar Boy), sometimes it’s an overheard snatch of conversation, a picture or a snippet of history. When something sparks my interest I think about it for a while and the story starts to tell itself. In the beginning, the only idea I had for White Crane was one sentence: My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. But I loved that sentence because it asked so many questions: about samurai, about Niya and about being a kid with one leg. And when I started to answer the questions, I found a story I really wanted to tell.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

(1)  Read a lot. It’s no co-incidence that successful writers are keen readers. Not only do you learn from the work of other authors, reading encourages you to dream and imagine.

(2)  Write a lot. Being a successful writer is like being a soccer player or a netballer – you have to practise.

(3)  Have a go. Now, more than ever, with the help of the Internet and some wonderful recent books by teenagers, there are opportunities for early publication. Magazines. Websites. Blogs,

Of your own books, which is your favourite?

That’s a bit like asking me which of my children is my favourite *smile* I would say something different every day of the week but in the end, I love them equally. Same with my books. With the Samurai Kids series and it is wonderful to be able to spend so much time getting to know my characters and to take them on so many different adventures. But I also like to explore in a completely different direction and am looking forward to writing a story idea I have about Africa.

What are your hobbies?

I like scrapbooking. I often joke and say the most useful skills I learned were in kindergarten – cutting and pasting. But those same skills give me hours of fun sorting family and holiday photos and organising them with a few words to hold the memories in place. I try lots of new things even though I’m not very good at most of them. When I was researching Samurai Kids I went to sword fighting classes and I was hopeless at that. Still had a lot of fun and now I have a practice sword I take on school visits. My newest hobby is manga art and the next item on my wish list is learning computer animation.

Do you have any pets?

Our family has two Burmese cats. One is a huge sook and launches himself from the top of furniture to get a cuddle. The other is very affectionate but not quite so acrobatic. We also have a snake, frogs and tropical fish. In the past we’ve had mice, deerhounds, parrots, a cockatoo, lovebirds, budgies and guinea pigs. Soon we’re getting a rabbit. I belong to a family of animal lovers.

Are there any writers who influence your work?

I am influenced by everything I read in one way or another. That’s why writers need to be avid readers.

I have also been lucky to have had the support of a number of excellent writers for children and young adults. Di Bates, who wrote Crossing the Line which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for Young Adult Literature in 2009, was my mentor for many years. I am in a writer’s workshop group which includes twice CBCA Honour book author Bill Condon. I could easily write a list a page long of writers and aspiring authors who have helped and encouraged me.

Have you been to all the places where your books are set?

Only in my head! I haven’t travelled much at all. People are always surprised to find I wrote Polar Boy having only been to the snow for a few days. But I have a good imagination. I watch documentaries, read books, look at pictures and then I close my eyes. I write historical fiction. I can’t go back in time but that doesn’t stop me writing about hundreds of years ago. In the same way it doesn’t matter to me whether I’ve been to the places I write about either. In my imagination I can go anywhere. Any time.

What are you working on now?

My newest book is Jaguar Warrior. It’s the story of Atl, a young Aztec slave boy, waiting to be sacrificed. Atl is a fast runner so when the Spanish invade and messenger is needed to take a plea for help to the nearest city, Atl is released. It’s about choices. Will Atl run for himself or the city who wanted to kill him? Or will he just hide from the Captain who hunts him? It’s an adventure but a very dangerous one.

I am currently editing Samurai Kids 5: Fire Lizard which will be released in September 2010. Yesterday I saw some wonderful illustrations for the first few chapters. And I am writing Book 6, which might be called Bat Wings. In my To Do pile is the manuscript for my first picture book, Sad the Dog. It’s a busy time for me but I feel very lucky to be working at something I love.

If a young writer or reader wanted to contact you, where could they find you?

I can be contacted by email at I always respond and love to get emails from young people. I am also in the Samurai Kids forum every day, so anyone interested can talk to me there about writing, my books, ninjas, samurai and all sorts of things. Sometimes we have competitions and members get a coloured belt and samurai (or ninja) weapon based on the number of posts they make.

You can find out more about Sandy Fussell’s books by visiting her website:

info, teachers' resources

Issue 7 out May 17!

Inside the winter 2010 issue of Alphabet Soup:

  • Meet Sandy Fussell, author of the Samurai Kids series, Polar Boy, and Jaguar Warrior
  • stories and poems by adults and children
  • inside a hotel made of ice
  • writing tips for kids, from The Book Chook
  • book reviews
  • writing competition – win a $20 book voucher!

We’ll also have details of the 2010 design-a-cover competition. The winner will have their artwork featured on the cover of our summer 2010 issue (out in November 2010). For details, check inside issue 7, or visit the competitions page on the Alphabet Soup website on Monday 17 May 2010.

Are you a subscriber? Subscribers are entered into a draw every season – this season’s winner receives a $200 book pack from Walker Books! (Books may differ from those pictured.)

Visit the Alphabet Soup website to subscribe online.

authors, info

Mark Greenwood: but wait, there’s more!

Mark Greenwood is an author with a passion for Australian history. When we Mark Greenwood (Photo by Frane Lessac)interviewed him, Mark  had so many interesting things to say that we had a terrible time trying to decide which bits to leave out! (We had to cut it down to two pages for the magazine’s Q&A.)

You can read his Q&A on pages 4 and 5 of the Spring 2009 issue of Alphabet Soup. But we didn’t want you to miss out on the extra stuff, so we decided to include the whole interview here. (Thanks Mark!)

What do you love best about being a writer?

Being an author has to be one of the best jobs in the world! I get to visit schools and libraries and festivals and meet students of all ages. I spend time with other talented authors and like sharing ideas with creative people.

Fortuyn's Ghost by Mark Greenwood, ill. by Mark WilsonI enjoy researching the past and travelling to where my stories take place, whether that be remote Central Australia for The Legend of Lasseter’s Reef, the Abrolhos Islands for Fortuyn’s Ghost or to Galipolli for Simpson and His Donkey. These adventures are what makes writing special to me.

Where do you live?

I live in a town steeped in history. It is a place of significance for Indigenous people. Convicts built many buildings. It has a spectacular river that runs through its port. It has two prisons, but no prisoners – only ghosts. It has a harbour and a wharf, a gothic arts centre and a town hall clock that chimes every hour. You can get a great coffee where I live. It even has its own AFL football team.

What made you become a writer?

Before I was a writer I was a professional musician. I spent many years touring and recording in Australia and overseas with the record producers and well known musicians. I learnt the language of lyrics by listening to great songwriters and then developed from writing lyrics into creating stories for children. Music has had a big influence on my writing in terms of being aware of the rhythm and flow of words. I associate language and rhythm with pleasure. Initially music was a way for me to connect with people. Now I find writing gives me that connection.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

It took many years, much hard work, many rejections from publishers and numerous hours revising my words before I finally got my first book published. Rejection letters from publishers are like ‘badges of honour’. Every writer I know has collected a few badges.

After having a number of books published I still consider myself a writer with much to learn. To strive to write well is an ongoing, lifelong process. I’m passionate about learning and always trying to improve.

Is there a ‘downside’ to being a writer?

I like the solitude of writing and immersing myself in a character, a time and a place but sometimes the craft of writing can be a lonely one. The only other downside for me is that writing and travelling takes up a lot of my time and I wish there were more hours in the day so I could get behind the drum kit and play with some of my favourite musicians. Our planet has an extraordinary musical diversity. I’ve always been interested in exploring the power and mystery of percussion from cultures around the world.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I don’t have a favourite author because there are so many writers I admire, but the Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. That book stands out as one of my favourites. I like the language, the story and the symbolism. My father first read it to me when I was young and it’s a book I’ve re-read many times since. It’s a story of man’s place within nature.  It’s about pride and determination and an honourable old man who will not accept defeat. Hemingway uses characters, objects, figures and colours to represent ideas or concepts. It’s a beautifully written book.

Do you have any pets?

I have goldfish and a cat named Nugget (who sleeps all day long). Over the years we’ve had rabbits and guinea pigs and another tomcat called Milo. But my favourite pet is my faithful dog, Rusty. My daughter begged for a puppy and promised to feed and walk it. I got that job and I’ve never regretted it. Rusty is a red and white border collie. He is a best friend and a loyal companion. It’s an honour to spend time with him. He’s always so excited to see me.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?moondyne

The initial spark that causes me to want to write may be something as simple as a dog-eared photo with a question that teases my imagination or an artefact that generates, interest and discussion  – a nugget of gold, a relic of war, a shipwreck coin. Those of us who write about history enjoy the hunt. We love to fossick for sources of information. We enjoy the smell and feel of old newspapers, antique maps and rare books. We’re all curious about the past and that curiosity leads to lots of reading, which leads to many adventures.

I keep an ideas book with clippings of articles and stories that intrigue me but sometimes stories just seem to find me.

Of your own books, which is your favourite?

I don’t have a favourite – each book is like a child that I have cared for and nourished and has grown up into a book. It would be impossible to choose a favourite – like it is impossible for a parent to choose their favourite child.  I love them all. They all have special memories and adventures associated with them.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I have lots of hobbies. I like geology and collecting rocks and minerals. I love music and playing the drums. I enjoy fossicking for antiques, rare books, artefacts and curiosities. I travel a lot and that is always a source of inspiration. I’ve always had a passion for AFL Football – I’m a one eyed supporter.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

I would say that if you are genuine about writing make time to read books. Importantly ‘read with a writer’s eye’. Reading is the source of knowledge about writing. Find yourself a good book – one that takes you to places never imagined or shows you things that dazzle your mind. Find a book that challenges you to think about the world and your place in it. Read a book that tweaks your sense of adventure or inspires you to discover more. A vast treasure of thoughts, deeds and dreams lies waiting to be discovered in books.

Your wife, Frané Lessac, has illustrated some of your books. Do you work together on a book from its beginning?

Working with Frané is always a pleasure. I intuitively know how she will paint a particular scene so I will have that in mind when I compose the language. We constantly talk about ideas –  right from the beginning, so we can visualise an initial concept together and then see it through to the finished book.Simpson and His Donkey by Mark Greenwood

Story always comes first. Once my text is close to a final version, after hundreds of rewrites and after working closely with my editor, it is then ready to handover to the illustrator.  Frané takes the text quite literally and paints so much detail from the words that sometimes I can look at the artwork or sketches and give the text one final snip. Taking a loss on the word count and letting the art tell certain parts of the story always improves a picture book. To express what I want to say in fewer words makes me work harder and I believe it makes the collaboration of text and art even stronger.

Are you working on a book at the moment? Can you tell us something about it?

I’m working on a number of projects at the same time.

The Green Sash (Walker Books) will be published in 2010. Frané Lessac is illustrating it as we speak and I’m very excited to be doing a book on Australia’s most famous bushranger. Can you guess?

I am about to head up north to spend three days with an Indigenous custodian of a fabulous story. I hope to be granted permission to retell a wonderful story. I will be travelling on this adventure with one of Australia’s most well known illustrators.

I also have a young adult novel close to completion and two new picture books in progress. So you can see the life of a writer is never dull!

You can find out more about Mark Greenwood on his website:


Sandy Fussell – author of the Samurai Kids series

Sandy PortraitsAs promised, today we are talking to Sandy Fussell – the author of the Samurai Kids series. The fourth book in the series – Monkey Fist – was published on 1 August 2009. (It’s hot off the press!)

To celebrate its launch, Sandy is taking Monkey Fist on a Blog Tour. We’re excited to have her visiting Soup Blog today, and we asked her some questions about how she does the research for her books.

But first, a little about Monkey Fist:

Set in 17th century China, Monkey Fist follows the adventures of a group of samurai students and their teacher, Sensei Ki-yaga. Each student has a challenge to overcome on his personal journey. When Kyoko is kidnapped and hidden away in the Forbidden City, Sensei and the kids hurry to her rescue. They are aided by the Lin, a group of Chinese forest ninja and by Master Jang, the Poisoner.

And now, some questions for Sandy!

How do you do the research for your books?

I love the Internet but when using it for research you have to be very careful that the information is coming from a credible source – someone who knows the subject. The internet is both trap and treasure. I have been collecting history books since I was a child so have a huge personal collection covering my areas of interest – and am always looking for an excuse to buy another book. I like to write about the periods of history that are not so well known so there aren’t many relevant books in my local libraries. I do consult experts and they are always very happy to be involved in research for a children’s book.

Do you have a favourite way to research?

I love the internet because it is a real treasure chest. Following a link can lead to the most interesting and obscure information. I find things I didn’t even know I was looking for.

My real favourite of course, would be travelling overseas to do my research first-hand but I don’t think that is going to happen in the near future. Unfortunately. *Sigh*

How do you record your research, and why do you do it this way?

I make lots and lots of notes. I photocopy book pages and print out web sources. It’s important to document all the facts used when writing history.

I found this out the hard way. After I finished my first book, White Crane, I threw out all my notes. Then my publisher, Walker Books asked me for references to support the historical facts I had used in the narrative. I had to relocate everything and reproduce 30 typed pages of notes. It felt like I had written another book!

Before you write anything, do you get all your research done first? How do you know when to stop researching and start writing?

I like to spend a solid month researching and thinking about where my plot will fit – as in the geographic location, any significant events occurring at the same time. Then I start to write.

I am very structured and the Samurai Kids books are always on a deadline. I allocate a month because a month is all the time I’ve got.

How do you use your research when you sit down to write?

I reread constantly. Little facts take on new significance as the story emerges. I particularly like to read primary sources – texts written by people alive at the time. One of my favourites is The Book of Five Rings by the legendary samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

Do you enjoy the research as much as the writing? (Or is the writing more enjoyable?)

If I am writing a historical novel the two are so entangled they are impossible to pull apart. But I don’t want to try as I love doing both.

Do you ever find out something in your research that means you have to take the story in a direction you weren’t originally planning to?

Recently I discovered an arquebus (gun) from the mid-seventeenth century can only fire once before reloading. In the second chapter of my current manuscript (book 5) my character shot two birds in succession. So far it has always been small stuff like that and doesn’t affect the story direction. However I am a stickler for getting the facts right and check my references quite thoroughly so I don’t often find research errors.

How much time would you spend on each book in Samurai Kids?

The Samurai Kids books are generally on a six month schedule. I research for one month, write for four months and then revise and rewrite for one month in addition to the revision I do as I go. I always say there is a lot of mathematics in writing – the planning, the pacing and all those word counts!

Monkey Fist by Sandy Fussell
Monkey Fist by Sandy Fussell

This is the eighth stop on the Monkey Fist Blog Tour. You can find out more about Sandy Fussell, the Samurai Kids series, and Monkey Fist by visiting the other hosts on the tour. (You can also visit the Samurai Kids website for fun activities related to the books, and take a quiz to find out which Samurai Kid you are!)

Blog Tour stops:

1 August

2 August

3 August

4 August

5 August

6 August

7 August

8 August (You’re here!)

9 August

10 August