Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book Love: TOO MANY FRIENDS (Giveaway!)


Today I'm singing the praises of an Australian children's poet and author whose books we don't see enough of here in the States. That's going to have to change.

Kathryn Apel (Kat to those of us who follow her blog) is a born-and-bred farm girl who’s scared of cows. She lives with her husband and two sons among the gum trees, cattle and kangaroos on a Queensland grazing property, and is the author of five books for children, including three novels in verse.

Kat loves pumping poetry because she can flex her muscles across other genres, to bend (and break) writing rules. She also teaches part-time and shares her passion for words at schools and festivals. There's lots to explore at Kat's website, including information about her books, kid's stuff, kidlit tips, useful links, and a "whisker of poetry."

Order paper copies via the publisher
or the Kindle edition via
Watch the trailer HERE.
Too Many Friends (UQP, 2017) is Kat's latest novel in verse for young readers. It tells the story of a Tahnee, a second grader who prides herself on having lots of friends, and who loves to spend time with them all... even the ones who can be bossy. But sometimes she gets frustrated. She feels pushed and pulled in too many directions and doesn't understand why her friends can't get along with each other. Tahnee's efforts to strike a balance and keep the peace—to be inclusive, thoughtful, and understanding in and outside of the classroom—make her an ideal role model. Although she recognizes faults, she chooses to celebrate strengths instead, and she shows readers how to be a good friend in a way that's not preachy or show-offish.

For me, reading this novel brought back a flood of memories from my own kids' early years in Sydney. But even without the first-hand memories, there's much to be gained by reading this book. The fact that American children may not be familiar with honey crackles, or know that fairy floss is another name for cotton candy, or have played pass the parcel at birthday parties, won't stop them from identifying with the characters. Besides, there's great value in children (and adults) gaining insight into what it's like living in another part of the world, don't you think? We live in a global society; why not introduce our children to their "neighbours"?

In Australia, my little ones were proud
to wear their school uniforms.
My son was Tahnee's age when we left Australia to return to the US. Although their transition to the Florida school system wasn't perfect, when it came to friendship, there were few differences between these two cultures from opposite sides of the planet. Slightly older children will relate to Too Many Friends, as well. When my daughter was in fourth grade, she had her first run in with what it's like to have... and then lose the attention of a close friend she'd had since first grade, a friend who suddenly became popular.  It wasn't fun—there were many hurt feelings. But to be fair, the popular girl never asked to be "fought over."

The push and pull of friendship is something young readers will relate to no matter where they call home. I can so easily see this book being read aloud in the classroom to help navigate playground dramas, learn what it means to be a good friend, and discover how to get along with others regardless of whether or not they are friends. My children may have missed out on Miss Darling's classroom, but if you'd like to bring Tahnee and her friends into your classroom, check out the additional resources at Kat's website, including downloadable Teachers' Notes and activity suggestions.

For now, though, please help me welcome Kathryn Apel to the TLD classroom!

Thanks so much for joining us, Kat!

Tell us a little about your experience of writing TOO MANY FRIENDS. What drew you to the story and why did you choose a novel in verse format?

A friend was sharing her mother-heart, about her young daughter who was perpetually wearing herself ragged trying to always be a good friend and meet the needs of all her friends, so that her friends were almost a burden for the little girl to bear.

I’m sure at some stage we’ve all looked at the popular kids and wished a little, but I’d never considered that lots of friends could be a ‘difficult' thing. I wrote a note on my phone; ‘a story about too many friends’ … and started writing it soon after. The words flowed. I think I’d finished my first draft in under a month. The editing process was also so much quicker/easier than my previous verse novels. (Just as well, since we had an unscheduled and exciting holiday opportunity in the middle of that.) I think writing this one from the teacher-heart, as opposed to the mother-heart, perhaps enabled this… and all those wonderful years in the classroom!

It was always going to be a verse novel. I’m finding it hard not to write in verse these days. Partly because words seem to have more resonance in the verse novel format—like they’re buffed and polished and warmed to a golden glow, and there's nowhere for superfluous words to hide. But also because the stories that I’m needing to tell are stories that have heart, and the verse novel seems to be the right way to engage readers in those stories.

In the United States, novels in verse are on the rise, while children's poetry collections seem to be less marketable. What is your overall sense of the children's poetry and verse novel markets in Australia?


It is so hard to get poetry published in Australia! But as you’ve noted in terms of America, there is a growing number of publishers who are taking on verse novels here—which is, of course, a good thing! My publisher, University of Queensland Press (UQP), has long been a champion of the verse novel, publishing Steven Herrick’s collection of novels in verse and Margarita Engle’s Silver People amongst others—including my three.

Kat makes some new friends at a recent book event.

How is poetry viewed in the Australian educational system? Is it embraced, or is it more like here in the States, where teachers are generally uncomfortable teaching poetry?

Funnily enough, I was surprised by your questions/comments about poetry in education, because for as long as I’ve been involved in Poetry Friday, I’ve (a little jealously/yearningly) had this really lovely, rosy view on poetry in America. But apparently Poetry Friday isn’t an accurate reflection on the education system and its approach to poetry as a whole?

What is it that shakes up our confidence with poetry! Kids are drawn like magnets to rhythm and rhyme. What happens along the way, to turn poetry into ‘the baddie’?

Because yes, in Australia poetry is also seen as an intimidating subject. People worry that they don’t really ‘get’ what the poem is about. Or the curriculum requirements make the analysis of poetry arduous, not magical. Or the poems studied don’t relate to kids of today. It’s about right and wrong answers, not joyful word play and experimentation.

More and more I’m realising that poetry is not about one right meaning. It’s about how it makes you feel—when your heart skips… or lurches—and the feel of the wordplay rolling around in your mouth. It’s about creativity and discipline, wordplay and writing muscle, engaging and enabling a wide range of abilities.

I keep hoping that this giant penny will drop—people will realise that poetry is such a HUGE and diverse genre, and there really is a form of poetry for every person and every occasion. Just because one form doesn’t resonate, another one will! You may not love all forms of poetry—and that’s okay! You can still enjoy poetry! :)

In a blog post, you describe TOO MANY FRIENDS as your "most joyous book." How did writing it compare to your previous novels in verse? Was there anything that particularly caught you by surprise?

Bully on the Bus follows the story of Leroy, a small boy who is bullied throughout the book, on his school bus. There is sadness and anxiety throughout the book, and whilst Leroy is ultimately empowered, that’s towards the end of the book. It's an important story, very much a story from the heart, and I love what it has the potential to do for kids who are being bullied—but there are more tears than laughs in that book.

Similarly, On Track deals with sibling rivalry, self-doubt and imperfect bodies. As one brother’s story takes a turn for the better, the other’s takes a twist for the worse. There are light moments throughout, but there is also a lot of the angst that comes with those themes.

Too Many Friends is about a sweet, caring girl who just wants to please—and constantly tries to find ways to be a friend to everyone. (Perhaps my biggest ‘problem’ with this book (through the editorial process) was getting rid of excess ‘smile’s. :) ) Yes, there are points of conflict—and there are moments that catch your heart—but Tahnee’s story is mostly a joyous story.

Please share a favorite selection from TOO MANY FRIENDS and tell us why it's meaningful to you.

So many of the activities in Tahnee’s classroom are things I’ve done with classes I’ve taught, and collage picture books are up there are as one of my favourites!

(Click images to enlarge.)

From Too Many Friends by Kathryn Apel (UQP, 2017), used by permission of the author.

One of the best parts of the project is that buzz of energy and enthusiasm as ideas and edits bounce around the room—kids engaged and enthused with a purposeful real-world project.

Sometimes, with all the standardised assessments and increasing curriculum demands, that joy of shared teaching and learning is squeezed out of classrooms. A teacher’s passion counts for everything within the classroom! If Too Many Friends helps to validate or reignite that passion and enthusiasm—for kids and teachers—that would be a beautiful thing!

What's coming up next for you?

There are works in the pipeline that I can’t yet discuss… but can’t wait until I can share!

In terms of current works in progress, I have a number underway, including something a little different, for me: a historical verse novel for middle grade/young adult, inspired by our recent trip to Antarctica. So amongst the fun of new book release and all that involves, I have also been delving deep into research. And thanks to different posts from Poetry Friday members, I’ve jumped in at different story points to play with some of the poetic forms I’ve seen on the rounds. I’ve not approached a story quite like that before, but I’m having lots of fun! And so far it’s been working. So not only is the historical genre new for me, but so too are many of the poetry forms.

Sounds exciting, Kat! Keep us posted. And thanks for traveling all the way here to be with us today. :)

Thank you so much for having me visit, Michelle. Today’s Little Ditty is like a virtual playground and gym rolled into one. You do a great thing here!

Speaking of great things . . .

Since it's not so easy to grab a copy of Too Many Friends at your local US bookstore, I'm giving away the copy I was sent by University of Queensland Press to one lucky reader of today's blog post! All you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment below or email me at TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com. Make sure you do so no later than Tuesday, May 23rd. The winner, selected randomly, will be announced next Friday.

** Sorry. This giveaway is now over. **

I sure am enjoying the wide variety of poems for Melissa Manlove's challenge to write about how writing (or a book) is like something else! This week's featured ditties included poems by Jesse Anna Bornemann, Diane Mayr, Elizabeth Steinglass, and Irene Latham. Linda Mitchell is sharing hers at A Word Edgewise today. Post your contribution on our May 2017 padlet to be included in next week's wrap-up celebration!

Join Kiesha at Whispers from the Ridge to discover everyday gifts and explore this week's Poetry Friday roundup.


  1. What a fun way to learn more about Kat Apel! Too Many Friends is an interesting concept for a book. A Mom friend of mine has a daughter that has so many friends that she has a hard time keeping up and being diplomatic about who she's doing what with and when. It had never occurred to me what a challenge that was until she was describing the pressure her daughter felt to please all these people. Thank you for bringing the concept to a young audience.
    I've so enjoyed Kat in many Poetry Friday visits....but this one is a treasure. Best of luck on the book...and let's see how we can get it to North America.

  2. Kat is just delightful, isn't she? And Michelle, I didn't know your Australia history! Here's my favorite part from Kat (about poetry):

    It’s about how it makes you feel—when your heart skips… or lurches—and the feel of the wordplay rolling around in your mouth. It’s about creativity and discipline, wordplay and writing muscle, engaging and enabling a wide range of abilities.

    Yes yes and yes! Thank you, ladies! And I already have a copy of this book, so please don't put me in the giveaway. (I will be blogging about it soon!). xo

  3. I wish it was easier to find Kat's books, because each one sounds like I would love it. I love hearing about all of them, and more about Too Many Friends. My 2nd grade granddaughter's teacher started with writing poetry this year. I was thrilled to see poetry being celebrated and written! Thanks for sharing so much from Kat, Michelle.

  4. Jesse Anna BornemannMay 19, 2017 at 10:35 AM

    *raises hand* Please include me in the giveaway lottery!

    Thanks, Kat, for voicing many of the reasons I love poetry so much. "Joyful word play and experimentation" never gets old.

  5. Alas, I think that fear of poetry seems to be a universal theme! Hopefully with great stories like Kat's to read and share, kids (and their grownups) can start to move past the intimidation to see poetry for the inspiring and exciting creative form it can be!

  6. SOOO wonderful to get to know Kat better here at TLD! Thanks, Kat, for the international visit, and thanks, Michelle, for the fulsome interview. TOO MANY FRIENDS is sure to be lapped right up by many kids navigating their way through relationships.

  7. I always find something interesting on your blog. I'm looking forward to reading Kat's work. Thanks, Michelle and Kat!

  8. "But apparently Poetry Friday isn’t an accurate reflection on the education system and its approach to poetry as a whole?" Oh, Kat, if you only knew. Look forward to reading your verse novels. I'm off to hunt for them!

  9. Thanks Kat. I think verse novels are brilliant. I hope to write one in the future. As for poetry, it is alive and well in some parts of Nova Scotia. I was at a school doing a writer's visit and a young writer said to me, "I love poetry. You write 'em and I'll read 'em!!"

  10. I used poetry everyday when I taught elementary school. There were few novels in verse when I taught fifth grade. I would love to use the selection available now.
    Kathy Mazurowski

  11. I enjoyed learning more about Kat Apel. I loved Bully on the Bus (I've read it twice!). Too Many Friends sounds wonderful!

  12. So excited to learn more about Kat and explore her work. Thank you so much for introducing her to us here! Christie @

  13. Thank you for sharing the interview with Kat and your enthusiasm for her new book. I love the excitement about writing that sparkles on the pages you shared from it.

  14. I love learning more about Kat's book, and I hope it does very well. My daughter would relate to the issues in the book. I'm interested to see how she resolves it. Thanks for the great review and interview.

  15. How beautiful to come online and read this lovey review, and all these warm and affirming comments. Thank-you so much! I'm on a book tour in Melbourne at the moment, and have been been at a kidlit conference all day today (and night) - so this is the cherry (and cream) on top of wonderfully busy!

  16. Hooray for Kat! It was really cool to learn more about her life and process. Thanks for the great interview, Michelle!

  17. Thanks for this wonderful cover about Kat's book, and also her other two books too, Michelle, I'm looking forward to finding them! I enjoyed the pics of your son and daughter too! Sad to hear that poetry isn't getting it's full bill in Australia as in the States here, perhaps we're in an isolated bubble here, although I feel that poetry is gaining in momentum.

  18. Bully on the Bus is a favorite in my classroom! Kat's poem-a-day community (from several years back) introduced me to her energetic and generous spirit!

    1. That's so lovely to hear, Mary Lee.

  19. This is a new author for me! Thanks for sharing and the kids are adorable and have heartwarming smiles. I enjoy reading novels in verse and admire authors who can write a book for kids in verse.

  20. New author for me, as well! Will be on the lookout!

  21. Thank you for the interview Michelle and Kat. I've been reading more novels-in-verse lately so this was a particularly important read for me. :-)

  22. Thanks for this insightful post and an inside view of children's poetry in Australia. I'm sorry to hear that there's resistance (from adults! kids love poetry) there also.

    I'm putting TOO MANY FRIENDS on my TBR.