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.
|Order paper copies via the publisher|
or the Kindle edition via Amazon.com.
Watch the trailer HERE.
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.
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.
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!
Whispers from the Ridge to discover everyday gifts and explore this week's Poetry Friday roundup.