Can You Have Too Many Friends?

Too Many Friends is the beautiful new verse novel from Kathryn Apel, author of the acclaimed Bully on the Bus and On Track.

       

Having no friends is hard, but having a lot of friends can make life difficult too. By the end of  Kathryn’s book, you’ll have formed your own conclusions about whether you can have Too Many Friends.

And at the end of this post, Kathryn provides some fabulous tips on writing.

Kathryn Apel in Antarctica, the setting for her latest WIP.

Too Many Friends is a gentle book about friends, about making and breaking friends, about true friendship.

It’s for kids who find it difficult to juggle the needs of the people around them … to keep all the people they care about happy. (And that’s something that most adults find difficult too.)

It’s easy to warm to Kathryn Apel’s main character, Tahnee who wants to be friends with everyone, and who wants all her friends to be friends with each other. This causes tension and heartache, but Tahnee won’t budge from her goal.

I love Tahnee’s generous inclusive nature. Lucy is shy and a bit of an outcast, but Tahnee is determined to include her in their friendship group, even if it risks existing friendship.

And when Tahnee has a birthday, EVERYONE must be invited.

‘You can’t have that many friends!’
Mum gasps.

Tahnee has 23 on her list.

‘I don’t want anyone to feel
                                    left out,’ I say.

Soon Mum and Dad are involved in the excitement of the party plans.

Meanwhile, at school, Miss Darling has the children conducting a science experiment.

During Science
we start testing
the effects of force
on toys.

The push and pull of the experiment is symbolic of what’s happening with Tahnee and her friendships.

I love the way author Kathryn Apel adds depth and meaning to her work using these kinds of devices that young readers will easily relate to.

As well as introducing common dilemmas for kids, Too Many Friends introduces a whole range of fabulous classroom activities for teachers both within the book, and inspired by it.

Too Many Friends is lyrical and sensitive. A beautifully crafted story that will warm your heart.

Kathryn Apel uses words and shape, symbolism and rhythm to create this easy to read, but absorbing verse novel for younger readers, published by UQP.

Page 47

 

Below, Kathryn shares some fabulous tips on how she wrote Too Many Friends.

KATHRYN APEL’S WRITING TIPS

Kathryn Apel – Five Writing Tips for ‘Too Many Friends’

Listen: Life is made of experiences that can shape your writing. Sometimes a story needs to find you. Listen! I wrote a story-note on my phone after a conversation with a friend about her daughter; ‘a story about a girl with too many friends’.

Play: Throw words around. Juggle them. Try a new word for shape and size. Play with form.

Remember the big picture; whilst a word might be the best choice for that given situation, if that word is also the best choice in numerous other situations … you have a problem! (Related: Smile. Lots. In real life. But not too much in your writing. No matter how many friends your main character has – or how lovely your editor is – you can’t get away with too many ‘smiles’!)

Have a Joke: One poem (jokingly named ‘The BIG Smile-ing Thing’ – See Point 2) was written during final edits and became one of the heart-warming turning points of the book. You’ll probably never guess which poem it is (once it served its purpose, it was renamed) – but I’ll remember the laugh I had with my editor when she saw that title.

Prioritise: Unexpected circumstances meant ‘Too Many Friends’ had to be at typesetters a month earlier than planned. The pressure was on – and I couldn’t work with life and family continually disrupting. First time ever, I took time out and went away. By myself. For a week! (I won’t rhapsodise too much …) The tightly coiled spring inside me unravelled, the words stuttered … and flowed. I wrote – into the night, and halfway to sunrise. I slept late, wrote more then pottered along for a week at my night-owl-pace … and met the deadline. And my family coped.

Bounce Back: One of my favourite poems (and my editor’s) was a shape poem – and it was perfect! … Until it came back from typesetters and we made the awful discovery that we hadn’t considered line-spacing! My pièce de résistance was cut in half and spread over two pages – and completely unrecognisable! I will always love the original Duck, Dad – and share sneaky-peeks at author visits – but the revised version is even better suited to this book!

Why “How to Bee” is creating such a buzz – PLUS great writing tips

How to Bee, the new book for readers aged 8-12 by Bren MacDibble has been creating quite a buzz in bookstores, libraries and homes … and that’s no surprise.

Dealing with a contemporary concern, the extinction of bees, the main character, Peony has such a unique voice and fierce, determined personality that she quickly draws you into her story.

I’ll be telling you more about How to Bee and my thoughts on it later, but first, Bren MacDibble has some great writing tips based on how she created this wonderful book.

BREN’S TOP WRITING TIPS

1.  The setting for How to Bee was a future world that evolved over time via facts picked up from reading articles and attending cons and listening to people speak on food security. So my tip is pay attention to interesting things, and things that are important. Nothing is more important to us right now than climate change and food security, so why not set a book in a world that shows the effects of our current direction? Kids are not deaf and blind, they worry about things like this too. A book showing possible effects of bee loss can help them think about those fears in a non-threatening way.

2. How to Bee has a very direct plot line. It’s for 8 to 12 year olds and it is tightly focussed on what the main character wants, and she drives the plot like she’s got hold of a bulldozer and can’t reach the brake. The plot pretty much just goes forwards, with a couple of pauses to catch the reader up on how things got this way. So there’s a straight path through the story, keeping the reader following, even though it’s set in a complex world they’ve never seen before.

3. How to Bee is in first person so the voice of a 9 year old girl who’s never been to school a day in her life and only lived in an orchard, can never let up. She’s the narrator. It’s in her head. It’s in her dialogue, and it’s different to the dialogue of the people around her, except the other kids on the orchard. I can’t tell her story in my voice, I’m too old and have a different vocabulary. Her vocabulary is simple and full of slang, and shaped by the children around her. Find your protagonist’s real and honest voice and use it.

4.  Likewise, her point of view can never let up. Peony is determined and strong, but she is naive. There are things about her mother, or people she doesn’t know that she can’t hope to understand, and when she guesses, she’s often wrong, and that’s okay, because it’s honest. Don’t put adult thoughts in your protagonist’s head. Be honest.

5.  Thinking about everyone in a new world, and what they might value, can add surprising details that add colour to world-building. Like that all the orchard children are named after fruit and flowers because they are what’s precious in this new world. Likewise, for the very rich, life had not changed at all. They were able to insulate themselves and afford the rising food prices, whereas middle and low income people mortgaged their homes and quickly join the ranks of homeless poor. Of course neither of these things can be said from the point of view of a child narrator, but they are shown to a point and left to the observant reader to figure out. When Peony meets Esmeralda, one of the first things she says is, “What kind of name is that?” You or I might think Peony, Pomegranate, and Mangojoy are strange names but in this world, the name Peony thinks is strange is the old name of Esmeralda. There should be a logical flow-on to the whole world if values change.

WHY I LOVED “HOW TO BEE”

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. Real bees are extinct, and the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand.

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony’s greatest wish is to be one of them … but nothing is ever certain in her world.

In How to Bee, author Bren MacDibble has taken us so deeply into this world of the future, that as readers we feel we are truly part of it.

We desperately want things to work out for Peony, but when her mother takes her off to the city, we know there’s going to be trouble ahead.

In spite of her fierce dislike of living in the ‘urbs’, Peony forms a friendship with rich city girl Esmeralda that transforms both their lives.

Peony’s voice is so strong and unique that you can hear her in your head and picture her as if she were standing in front of you..

“I wrap my body around it like I am the tree and the tree is me, and hang on.”

There’s plenty of action in How to Bee, but it also has vulnerable sensitive moments that allow the reader to reflect on Peony and her situation and empathise with her story.

How to Bee is sad and poignant and joyous and life affirming all at once.

Peony deals with some difficult realities in How to Bee, but many children have hardship in their lives. Some will relate, others will gain greater understanding by sharing Peony’s journey. All will admire her resilience.

How to Bee is a story of love and hope. It’s about the things you can’t choose in your life, and the choices you can make.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Peony. With her grit and determination, her hard edges, her courage and her capacity to love.

How to Bee is a great read for anyone who likes strong, unique characters, an original plot and a story world that’s so real and fascinating that you want to stay in it.

How to Bee is published by Allen & Unwin.

Smile Cry – A Beginner’s Book of Feelings

Smile Cry written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Jess Racklyeft is a wonderful book to introduce  discussions about feelings.

smilecryfullcover-smallYoung children find that a cry can quickly turn into a smile and vice versa so it’s an ideal blend to have these two feelings showcased in the same book.

Our society often has a negative response to tears so it’s refreshing to see this emotion presented to children as a ‘normal and acceptable’ way to feel.

The way these emotions have been introduced allow the reader to empathise with others and learn that everyone has feelings.

Smile Cry presents the concept that we feel things for a reason.

The simple and powerful text and emotive illustrations make this book relatable and relevant for young children.

The gorgeous pictures represent feelings in a fun, non-threatening way – providing reassurance to young readers.

piglet bunny cat double picFeaturing a very cute pig, rabbit and cat, the emotions of the characters are simply yet strikingly depicted in the illustrations.

Smile Cry is a ‘flip about’ book, symbolic of how emotions and feelings can flip. ‘Smile’ starts from one end and ‘Cry’ from the other, and the feelings meet in the middle.

Smile Cry is an important book, introducing young readers to the complicated world of feelings in a compassionate and memorable way.

Published by EK Books, Smile Cry is currently available in Australia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada.

If you’re looking for the ideal Christmas present for the youngest readers in your life, this could be it.

Rat City

Everyone thinks Shannon was responsible for his best friend’s death, including Shannon.

Now he’s not letting anyone get close to him.rat-city-cover-600w

That’s until he meets the gorgeous Ally. But she has problems of her own.

Ally’s twin brother, Felix is sick and getting sicker and nobody seems to know why.

Ally’s sure that it has something to do with her crazy scientist Uncle Killian who not only has a fixation for rats, he’s also supplying dugs to thrill seeking youths, including Felix.

Will Shannon and Ally find out the truth in time to save Felix and what will this mean for their relationship.

Rat City is a compelling read from start to finish. The stakes are high and the book is a page turning mix of science and adventure.

The reader will empathise with Ally and Shannon right from the start. The more you read, the more you care about these characters.

I got to the end of Rat City and wanted more. So I was pleased to discover that Book 2, Rise of the Rat Generation is due for release in 2017.

Rat City is written by Ree Kimberley and is available here and through Amazon.

About the author

Ree Kimberley grew up in Melbourne and travelled Australia before living in tropical Cairns and then settling in Brisbane, in sunny Queensland. She’s always loved reading and wrote her first novel, Strike Up a Friendship with a Vampire, when she was 10 years old. Ree’s writerly obsessions include weird science and things that are bizarre, strange and a little bit gross. She also has a thing for circuses (she swears she is not scared of clowns!)me-at-sete

Ree says that if she wasn’t a writer, she’d love to be a teratologist (someone who studies monsters). Rat City is Ree’s first novel, and the first in a three-part series, Rat Generation.

You can find out more about Ree here.

Life in Other States – A Texas Year and A New York Year

It’s clear that meticulous research and care have gone into Tania McCartney‘s and Tina Snerling‘s colourful fun books, A Texas Year and A New York Year.

These well produced picture books cover a year in the life of kids living in Texas and New York.

One of the things I love most about them is their theme of diversity – the way they reflect the lives and cultures of the people living in these states.

A texas yearA Texas Year and A New York Year feature ethnically and culturally diverse characters and diverse experiences.

The lively text and illustrations make these books a fun read for anyone with an interest in finding out about Texas or New York.

A Texas Year and A New York Year are full of information about the lifestyles and aspirations of kids living in these locations.

Readers will enjoy poring over the text and illustrations, taking in the fascinating detail.

They will be taken through a month by month account of what it means to be a kid living in New York or Texas, learning about special occasions and customs.

There’s everything from food, sport and school, to dancing, language, holidays and special occasions.

A New York Year - Front coverA Texas Year and A New York Year present great opportunities for discussions in the classroom or home about cultural diversity.

Each book has a location map with information about the state including its nickname, state flower, song, animals, and popular foods found there.

The content in both books has been produced in consultation with native advisors from the state including teachers and children.

A Texas Year and A New York Year offer young readers a fun and entertaining way to explore their own environment and the world around them.

 

Little Mouse – A Toddler’s Day Out

UnknownLittle Mouse is a typical toddler. He has a very busy and fun-filled day, but it’s also full of things he’d rather not do.

He’s learning how to do lots of new tasks, but one thing he does competently already is say, “No”.

Little Mouse was so relatable for me as a parent, and I’m sure young readers will also be engaged by the humour and the authenticity of the situations Little Mouse encounters.

There’s getting dressed, skipping through puddles, not wanting to go in the pusher or brush his teeth or eat his broccoli.

Unknown-1The text is simple and age appropriate and the illustrations are adorable. They’re full of humour and warmth and detail for kids to pore over.

Little Mouse is the work of Helsinki-based author and illustrator, Riikka Jantti.

The book is published in hardback and has a fairytale like quality.

Unknown-2It’s a perfect size to fit in a nappy bag or hand bag and I can imagine Little Mouse finding his way to many picnics, appointments and family outings.

Although he can be a testing toddler, Little Mouse is totally charming. I can see his captivating story becoming a classic.

Little Mouse, for readers aged 0 to 4, is published by Scribble, the children’s imprint of Scribe.

Zelda’s Big Adventure – The First Chook in Space

9781925266382What’s not to love about a chook in space?

Zelda’s Big Adventure, written by Marie Alafaci and illustrated by Shane McG, is a charming story of a little chook with big dreams.

Zelda has big plans – she wants to be the first chook in space. She leaves nothing to chance and packs food, fuel and a cosy nesting box. But will she make it without the help of her friends?

One of the things I love about this book is that it introduces the concept to children that you can have big dreams and achieve them no matter what other people say.

Zelda is so determined in her quest that she is not deterred by lack of assistance or encouragement from others. Zelda’s Big Adventure teaches young readers about self-reliance and optimism.

I also really like the fact that Zelda has a plan. She doesn’t just expect things to fall in her lap. She works towards them.

Zelda shows great resilience and determination, and these are what get her there in the end.

She is funny, generous and forgiving and a thoroughly likeable character, and these characteristics are captured so well in Shane McG’s beautiful illustrations.

Zelda’s Big Adventure is an entertaining read that could also inspire discussion with young readers about following your dreams, and not being discouraged. There’s also plenty to engage them with the Shane’s humorous, detailed pictures.

Zelda’s Big Adventure is published by Allen & Unwin for readers aged 2-5.

It’s a book for chook lovers and for anyone who has ever had a dream.