Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

#byaustralianbuyaustralian

Doodles and Drafts – On Track with Kathryn Apel

KatApelAn aphorism by Will Rogers has been rattling around on my train of thought recently: ‘Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.’ One author who has not only found her right track but is chugging along it at an impressive pace is, Kathryn Apel. And with the recent release of her second verse novel, On Track just a year after her first, Bully on the Bus, Apel has certainly found her rhythm.

Both are extraordinary, breezy reads about not so light and easy life issues, eloquently told without a trace of tangled description. Each word reverberates with emotion, yielding characters of tremendous depth whose flaws are presented as poetically as their triumphs.

The thing you immediately notice about verse novels is their subtle power to deliver the weightiest message with consummate feather touch. Happy to report, both Apel’s novels reflect this promise.

Bully on the Bus follows the emotional downslide of seven-year-old Leroy, almost silenced into submission by the bully on his regular school bus route. Apel explores both the external extremes and internal conflict Leroy endures until he finally finds the courage to be a ‘bully-tamer’.

KatApelOn Track On Track looks at the relationship between siblings, Shaun and Toby; one with the ability to turn anything he touches into gold, the other a self-professed failure living in his brother’s shadow. Once the real reason for Toby’s weak links are identified however, he learns how to shine and in finding his own inner strength, ironically helps his brother, Shaun understand himself better too. Being imperfect is hard, but living up to the expectation of perfection is no walk in the park either, as this story so beautifully articulates.

There is plenty to cry over and love in these two novels. Apel allows her characters to endure uncomfortable situations that encourage them to hide behind bravado in order to cope or else withdraw into silence. Rather than let them flounder for the answers on their own, she nudges them in the right direction; shows them the safe places to head to for help and how to ask for it, so they are ultimately able to resolve their own problems. A purposeful message of empowerment if ever there was one.

Curious to know what keeps Kathryn Apel on track herself, I invited her to the draft table for quick chat. Here’s what she had to say.

Welcome Kathryn!

Who is Kathryn Apel? Describe your writerly self.

I’m that awkward balance of private person, public words. D.W. Winnicott said it so well, ‘Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.’ Writing is like peeling skin away to expose bones and pulsing heart – flaws and vulnerabilities. But I do it. Sometimes cringing. Always hoping that my words will resonate and make a positive difference.

What is your most outrageous writing goal (not yet achieved)?

Oh. Heh. Let’s go really outrageous and say book to movie. I don’t know if it’s a goal as such – more an impossible dream. But PlaySchool happened – and I’d never imagined that. (Kathryn’s picture book, This is Mud was read by Justine on Playschool in 2010! DP)

Why did you choose to tell Bully on the Bus and On Track in verse instead of straightforward prose?

KatApel Bully on the Bus Bully on the Bus started life as a chapter book. As I was mulling over it, I read my first verse novel – and loved it. Had to try one! I started writing what I dubbed (for many years) my ‘verse novel about training’, but had only written 139 words when I got a little overwhelmed and put it away. (I’m not a planned writer, so this ‘put it away’ stage happens frequently during my writing process.) It was at that stage that I took my ‘completed’ chapter book to my crit group. And there the strangest thing happened! A critter-buddy made a suggestion about the placement of some words in the text… and in that moment I realised that Bully on the Bus wasn’t the chapter book I had written, but the verse novel I wanted to write.

Turning the chapter book into a verse novel was one of the most exquisitely right things I have ever done. (So right, that I started at 10pm that same night, and kept going until my eyes wouldn’t stay open about 3am.) Once I started, there was never any doubt that it was meant to be a verse novel.

And I’m happy to say that the ‘verse novel about training’ did get there, and is now called On Track.

As to why verse? I love that writing in verse lets me find my voice and express things that I don’t think I could say, in a novel. My picture books tend to be quirky, humorous tales (though there are a few serious MSs in my files) – but my verse novels are all heart.

Do you find it natural writing in this style or is it harder to convey what you want in verse? What elements, if any do you have to sacrifice or conversely, incorporate to produce a winning verse novel?

I’m a very disciplined rhyming poet/picture book author. But rhyme can tangle your brains into a seething pot of worms – whereas free verse unravels the snarls and lets the story flow.

To me, there is no sacrifice in writing free verse. I often hear comments like, ‘After the first few pages I forgot it was a verse novel …’, or ‘Don’t be put off by the fact it’s a verse novel …’ – like it’s a bad thing to be a verse novel. But that’s usually followed by positive comments – that are perhaps twice as nice given their reservations in the first place.

As to what elements to include? Verse novels are almost illustrations with words. As in – your words ARE the illustrations. Consider your readers – their ability to make meaning from your words – but be adventurous. Let the words dictate placement and alignment, so that they speak for themselves. When I read verse novels, the words almost take shape in my mouth.

But don’t forget physical character descriptions. And setting. I say this, because I do. Forget them.* Often! I get caught in the emotions and character development, and forget about physical attributes/descriptions. And writing them in later feels very much like tip-toing through the kitchen with a soufflé in the oven.

* At which point I stop and think and realise there’s not a skerrick of character description in my current verse novel WIP … and it’s 7142wrds long. (?!)

This is MudMany of my farm raised relatives devoured crates of books each month as their main source of entertainment. As a country kid yourself, what stories from your childhood have stuck with you as an adult and how have they influenced the kinds of tales you want to share now as a writer?

I was over-the-moon elated when I found a tattered copy of ‘The Cow that Fell in the Canal’ at a library cull recently. I loved this story – and was given it on my graduation from Preschool. So sentiment was running high that day!

When I was in Yr 3 our teacher read ‘Emma’s Story’ by Sheila Hocken, to our class. I remember being very moved. I may even have sobbed. And been saddened for days. But I also remember it as a special story.

And I was an Enid Blyton girl. When I was in Yr 7, our Librarian culled all Enid Blyton books from the school library! I brought multiple Enid Blyton books to school and friends did the same, then we shared them amongst classmates to read in protest in the library – slumped around in beanbags and on the carpet. (For some, it was more about the protest, than the books, but their support was appreciated!)

I loved getting to know characters in a series – and having them stick around for a long while! Pollyanna, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon and Elizabeth Gail were some faves. I think because of their ability to make a difference – for good.

I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate Dr Seuss until I was an adult … but it’s a sad truth.

What’s on the draft table for Kathryn?

Always so many things on the go – but the one that’s taking the most time at the moment is another verse novel for early readers – this one about friendships. On the surface it sounds sweet and light, but as with friendship it’s a balance of the good and bad.

And there’s another rollicking rural rhymer getting some attention, too.

Just for fun question (there’s always one!): If you could be any animal on the farm, what would you be and why?

The dog. Because dogs have such a joyful presence. They get in there and help, but their emotional engagement, affection and connection is their biggest asset.

Thanks for including me on the Boomerang Books Blog, Dim, and for the intriguing questions. I’m off to lightly sprinkle some character descriptions through that friendship WIP.

Fabulous, Kathryn! As are these books. Be sure to have a look soon.

UQP May 2014 & June 2015

 

Meet Kathryn Apel, author of On Track

Kathryn ApelMeet Kathryn Apel, author of On Track (UQP)

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Kathryn. Where are you based?

I’m based in Queensland – most often in the Gladstone/Bundaberg Region.

What’s your background in books?

I haven’t always been a writer – but I’ve always been a reader!

As a teacher, books have always been an integral part of rich classroom units. Everything is linked to a book! This then carried over to my parenting – sharing that love of literature and literacy with my kids, and learning so much from their interpretations and engagement.

I thought the title of your new book, On Track, very clever. What does it refer to?On Track

Thank-you! I always think of the title as the ultimate short story. Ideally, it captures the reader’s attention, but also encapsulates the story in a nutshell.

A major theme of the story is the boys’ sporting pursuits, both on track and in the field. Both boys also struggle with self-worth and identity – as sibling rivalry clouds their perceptions of self. So they’re getting on track in pursuit of their sporting goals and in their interactions with each other.

How did you make brothers, Toby and Shaun’s voices distinct from each other?

Initially it helped to model their voices off kids I have known, who shared similar personalities. That way I got the right inflection of confidence/uncertainty. Before long, Toby and Shaun started to speak for themselves, because I know them so well. (Especially after 6 years of ‘writing’ (or not) the story.)

What sort of children would you like to see reading this book?

Because of the dual narratives – and the two very different perspectives – I think the story actually speaks to different people in different ways. And I like that – because it’s very much about empathy and understanding differences.

The verse novel structure also tends to reach two completely opposite ends of the reading spectrum. It engages/enables struggling readers, because the whitespace and alignment removes clutter from the read. But also extends/enriches able readers, because of the literary devices employed.

Of course, being a sporty book, I’m hoping that sporty kids will also enjoy the read!

Your adult characters are very supportive. How did you craft them?

I’ve been blessed by knowing some very beautiful people; who value kids, and invest time and heart into helping them achieve their best – at their individual levels. I hope that’s come through in the book. They’ve inspired many of the characters.

Sometimes I think, being a parent and a teacher, you encounter/experience both sides. That doesn’t mean you always agree with everything – but you have an insight into why some decisions (and mistakes) happen.

 Why have you used the verse novel form?

Bully on the Bus This is actually the first verse novel I started to write, after falling in love with the verse novel format. (Bully on the Bus just snuck in … and out … in the middle.)

To be honest, I actively set out to write a verse novel, to play with the form and see if I could do it. I chased down an idea that I thought would fit the format, and the story developed from there. I hadn’t realised the theme (training/sports) would grow to encompass so much (self-worth/sibling rivalry/acceptance) – or that the story would grow so long!

The beauty of verse novels is that, because they’re mostly written in first person, and because they’re almost distilled words and emotions, you step right into the characters’ shoes. Their heartaches become your tears, their insecurities become your introspections, and their achievements become your joy.

The first verse novel I read was an epiphany. The more I read them … the more I write them … the more I talk about them … the more I love them!

What else have you written?This is the Mud

What I’ve had published is;

a verse novel (Bully on the Bus).

a rhyming picture book (This is the Mud)

a chapter book (Fencing with Fear)

I’ve also written a squillion other picture books – and have two other verse novels that are works-in-progress.

All the best with your book and thanks very much, Kathryn.

Great questions, Joy. Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog.

And here’s a link to the book trailer http://youtu.be/rkJsFSCT1Ec

Fencing with Fear

MUDDY PLAY SCHOOL

Congratulations to Kathryn Apel whose gorgeous picture book This Is the Mud! is making it’s television debut this week.

This Is the Mud ! will be read this Wednesday 21st July at Play School on ABC 1 (around 9.30am)

So we thought it would be a great time to talk to Kathryn about her tale of mud and mayhem.

Kathryn started writing when she was reading picture books to her rural babies and couldn’t find stories that reflected their rural lifestyle.

She has always enjoyed writing and was good at high school English, but says she  never would have imagined she would be an author.

What inspired Kathryn to write this book?

This Is the Mud! was written after yet another enjoyable reading of Jez Alborough’s Duck in the Truck. We (I!) loved that muddy book. I don’t recall my train of thoughts that led to my writing, but by my bedtime that same night, I’d written This Is the Mud .

This Is the Mud is about a cow goes for a drink in a dried up waterhole. She gets stuck in the mud. And somehow everyone who tries to rescue her gets stuck too. (You’d think it was fun, playing in the mud!)

Kathryn says the book was written for preschool age – plus or minus a few years

But I know a fair few adults who’ve been in similar situations and have given a snort of laughter on reading!

My 6 year-old son chose it as my entry for the CYA, otherwise it might still be tucked away.

Why kids enjoy This Is the Mud ?

Muck, mess, mud and mayhem? What kids wouldn’t like that! Not to mention the machines… I think it also appeals to kids because of the easy rhythm and rhyme – and the gorgeous illustrations!

I know rural kids love it because it’s a story they own. It looks like their farm, or their cow, or it happened to their dad… but it’s a fun read for all kids.

About the Main Character

(Smiling) The main character is a placid cow chewing her cud – though there is one page where she looks a little less than friendly, which gets a great reaction from kids.

What I love most about her is the fact that Warren Crossett has based her on one of my hand-reared, pet cow, Amber who I see everyday wandering around my paddock. (The story isn’t about her, though!)

What sets this book apart from others?

It’s rural Australian farming-ness. And the fact that kids aren’t belted over the head with it. It’s NOT educational – totally written and illustrated for fun.

Kathryn says the book fits themes about farming and Australia within the school curriculum, but it is also a good model of natural rhythm/rhyme for poetry studies.

This Is the Mud! is Kathryn’s second published book  – though it was my first acceptance. Picture books just take longer to publish.

Find out more about Kathryn and her work at katswhiskers.wordpress.com