Today we have Kathryn Apel visiting us as part of the Alphabet Soup Poetry Festival. Kathryn writes fabulous poetry for kids. Some of you might remember Kathryn’s poems in Alphabet Soup (back when it was a print magazine) and her latest work is a brand new verse novel called Bully on the Bus. (You can read a review of Bully on the Bus in a previous blogpost — thanks to Souper reviewer Joseph, 10.)
We asked Kathryn if we could bombard her with questions about verse novels. (Luckily — she said yes!)
AS: What IS a verse novel exactly?
KA: A verse novel is a story that is told in verse, either as a collection of individual poems that build to tell a story — or longer poems that stand as chapters in a larger story. Verse novels may be told in rhyme, or free verse.
AS: Can a verse novel rhyme?
KA: The idea came from an experience my boys had on their school bus … but as I was writing, I was reminded me of my journey on the school bus as a child — with bullies. And suddenly I had more than enough ideas for Leroy’s story!
AS: Why did you choose to write it as a verse novel? (Why not a prose novel?)
KA: In fact, I did first write it as a prose novel — a chapter book for early readers. It was the Book Chook (Susan Stephenson) who helped me see that it really was a verse novel. Rewriting it as a verse novel was one of the most rewarding things I have done. I knew that this was the right format for Leroy’s story, because the words sang on the page.
AS: You write lots of poetry too. What’s different about writing a verse novel and writing a poem?
KA: Great question. You’re really making me think with this …
A poem often captures a moment in time — or an event. A verse novel creates a bigger picture, and you become really involved with the characters — feel their emotions with them, and know how they’re going to respond. I think it’s the fact that the poems are a part of a whole that give them their strength … And because there are different emotions and experiences (and sometimes even different narrators — although not in Bully on the Bus, which is told through Leroy’s eyes) you can also explore different forms of poetry — different rhythms — throughout the book. Of course, because each poem is just one of many, the devices you employ as a writer in each particular poem are also dictated by the surrounding poems. Something that might be effective in a stand-alone poem may have already been used within the verse novel. So you have to evaluate if it will still be effective if you do the same thing again — or if there’s another, better way of presenting it.
AS: Can you recommend other verse novels for primary school aged kids?
KA: This is one of the easiest questions I’ve ever had to answer! Australia has produced lots of beautiful verse novelists — and verse novels. It’s wonderful that publishers are producing them, and kids are reading them! The following verse novels are great reads for Primary students — although older readers (and adults) will also enjoy them. (That’s perhaps the best thing about verse novels. They’re so versatile!)
- Sixth Grade Style Queen NOT! by Sheryl Clark
- Ratswhiskers and Me, and Starjumps by Lorraine Marwood
- Pearl Verses the World, and Toppling, and Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy
- The Spangled Drongo, and Pookie Aleerah Is Not My Boyfriend by Stephen Herrick
AS: Where can we find your poems?
KA: Most of my poems have been published in magazines — so they’re not available online. But it’s something I’ve been meaning to fix, so in honour of this post, today I’m launching a page with poems for kids on my blog. You’ll find it at http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/poetry-for-kids . Skip across to check it out sometime.