I really enjoyed this book. I recommend it for 7 and older. It is a chapter book and has the loveliest illustrations. The artworks are beautiful and detailed. It is a verse novel which means it is a novel but it is like a poem. The words are sometimes in shapes.
Lucy is the main character. She is kind, calm and lonely. Lucy only has her dad and moves to different places a lot. Lucy asks questions about her family, but her dad doesn’t like to talk about it. Her mum, grandparents and other family are a mystery to her.
Snail is Lucy`s pet and only friend. He means a lot to Lucy. Snail lives in a box in Lucy`s caravan. Lucy only has Snail and her dad until she meets Tahnee. She finally finds a place she likes. But the question is will she stay?
Kathryn Apel lives among the gum trees, cattle and kangaroos on a Queensland grazing property, where she writes poetry, picture books and verse novels. Her previous books include Bully on the Bus, Too Many Friends, and The Bird in the Herd. Kathryn’s latest book is What Snail Knows, illustrated by Mandy Foot, and we’re thrilled to chat to her about the book today.
Lucy’s glad she has Snail, the perfect pet for a lonely girl. If only she had her own shell to hide in every time she started at a new school. But this place is different. She likes her teacher, Miss Darling. She likes her classmates, especially Tahnee. She even likes Mei-hui’s van park, where she lives with Dad and Snail. This place feels like home. Can she convince her dad to stay?
You’re well-known for your verse novels, did you know you’d write this as a verse novel when the story idea first came to you?
I did not! I was talking with a friend about the ‘How Can I Help?’ unit I’d team-taught a number of years earlier, and my friend commented that it would make a great book. I was in the middle of prepping two picture books for print at the time (Up and Down on a Rainy Day and The Bird in the Herd) and I couldn’t imagine how to squeeze ‘How Can I Help?’ into a picture book. But 6 weeks later I realised it could be a verse novel. And I was very quickly excited about that idea!
How did you go about writing What Snail Knows? Did you write a plan before you begin working on the story?
My story plan unfolds as I’m writing. When I get some words on the page, I stop and think about the character more. Is the voice distinctive? What does s/he want? What could cause the problem?
And that’s how this started … ‘It’s just you and me. We don’t need nobody else.’ I was thinking about my character and wondering how s/he could link in with ‘How Can I Help?’ when I realised I already knew her. And I didn’t need to create a whole class of characters for this story. I already had them! They were in my verse novel, Too Many Friends. The voice I had found was Lucy’s – the quiet girl who was always alone. I did wonder how I was going to fill a book when Lucy doesn’t say much … But she thinks. A lot. And she shares her thoughts with Snail.
I can tell you that there is alot of stress when you’re 3/4 of the way through your first draft and you still don’t know what happened to your main character’s mum … or why they have to move a lot. Usually I know how a story will end … just not how it will get there. But this time I didn’t even know the ending. Would Lucy and her Dad have to move again? Why? How did things change and resolve? I had no idea, and I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish this book! So – I wouldn’t say I recommend not planning …
Did you talk with Mandy Foot about the illustrations? Do you consider illustrations at all when you’re writing?
I didn’t know there were going to be illustrations – so I didn’t consider them when I wrote. And I didn’t talk to Mandy about them. But I loved them. That tangle of hair, the dirty smudges, and that sweet little face. Finding the right place for them in the story was a bit like a jigsaw – but when the puzzle was complete, those little line drawings surprised me with the emotions they squeezed from the poetry. They captured the aloneness … And the moments of connection between Lucy and Snail, Lucy and Dad and finally Lucy and Tahnee.
Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to write a verse novel or a verse short story?
Say less, best. There are lots of small words we need in sentences that we don’t need in poetry. Cut them out.
Play with your words and where they sit on the page.
Try line breaks instead of punctuation.
Read your writing aloud. Or better still – get someone to read it aloud to you.
Focus on individual poems. Write one poem. Then the next. Forget you’re writing a book and just write lots of small poems that fit together to tell a story.
Could you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
I’m rather excited to have a picture book that has also just gone to print. Miss Understood, illustrated by Beau Wylie, will be released in May 2022 with Scholastic. It’s a romp of a rhyming picture book, as told by the wolf, Miss Understood. She is such a sweetie, and if you have never heard her side of things, you really must read this book, because truly, she has been … misunderstood.
I have a couple of other picture books and verse novels in various stages. And I’m a wee-bit excited about the possibility of another companion title to Too Many Friends and What Snail Knows. I’m still mulling it over in my head – and then I need to do some research. And that may involve me stepping waaaay out of my comfort zone.😬 So it may be a while, yet …
What Snail Knows is out now! Look for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.
Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus is a book written in different people’s points of view as well as it’s written in verse
which means the writing
is like a big poem
that goes for the entire book.
It's like the writing above.
Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus is a book about eight kids and one teacher (and also a crossing guard, but he doesn’t ride his bike to school) who all love to ride their bikes to school, but each day when they ride to school the cars on the side of the road get closer and closer to the bike lane they all ride in. Can they all stop the cars getting closer in time or is it too late?
My favourite part in the book is when they decide to ride their bikes to school, rather than a car, because cars can pollute the environment.
My favourite character is actually all of them since they work together all the time! Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone age 9+. I’d rate it nine out of ten, just because with 10 people it’s a bit hard to keep track of the characters!
Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus is a funny and inspiring story that I strongly recommend.
This is the story of Mina, a young girl, and her parents one day decide to take in a refugee boy. At first, Mina is shocked and upset, but when the boy, Azzami, moves in, she starts to discover his full story …
This heart-warming and emotional story is wonderful and easy to read. I thought that using the idea of a refugee child was sure to make people think about refugees differently. After reading this book, I learned that there are more to refugees than just being poor and homeless. I felt sorry for Azzami, who was always picked on and teased at school, but as Mina soon learned, there was more to him than she thought.
I would definitely recommend this book to children. It certainly touched my heart and shared a powerful message. I would suggest that kids aged around Year 4 to 6 will enjoy this amazing story!
Sharnie Burley is in her early teens and is struggling with the problems of life. The year is 1969, around the time of the first moon landing and the Vietnam war. Sharnie’s sister Cas meets a soldier who has returned from the Vietnam war, after being conscripted. Cas becomes an anti-war protester, which causes conflict within the family …
The story is told through the eyes of Sharnie, as she starts to deal with the difficulties of adolescence. She is beginning her high school journey and finding it difficult to make new friends. It is a story about family relationships and growing up in challenging times.
This captivating and engaging story is easy to read and has an interesting storyline. I think that this book would suit children aged around 10-13 and I would definitely recommend it!
Iona Presentation College students are members of Alphabet Soup’s review team. This is Charlotte’s first review for Alphabet Soup. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!
Sherryl Clark is an award-winning writer, editor and writing teacher. Sherryl has been writing poems and stories for children for over twenty years. We’re pleased to be chatting to her today about her latest verse novel – Mina and the Whole Wide World, illustrated by Briony Stewart.
From the publisher:
A powerful story about a young girl, Mina, and how she copes when her family take in a refugee boy and give away what was meant to be her first very-own bedroom.
What brought you to write Mina and the Whole Wide World?
I have been thinking about it for several years. I wanted to write something about refugees and also about what kids learn from their parents, and about how hearing someone’s story can change us and change how we perceive the world. But I was very conscious of appropriating stories – that stopped me in my tracks and the book just stalled after about five poems. Finally I went on a writing residency to Finland, and I realised one day that it was Mina’s story, and I could tell it from her point of view. Then the book just burst out – I wrote it in about five sittings of two to three hours at a time.
You write for a variety of ages and the style across your writings and books is also varied. Canyou tell us about how you approached the writing? Did you set out to write it as a verse novel?
Yes, it was always going to be a verse novel. I think simple poems with lots of imagery and ideas allow the reader into the spaces and gaps, and they can then imagine and feel the story for themselves. Not all stories work in verse (and not all verse works). I’ve actually tried to write a fantasy novel in poems and I just got bogged down by the world-building and the plot details! On the other hand, Motormouth started as a prose novel and was really flat and stuck until I turned it into a verse novel.
How long did it take you to write the book from the first germ of the idea, to the final draft?
I think I wrote the first five poems about four years ago. They just sat in my notebook and I couldn’t keep going. I didn’t know how to tell the story. When I got to Finland, the silence in my writing room and the fact I was there to write and do nothing else seemed to allow my brain to expand and “see” better. It’s hard to explain. I went there to write a crime novel! And I did, but Mina and the Whole Wide World kept pushing in and the poems just kept coming. As soon as I had Mina’s voice, I started writing madly. So it was finished in less than three weeks (and the original five poems were back in Australia so I had to start from the beginning). I did another draft when I came home but it was mostly refining and changing a few things.
Do you have a tip for young writers who would like to try writing a verse novel of their own?
Think imagery and story, and put them together if you can. Having a clear story idea or a plot is really helpful. It acts like a beacon to keep you on track. I’d also think a lot about voice – who is telling the story? Who do you imagine is speaking through the poems? And keep the poems tight – don’t over-explain. It’s a balancing act!
Could you tell us a bit about your next project?
I’m writing another adult crime novel at the moment. I was a bit stuck because I had to do some important research about private investigators to help me sort out some plot problems. I finally found someone I could interview so now I have to do some rewriting before I can work on the rest of it. Sometimes it’s like that. You stop because you know something is missing or wrong, and you have to go away and solve it before you can keep writing.
Mina and the Whole Wide World is out now! Ask for it at your favourite book store or local library.
Sally Murphy is the imaginative author of the book, Worse Things. Based in Australia, this non-rhyming book depicts three different views – Amed, Blake and Jolene. Amed is new to the school and watches the two other children from a distance – Blake, the Footy Boy and Jolene, the Hockey Girl. Meanwhile, Blake breaks his arm and now observes his football mates play without him. Jolene hates playing hockey because her other teammates dislike her and think that she is too selfish. Her mother urges her on anyway. All Jolene wants is for her dad to come back from saving people and save her from being forced to play hockey. ’How do these three characters’ different situations become one story?’ you may ask yourself …
This is a touching book, which anyone older than the age of 9 would enjoy reading. I appreciate this book because the author uses different techniques, such as if she wants to emphasise a word she would use a short poem to describe it like it is from a dictionary.
In my opinion, Worse Things is rated 4.5 out of 5. I loved reading this highly engaging, captivating and also heart-felt book!
This story is about three very different friends: Noah, Lottie and Jack meet in a beach visit.
NOAH is fearless in the surf. So where does his courage go when his best mate pushes him around? You’ll have to read the fabulous book to find out.
LOTTIE loves to explore and collect facts about bugs, but she doesn’t know what to do about her dad filling her lonely house with junk.
JACK wishes to be a cricket star, but how does he improve on school if he is to see the ocean for the first time? Does he improve? Well, if you wanted to know, the next paragraph tells you the answer.
The author leaves a message that you should always remember which is falling down doesn’t mean you never get up. Well she is totally right because you can read what Jack did to prove it. This book is the right book to buy if you want to learn something or teach someone. So that’s why I really recommend for you to buy this book!
PIP HARRY is the author of young adult novels I’ll Tell You Mine, Head of the River and Because of You, which was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards; the Children’s Book Council of Australia — Book of the Year, Older Readers; and the Queensland Literary Awards. She currently lives and writes in Singapore.
Today we’re super excited to have Lorraine Marwood visiting Alphabet Soup to talk about writing verse novels. Lorraine is an award winning Australian writer of novels, verse novels and poetry for children.
Lorraine’s latest book, Leave Taking, is about a boy and his family who are leaving their farm forever after the death of Toby’s younger sister.
What bought you to write Leave Taking as a verse novel?
That’s an interesting question. Often I’m asked if I write ‘normal’ stories, meaning all prose. The answer is yes I do — not everything I write is poetry or verse novels, except when the subject matter calls for a stronger emotional framework, then I use poetry. Sometimes it’s my natural voice; sometimes I sketch a character out in prose poetry much like an artist might sketch a character. Because Leave Taking has an emotional tug of saying goodbye to both a beloved place and a beloved family member, my natural instinct was to treat the story in a special prose poetry way.
For me this technique is quick and it also provides different layers for the reader to climb on and it allows us to cry or laugh at the time the reader feels a heartstrings pull.
A verse novel way of writing is like wearing a piece of comfortable clothing; I can confidently build an atmosphere and that is a huge gateway for me to enter the story. I have to feel the right atmosphere to plunge in.
What do you find most challenging about writing verse novels?
This way of writing does have pitfalls. For me it’s probably not to strike out in prose too much when it’s a blend of poetry and prose together. And to keep that consistency of words to a line and to write more rather than less, which I tend to do as a poet. I try to paint a bare sensory picture for the reader to experience and that allows them to come to the story with their own ideas and reactions.
Do you have a tip for young writers who’d like to have a go at writing a verse novel?
Start out with a tale you know well and cut it down and put your own slant on it.
Try for short sentences and short phrases.
Try to give lots of senses and details.
Here’s a start of a well-known tale — continue on! Using first person voice is a good choice for a verse novel.
I am waiting, watching. My mother said, ‘Go and hunt for bargains in the market.’
There are shouts of stall holders, banners flapping in the breeze. ‘Pies, fresh bananas, best in town!’ ‘Silk, wool, rugs, soft and hardwearing!’
And amongst all the bleats of sheep, or goats, I hear a musical voice; ‘Lamps, I buy old lamps, I pay good money!’
Now you continue on — try for 7 or 8 words a line.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
I have written a ‘normal’ big book, a fantasy, a genre I love. I have written another verse novel, which is under contract with University of Queensland Press, and always I write poetry and have some school writing workshops coming up.
Thanks for asking me these insightful questions. And happy verse novel writing everyone — have a go!
Today we introduce a new Friday feature — Alphabet Soup will be featuring a book creator every Friday who will answer one question. And then they will ask one question of the next Friday’s visitor. (It’s kind of like a book relay in slow motion.)
We’re thrilled to have Kathryn Apel visiting for our first ever Pass the Book Baton! Kathryn writes poetry, picture books, novels and verse novels. You might know some of her books from the photo below.
Kathryn starts our interview series, so we asked Joseph to give her an interview question. (Joseph is 12, and is one of our Top Reads team members. He has reviewed Kathryn’s verse novels for Alphabet Soup.)
Q. I really enjoyed Bully on the Bus and On Track, both verse novels. But you’ve written other books, too. Why did you decide to write those two books as verse novels?
A. Verse novels very often deal with issues that have a lot of heart. They have humour and laughter too, but I think the raw emotions are key. I really wanted to try writing a verse novel, and chose a topic that would interest sporty kids. My first attempt was a verse novel about training, with threads of sibling rivalry and self-doubt. But I didn’t get far before I panicked. In fact, I’d only written 139 words! (I think I was feeling that self-doubt!)
I put it away to think about (or forget about) and went back to polishing a manuscript about bullying. It was a chapter book I’d written for younger readers. But then I had feedback from a critique-buddy, and realised the chapter book I was writing was really the verse novel I wanted to write. I sat down straight away, and started working Bully on the Bus into a verse novel. At first, I thought I’d flick between verse and prose (poetry and paragraphs) … but once I started, the prose sounded clunky and heavy, whereas the verse was lighter and so much better. It all needed to be written in verse.
Bully on the Bus was accepted … and published … and I was still writing that verse novel about training; On Track. I thought it was going to tell Toby’s story. I didn’t realise that his older brother Shaun also had a story to tell. Being a verse novel made it easier to feel the emotions from both sides — and to switch between the two brothers.
My heart soars when I’m writing verse novels. Maybe because I’m writing about topics that are important? That can make a difference in someone’s life? Or maybe because they’re just so very beautiful to write … and read. Though I do often get teary when writing them … and reading them — even my own. It’s also fun to slip in short and snappy little jokes, and the verse novel format enables that.
Writing a novel — without the verse — scares me. It seems so enormous! But writing a verse novel, I can write short, complete pieces, individual poems that slowly, carefully, bit by bit, build to tell the story.
I remember when you reviewed Bully on the Bus, Joseph, you said you would like to read more verse novels and maybe write one, too. I’m wondering how you’ve got on with that. Don’t worry if you haven’t written much yet — ideas grow once you’ve made the start.
And now Kathryn can pass the book baton to our next visitor. (Actually two visitors at once — Joshua Button and Robyn Wells who are the author-illustrators behind Steve Goes to Carnival.)
My question for Joshua Button & Robyn Wells: I read that you collaborate for hours over the kitchen table. Can you describe your process — and how you came to form this wonderful working partnership?