On Track, by Kathryn Apel

Sometimes it feels  
like my body doesn’t belong
to me, like I tell it to do stuff
and it doesn’t. My feet stumble along
and trip over each other, my hands fumble
and drop, and it’s almost like I’m wrapped in
invisible bubble wrap – stumbly, fumbly, bumbly –
like a spaceman bumping and blundering along.

Toby and his brother Shaun were born less than a year apart, but though they are close in age, they are very different in every other way. Shaun is smart, and good at everything he does. Toby struggles at school, and doesn’t find anything easy – except running away from his ‘big, better brother.’ Shaun might be good at everything, but he feels that people don’t notice his successes – especially when Toby is around.

Tensions between the brothers grow when Toby is diagnosed with a muscular condition and starts getting extra help, including a new laptop for school. When he then joins the school’s athletics team, Shaun resents that this means the coach will spend less time with him. With Sports Day getting closer, tensions between the pair grow.

On Track is a wonderful verse novel about sibling rivalry, self identity and self confidence. Told through the dual first person narratives of Shaun and Toby, the story allows readers to see both brothers’ struggles and motivations, allowing empathy for both to develop. This in turn will help readers to see that individual differences are not always better or worse.

This is Apel’s second verse novel, and makes excellent use of the form, allowing an emotional connection with the two characters. Readers will care about the boys and what happens to them, and the resolution is satisfying without being overly contrived. The inclusion of sport in the plot will add interest for many readers.

On Track, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2016
ISBN 9780702253737

Available from good bookstores and online.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel

She’s big.
She’s smart.
She’s mean.
She’s the bully on the bus.
She picks on me and I don’t like it.

But
I don’t know
how to make her
stop.

Leroy has a problem, and it’s a big one. There’s a bully on his school bus – and she’s bigger than him, bigger than his sister Ruby, even as big as his mum. DJ goes to the high school, but she doesn’t want to be there. Leroy likes school, but he doesn’t like the bus, especially when DJ is on it. Leroy needs a secret weapon, but when he finds it he wonders if it will be enough to silence the bully.

Bully on the Bus is a gorgeous new verse novel for younger readers. Leroy and his family are realistic and well-drawn, as is the situation he finds himself in. The resolution, too, is clever, and shows Leroy drawing on the help of those around him but, ultimately, being key to fixing the problem.

This is Apel‘s first foray into the verse novel form, but hopefully it won’t be her last. She handles it deftly and with sensitivity.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253287

Available from good bookstores and online.

This is the Mud! by Kathryn Apel & Warren Crossett

This is the cow
who was chewing her cud,
as she went for a drink
and got stuck in the mud.

When a cow gets stuck in the mud near a farm dam, chaos ensues. Rescuers come to help – but when they, too, get stuck, who will rescue them?

This is the Mud! is a rollicking, rhyming picture book story, based on the well known House That Jack Built. It is wonderful seeing this rhyme reworked into a brand new cumulative tale which youngsters will adore. It is especially good to see the farm being identifiably Australian, with the landscape being distinctly Australian and no sign of stereotypical farm animals – no cute rabbits or fluffy ducklings in sight.

This is a first picture book for author Kathryn Apel, who has been teamed with illustrator Warren Crossett. Crossett’s warm water colour illustrations are a perfect complement to Apel’s funny text with the larger than life cow and human characters being especially endearing.

This is an outstanding read aloud offering which will be requested regularly by young listeners.

This is the Mud, by Kathryn Apel, illustrated by Warren Crossett
Lothian, 2009