Quite a few years ago, a close friend of mine recounted what she had learned that day in her university tutorial. As a pre-service Early Childhood educator, they had been learning about the importance of seeing the world through the eyes of children. “You must remember what it is like to hug trees again,” her lecturer had told her, “smell dirt, taste bark”. It was an idea that has remained with me since. The idea that, as teachers we must always be attuned to the way that children perceive things. In essence, get down to their level and attempt to experience the world through their eyes. Kathryn Apel’s verse novel Too Many Friends reminded me of this, or, more precisely she allowed me to recall the challenges I experienced navigating the complexity of childhood friendships.
Tahnee has lots of friends. She is one of these precious souls who, naturally inclusive by nature, appreciates the giftedness of those around her, valuing them for their talents while forgiving them where they fall short. It is a demeanour that, while ensuring that she has a constant stream of playmates, often leads to heartache and complications in the schoolyard. You see, when Tahnee reaches out to Lucy, the new (and rather shy and withdrawn) girl, she is drawn into a direct conflict with close friend Roxie, who, feels displaced by what she perceives as rejection.
Written in simple verse Apel draws her readers into the world of the playground. It is a place where small things matter, where harsh words are often spoken and hearts are broken. Too Many Friends captures the purity of our first friendships that are, so often, tarnished with bullying. With strong thematic appeal for readers in the lower to middle years of primary school, the story will be enjoyed by confident readers independently. Similarly, the story will certainly be embraced by teachers for group sharing, ticking many boxes and encouraging discussion in the area of resilience education and bullying prevention.
Tanya Grech Welden