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.
The bully on the bus taunts seven-year-old Leroy, then silences him with threats of worse to come if he tells. To help him, his teacher introduces him to the adventures in The Big Bad Book of Fairytales. Hidden within are the clues that Leroy needs to overcome the bully's taunts once and for all.
Inspired by her own experiences as a child and those of her young sons on their rural school bus run, Kathryn Apel wrote Bully on the Bus to give children silenced by fear a voice. For her, Bully on the Bus shows kids that anyone can become a bully-tamer if they are brave enough to ask for help.
With hidden treasures for kids, parents and teachers alike and a heart-warming ending, Bully on the Bus gives courage to anyone who might feel small.
Kathryn Apel first rhyming picture book, This is the Mud!, was published by Lothian Hachette in 2009. It has since been featured on ABC's Play School, while her chapter book, Fencing with Fear, was published in the -Aussie Read!' Series. She has also had poetry and short stories published in children's magazines and on CD in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Kathryn's writing for children has been shortlisted in numerous competitions, including the Ipswich Festival of Children's Literature, and CYA Competitions. Kathryn teaches part-time in the role of Literacy Coordinator, and conducts author talks at schools and festivals. She lives with her husband and two sons on a rural Queensland grazing property.
Bully on the Bus
Author: Kathryn Apel
Question: What inspired you to write Bully On The Bus?
Kathryn Apel: My initial goal was to write a chapter book for early readers, that publishers would want. My writing process is generally just to jump in and start writing. Anything. Then when I find my rhythm and voice, and get a feel for the character - in this case, Leroy - I stop and think about what troubles he would encounter. What story he would have to tell. As I got to know Leroy, I realised he was a fairly placid little boy who liked everyone, and assumed that everyone would like him too. But not everyone does play nice… And quiet likeable little kids often don't know how to respond when they're faced with unexpectedly nasty behaviours… And there was my story! Inspired. Made easier by the fact that it was something I could really relate to on many levels…
Question: Were you inspired by a bullying incident you'd seen?
Kathryn Apel: The book is shaped by a number of incidents I've seen or experienced - either as a young child myself, or vicariously, as a mum. Not long before I wrote the book, my young boys were bullied on their school bus, so I observed their feelings and responses; saw how it affected their dispositions, and heard their language and interactions in discussions. Their experience brought to mind how I'd felt as a young child, bullied on our school bus, and I realised those feelings were still very vivid. So it was easy to put myself in Leroy's shoes. And Ruby's shoes. And I certainly knew how Leroy's Mum was feeling.
Sadly, bullying is prevalent everywhere and in so many forms. I've dealt with incidents of bullying as a teacher - and seen it in public playgrounds and even at social occasions. So even without consciously drawing on observations, these experiences have all helped to shape my characters, and make their responses authentic.
Question: Who did you write Bully On The Bus for?
Kathryn Apel: I wrote Bully on the Bus for those little Prep/Year One students who can't always convey their feelings in response to the situations they're experiencing. I wanted to write something that (in a shared reading with a parent/carer/teacher) provided an opportunity for small children to verbalise if they identified with Leroy's situation. Something as simple as, -That's what Sam does to me,' or -DJ is just like Sam on my bus.'
But part-way through the writing process (Actually, I thought I'd finished the writing process, and was up to the editing, but how wrong I was!) I started sharing the story with teaching friends and writing critter buddies… and the response from many who read it, was they this was a story for older children to read - because it let them see the affects of their actions on young children. To foster empathy - because many times, bigger kids might just be sharing a joke with their friends, or stretching their wings and asserting a bit of authority… without realising how their actions are impacting on young children.
So in the end, I walked a fine balance between the two - wanting to remain true to my original intent, in writing whilst also engaging older readers. And somehow in the process my 1,700 word chapter book grew into a 7,100 word verse novel.
Question: How do you hope Bully On The Bus will help other young children affected by bullying?
Kathryn Apel: Often times the child who is being bullied feels trapped and alone in their fear.. Or they may try to ask for help - but the enormity of their fear isn't heard - because sometimes the bullying mightn't look -bad' - but the impact on a child's character and self-worth isn't always visible. If Bully on the Bus takes away that powerless aloneness, and starts to build confidence in its place, that would be a wonderful thing. I hope it helps children break the silence and seek help, and stop the cycle of bullying.
Of course, I'd love to soften a few bullies, in the process.
Question: What knowledge do you hope Bully On The Bus equips children with to deal with bullying on the bus or in the school year?
Kathryn Apel: I hope Bully on the Bus helps kids realise that not only is it okay to tell, it's important to tell. An adult can help them work through the situation, and can also support the child and check on their emotional - and physical - well-being. There are some strategies in the poem, 'How to Bust a Bully', for kids to used if they're being bullied. It's not a definitive list, but rather a jump-off point for further discussion with teachers and parents. There's even a tried-and-tested trick there from when I was a kid.
Question: What's next for you?
Kathryn Apel: I've completed another verse novel, for middle primary readers, and I'm currently working on a verse novel for YA readers. But just to keep it all in perspective, I often switch back to work on one of many picture book manuscripts, too.
Interview by Brooke Hunter