The One and Only Katherine Applegate

Katherine Applegate won the Newbery Award in 2013 for her beautiful book The One and Only Ivan, a runaway bestseller and staff favorite here at the shop. Even if you missed Ivan (we know a way you can fix that), chances are you've read her work. Along with her husband, Katherine created the Animorphs and Making Out series in the 1990s. She's also responsible for a variety of picture books, chapter books for young readers, and novels for middle grade and teen readers. 

Her latest story is Wishtree, and it comes out later this month. Wishtree is sure to be another favorite—it's a beautiful tale of nature and friendship from an unexpected point of view. To celebrate its publication, we caught up with Katherine for a quick Q&A. Read about her writing process and inspiration below, then circle September 27th on your calendar—that's when we're hosting Katherine in the shop for a discussion and book signing. 


Your favorite audience is middle grade. Why do you love writing for that age?

Join me at a school visit sometime and you’ll see the answer!

“Middle grade” readers are just discovering how important a book can be—how it can take you someplace magical, or help you understand the workings of your own heart. These kids are idealistic and hopeful. They care about fairness and justice. They’re not afraid to be honest.

Also, if they like your book, they’ll treat you like a rock star.

Your books always have a message to them—a moral, even. What inspires you to choose each message when you start a new book?

Interesting question, because I think it’s dangerous to begin writing a book with a “message” in mind. First and foremost, you have to tell a good story.

Perhaps because I began my career working for other people as a ghostwriter—17 Sweet Valley Twins! Mickey Mouses (Mice?) and Little Mermaids!—I’m drawn to themes that resonate for me personally. I like exploring topics that make me angry or sad. And I love writing characters I can admire. My characters are tougher and more resilient than I could ever be.

What do you find most compelling about writing non-human narrators, like Ivan or Red?

Two things. First, they give you a fresh perspective on the world, allowing you to say things, and to see things, you might otherwise overlook.

I also love trying to divine how a character sounds. How does a gorilla think? What might a red oak worry about? It allows me to do lots of research, which I love. And it’s a fun challenge to write outside of your POV comfort zone.

You’ve written a few books with your husband. How does your writing process differ when collaborating versus working on a book on your own?

Michael’s great at plotting, and meets his deadlines. Me? Not so much on either front. So that’s a definite plus.

Still and all, it’s messy. I always say it’s like sausage and legislation: You don’t want to see how it’s done. We actually got pretty efficient after a while, although things varied with each book. Sometimes we alternated POVs, sometimes one of us did a “skeletal” write and the other fleshed it out, sometimes one of us did more dialogue and the other did description.

The best thing about collaborating? You have someone else on hand to share the blame.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold, the first book in an utterly charming new series featuring a boy and his baby skunk. What’s interesting about it is that the main character is on the autistic spectrum, but that’s just one part of the story.

I’m also listening to—and reading—You Bring the Distant Near, by Mitali Perkins. It’s a riveting YA novel spanning 3 generations of an Indian-American family. I highly recommend it. It’s funny and heartfelt and full of strong, fascinating women.

More by Katherine Applegate

Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs
Eve & Adam (with Michael Grant)
Crenshaw
The One and Only Ivan