Newbery winner talks for the animals


(DEB LINDSEY/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
February 11, 2013

It seems that since she was a very young child, Katherine Applegate was meant to write a book about talking animals.

“My favorite books as a child were ‘Dr. Dolittle,’ which my dad read to me, and then later ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ ” Applegate says.

And she’s written dozens of talking-animal books. Along with her husband, Michael Grant, Applegate is the author of the very popular “Animorphs” series, in which the main characters can turn (or morph) into any animal they touch.

But it’s Applegate latest book, “The One and Only Ivan,” about a silverback gorilla, that is in the news now.

Last month, the book was awarded the John Newbery Medal as the best children's book of the year. She recently spoke from her home in California to KidsPost’s Tracy Grant about “Ivan.”


Courtesy of HarperCollins Children’s Books (Courtesy of HarperCollins Children’s Books )
“Ivan” is based on the true story of a gorilla who is at a mall. But it’s fiction because it’s written from Ivan’s point of view. How did you decide to do that?

“I tried it a lot of different ways. I tried third person, where someone was telling the story about Ivan. Then I tried to tell it in first-person gorilla. To jump into the mind of a gorilla, you have to make assumptions. We don’t know what a gorilla would think. But I went to the mall where he lived. His cage is still intact. And that gave me a sense of what his life was like.”

How did you know you wanted to write about Ivan?

“I was actually working on a dog book, and I was really frustrated by it. And my editor, Anne Hoppe, said to me, ‘You want to write that gorilla book, so go write that gorilla book.’ When you have a great editor, it’s like a friend and a teacher and a principal all rolled into one.”

Did “Ivan” turn out the way you wanted the first time you wrote it?

“My official author photo is me in bed with ugly flannel pajamas, and crumpled paper all around me. Writing is all about rewriting. . . . The first time I wrote it, I tried to be very journalistic, and it turned out to be a very short book. Then I added Ruby [a baby elephant] and Stella [an adult elephant who is Ivan’s best friend]. When kids write, they sometimes assume that the first draft is the only draft.”

What age kids should read “Ivan”?

“I’ve heard that first and second grades use it as a read-aloud and that high schools use it as well. There are sad parts, but younger kids can [understand] the darker portions because kids are very compassionate. They embrace Ivan. It’s exactly the kind of book I would have wanted to read as a kid. I wasn’t much of a reader, but I loved animal books.”

Is writing a hard job?

I’m a terrible procrastinator. [That means she likes to put off doing things that need to be done, like writing.] It’s very easy for me to find something to do other than to face the blank page. . . . But really, I have a great job. I get to wear sweat pants to work, and I get paid to make stuff up.”

MEET: Katherine Applegate

FOR PARENTS: Why ‘Ivan’ is better than many Newbery winners

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