A Closer Look at The World Around You: In Conversation with Katherine Applegate

Katherine Applegate is an author whose concern for the environment and the world around her makes its presence felt across her work. Her book, Willodeen, was described as a “cheer-worthy, inspiring, animal-centered tale”. 

In her writing, it’s always the final sentences in each of her chapters that really hits the point  home for the readers, “I like short chapters because I think I’m sort of a frustrated poet at heart and I’d much rather take a small rock of words and chisel away at it for a while and try to get that sentence just right.”

Katherine has a way with creating relatable human characters and positively unique animal characters. With Willodeen too, she has put together a positive message–one that’s about personal growth, friendship, and environmental well-being. The book offers a first person narrative from its namesake Willodeen’s perspective, a tenacious, little girl who serves as a great role model for young, curious minds. Additionally, a third-person omniscient narrative reminds one to appreciate what’s happening in nature–what we can’t really know, such as what’s happening in an animal’s head, putting forth a non-human perspective.

“There is something very presumptuous about writing from an animal’s point of view. I mean by definition you are going to be anthropomorphic no matter how much research you do. Sometimes you go pretty far into the fictional world. In Willodeen, I tried very hard to keep those two narratives apart, plus the third person approach allows you to have a little bit of distance from the character.”

One of the key takeaways from the book was regarding the protagonist’s role and her journey as she approaches the world with the temperament of a scientist, wondering about the world around her. Katherine acknowledged how it’d be really fitting for teachers to use different ways in classrooms to encourage and grow a similar disposition in their students. For the same, her website has a bunch of interesting resources for teachers on how they can work with her books. 

Katherine has, through works like Crenshaw and Wishtree, responded to pressing issues in the past. There are themes of healing and forgiveness, and that of a larger community being stirred to action. 

“I can’t imagine writing a children’s book that isn’t full of hope because to me that’s the whole point of reading and because I think children deserve that, because we’re handing them a world and expecting them to fix it. It’s very important that we give them a reason to hope and to think that they can change things because they really can.”

About the Author

Katherine Applegate is the best-selling author of numerous novels for children. Her book, The One and Only Ivan, won the 2013 Newbery Medal. Home of the Brave, her first standalone novel, won the SCBWI 2008 Golden Kite Award for Best Fiction and the Bank Street 2008 Josette Frank Award.  

About the Book

Willodeen is ready to raise her voice for the creatures she cares about, and possibly even solve the mystery of the disappearing hummingbears, after a homemade birthday gift brings unexpected enchantment to her and her new buddy, Connor. A timeless story about our fragile planet and one girl’s determinations to make a difference.

About the NLF Reading Challenge

The NLF Reading Challenge is a four-month-long reading event from March to June 2022, involving students between 10 to 13 years of age. It runs for participants across India on the competitive and non-competitive tracks. In addition to fun book-based activities and regular author interactions, the challenge will conclude with a quiz competition that will see the three best teams win gold, silver, and bronze engraved trophies respectively, certificates of achievement, and a great set of books! 



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