In October, Newbery award-winning children’s book author, Katherine Applegate, visited Isabella Bird Community School (Izzi B) for a writer’s workshop and an all-school assembly.
Izzi B Connection
Applegate’s visit to Izzi B was serendipitous. Assistant Principal Laura Glaab said that teachers at the school, which enrolls many refugee students, had read Applegate’s earlier work, Home of the Brave, over the summer. Home of the Brave chronicles the experience of an African refugee student who arrives in Minnesota and learns to connect with his new home.
When Glaab heard Applegate’s new book, Wishtree, was coming out this fall, she called upon connections from a previous job in Houston where she helped arrange author visits. She also worked with the Tattered Cover to bring Applegate to Izzi B, where the themes of her work resonated.
“For every one of you,
there’s a book out there
that’s the book that’s meant for you.”
On Becoming an Author
At the assembly, Applegate charmed students and teachers alike as she recounted her journey to becoming a writer. Telling the adults in the room to cover their ears, she shared an unlikely confession with her young listeners: “When I was your age, I really, really, really hated to read.” As the students gasped in shock, she continued, “It wasn’t my fault. I just had not found the right book.”
Revealing that the “right book” for her was Charlotte’s Web, she urged students to keep searching for their own right book. “Maybe for you it will be a graphic novel, or maybe it will be nonfiction, or maybe it will be a picture book,” she said. “It’s like your best friend, and it’s waiting for you to find it.”
Applegate also encouraged the young audience to embrace their differentness “because that sometimes turns you into the most interesting person when you get older.” In fact, her differentness was the reason she became an author. “Writers are weird. I am weird,” said Applegate. “If you are weird, if you’re an oddball, if you look at the world a little bit differently, then you may be an author.”
A prolific author of over 150 books, Applegate’s career began in ghostwriting, of which she said, “You don’t get any of the glory, but you don’t get any of the blame either.” Her early works included 17 Sweet Valley Twins series books, Disney books, and the Animorphs, which she co-authored with her husband.
When Applegate began writing her own books, she discovered how much she liked it. “I liked writing things that made me really, really, really mad, really, really, really passionate or about something I wanted to know lots and lots about.”
That is what led her to write Crenshaw, Home of the Brave and her most famous work, The One and Only Ivan, which won the Newbery award in 2013. Based upon the true story of a gorilla who spent his first 27 years on display in a small glass cage at a mall in Tacoma, Wash., Applegate created a tale of inspiration and heroism.
Latest Work: Wishtree
Applegate’s latest work is Wishtree, a story about a neighborhood tree that people tie with rags and ribbons to make a wish on “wishing day.” The story is told from the point of view of the oak tree, named “Red.”
Applegate described writing Wishtree: “I wrote it and wrote it really fast. I’m usually a very slow writer. I wrote this in the middle of the election. I was really mad,” she said. “Everybody was being really mean to everybody else. People were saying horrible things about each other. People were being very unkind, and it didn’t feel like our country anymore. So, I decided to write a book about it.”
Right before wishing day, a teenaged boy with a screwdriver comes along and carves “LEAVE” on Red’s bark. The community quickly realizes it is a hate crime, because it is directed at a newly arrived Muslim family. Samar, the daughter of the family, acutely feels the pain. “Nobody will talk to her family, people will throw eggs at her house, people yell things about leaving. She is so lonely. She is different and she feels so different,” says Applegate. “And even the little boy next door, named Steven, can’t talk to her. His parents won’t even talk to her family.”
Samar herself makes a wish—a wish for a friend—and Red decides she is going to make that happen for Samar, even though, as a tree, she is unable to move or speak. But Red recruits the animals that gather in her hollows. With their help, Steven, Samar’s reluctant neighbor, “steps in and he decides that he’s going to help Samar find some friends,” recounted Applegate.
Samar finds a friend, and Steven becomes a hero—what Applegate calls a “welcomer.” Wishtree is dedicated to both the newcomers and the welcomers, “because the world could use some more welcomers,” said Applegate.
Looking around at what she called the “best audience on the entire tour,” Applegate told them, “I have a feeling that there are a lot of Stevens in this room, people with empathy, people who see someone needs a friend, people who might step up and help … and that’s my wish for you—a world full of welcomers.”