Books And More

A Larger-than-Life Best Friend

TFK talks to author Katherine Applegate about her new book, Crenshaw

September 21, 2015

 

Newbery Medal–winning author Katherine Applegate knows the power of imagination. “Every time you write a book, it’s like you have an imaginary family in your mind,” Applegate told TFK. “You’re distracted by people who aren’t real.”

In her new book, Crenshaw, on sale September 22, Applegate explores the real impact that imaginary friends can have on everyday life. Jackson and his family are facing hard times. They don’t have enough money to pay their rent, and most nights, they don’t have enough food on the table. When Jackson, a no-nonsense fourth grader, spots a giant surfboarding cat during a trip to the beach, he is stunned. This bushy-tailed, playful feline is Jackson’s imaginary friend, who has helped him through challenges before. But can his imaginary friend help his family? TIME For Kids spoke with Applegate about finding friends in unusual places, the power of imagination, and how to learn from challenges.

TFK:

In Crenshaw, Jackson and his family sometimes struggle with not having enough to eat. You are partnering with bookstores and your readers to fight hunger during Hunger Action Month in September. How can readers help?

KATHERINE APPLEGATE:

We thought that since hunger is part of the book, it would be interesting to do a food drive during the month of the launch of the book. Macmillan, the publisher, is helping independent bookstores work with local food pantries to collect food donations from readers. I’m going to visit and do Skype interviews with the bookstores that collect the most items.

TFK:

What inspired you to write Crenshaw?

APPLEGATE:

Author Katherine Applegate

COURTESY MACMILLAN
Author Katherine Applegate

After I wrote The One and Only Ivan and won the Newbery, I got to visit lots of schools. Some of the schools serve students whose families are struggling financially, and some were very wealthy schools. The difference was really startling to me. It led me to think about the disparity between people who have and people who don’t. I think that there aren’t many books that talk about it, so I wanted to do that.

TFK:

How does the imaginary friend fit in?

APPLEGATE:

Sometimes, you just get something stuck in your head and the character won’t leave you alone. Decades ago, I watched Harvey, this wonderful old Jimmy Stewart movie, where his best friend is a large invisible rabbit. Probably because I never had an imaginary friend myself, I thought it would be really fun to write about. So I took those two very different ideas and came up with Crenshaw.

TFK:

You didn’t have imaginary friends growing up. Do you have any now?

APPLEGATE:

I’m afraid so! It’s like an entire imaginary family every time you write a book. You’re carrying all their worries around with you, just like you would with your own family. It’s remarkable that children can create somebody that serves their needs. They can be scapegoats, they can be friends, and you can tell them your secrets.

DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS

TFK:

Why is Jackson so quick to accept a talking cat, and where did the name Crenshaw come from?

APPLEGATE:

I wanted an odd name that you would know was a name, but you wouldn’t think, “Oh I know a lot of those guys.” He’s probably so accepting of Crenshaw because he needed him so much at that moment. And because he was born out of Jackson’s own head.

TFK:

How would you describe their relationship?

APPLEGATE:

It’s complicated. Crenshaw is sometimes a little bit provocative; he makes Jackson think about things, like the fact that Jackson had stolen something. So he’s a little bit of a conscience, a little bit of a place to ventilate. And he provides silliness and distraction and comfort.

TFK:

What role does magic play in Crenshaw?

APPLEGATE:

Especially when you’re faced with hard times, you need to remember that life is either tragedy or comedy. For me, that’s what the magic is. Life has remarkable, surprising moments that get you through the hard times.

TFK:

Jackson struggles with big issues. What do you feel he learned?

APPLEGATE:

I wanted Jackson to realize, as much as I want kids to realize, that even when life is hard, there’s always hope and help.

TFK:

Why have you featured animals in many of your books?

APPLEGATE:

It’s not deliberate. I worked for a vet when I was in high school and I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve always had lots of animals—dogs, cats, and the occasional gerbil. Animals fascinate me. I think the human-animal bond is really important to kids.

TFK:

What’s next for you?

APPLEGATE:

I just started a trilogy called Endlings. It came from a word that was coined relatively recently that refers to the last animal in a species. My son mentioned it and I thought, “Wow, what a great idea for a book.” It’s a fantasy about an endling and his search to see if there are any of his kind left. It’s a book for middle grades. It will be out in about a year.


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