How daunting is it to return to one’s writing desk after winning the Newbery? “Oh, man, I was a wreck!” Katherine Applegate, who clinched that medal in 2013 for The One and Only Ivan, admits. “What was worse, when I’d talk to other Newbery winners, almost to a person they said that they’d already had another book halfway finished or soon to be published when they won the award, and that was not the case with me.”
But the author eventually set to work on Crenshaw (Feiwel & Friends, Sept.), the story of Jackson, a fifth-grader whose family has fallen on hard times and may have to move out of their apartment and live in their minivan. The last time the family was homeless, Jackson was visited by Crenshaw, an imaginary friend who is an oversize, outspoken cat, and who now comes back into his life.
This story, Applegate explains, was long in the shaping. “I’d been flirting with the idea on and off for years, but I wanted to get it just right, so it took me quite a while,” she says. “I think most writers will say that at the start of each book they think, ‘I’m not sure I can do this.’ But eventually you reach a magical point where the story suddenly becomes real to you and you become totally invested in it. Once that happened with Crenshaw, it was all good, and I really love how the novel ended up.”
Though her new book has a very different story line than The One and Only Ivan, Applegate points to some similarities between the two. Stylistically, both feature concise writing, with the text broken up by much white space. “Teachers have told me that the white space and short blocks of text in Ivan is great for reluctant readers,” Applegate remarks, “and I do like writing that way—probably because I’m lazy. But sometimes paring down is the hardest part.”
Thematically, too, the author finds parallels between the two novels, which both explore friendship and survival. “I guess on some subconscious level, I was aware that these are two elements of both books,” Applegate says. “Crenshaw, like Ivan, is about somebody dealing with a dark place and finding solace in a friend.”
The California author, who will sign galleys of Crenshaw today, 11 a.m.–noon, at Table 5, is thrilled to be back at BEA. “I love any excuse to come to New York—when it’s not February,” she quips. “I love the chaos of this show. You can walk down any random aisle and see people you know, and people you’ve always wanted to know, and find books to salivate over. It’s kind of like visiting a really caffeinated bookstore.”
This article appeared in the May 29, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.