With more than 150 children’s books to her credit since the early 1990s, Katherine Applegate has earned her reputation as a prolific author, and her impressive creative output continues apace. This year, the author will add four books to her oeuvre—three new titles and a paperback reprint of her 2017 middle grade novel Wishtree, out today. Also pubbing today from Feiwel and Friends is Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy, illustrated by Charlie Alder, the conclusion to a beginning reader trilogy about this canine duo. On May 2, HarperCollins will publish The One and Only Ruby, starring the baby elephant from Applegate’s Newbery-winning and bestselling The One and Only Ivan and its sequel, The One and Only Bob. And topping off the author’s 2023 lineup is Dogtown, an illustrated novel from Feiwel and Friends, set in a shelter for stray dogs and discarded robot dogs. Applegate and Gennifer Choldenco coauthored this caper, featuring illustrations by Wallace West. PW spoke with Applegate about her upcoming publications and attendant book tours, as well as her ongoing advocacy for social change and civility.

What a banner year for you! And unsurprisingly, animals feature quite prominently in your new books’ character rosters. In what way is it different to create a distinct personality or voice for an animal than for a human?

I have been busy—and animals do have a way of appearing in my novels—one way or another. In fact, the very first story I ever wrote—when I was in fourth grade—was about a dog called Alice. When kids ask me today when I knew I wanted to be a writer I tell them that that’s when I became a writer—writing that story about Alice was the moment. And that feeling has never left me—except maybe temporarily when I was sure I wanted to be a veterinarian and I worked for a vet in high school.

I think when you create an animal character, it helps to know from the outset what your comfort level is in terms of anthropomorphism. Do you want to stay as close as possible to a voice that reflects our current, albeit limited, understanding of a species? Or are your animals human stand-ins, there to help us comprehend our own behavior with a fresh eye? “Cookies,” from Frog and Toad Together, being a classic example. For me, anyway.

It’s a delicate balance, and I often struggle with this question in my books. But once you’ve decided on an approach, creating distinct animal personalities is, in my experience, exactly the same as developing human characters. To be relatable, a character, no matter how furry, must be complicated and flawed—must be like us, in other words.

Do you regularly research the animal species that appear in your fiction?

Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I often joke that it’s a great way to procrastinate—and it is. But thorough research is vital, if you want to understand how your animal characters perceive the world.

How is our protagonist processing sensory input? What does it feel like to be an otter in frigid waters, or a puppy on its first walk through the woods? If I’m going to write about a dog taking in its environment through a nose that’s thousands of times more sensitive than mine, it’s going to hugely change the words I choose and the emotions I want to convey.

And if research means, say, spending a glorious day on Monterey Bay, hanging out with southern sea otters… well, we all have to make sacrifices for our art.

Two of your four 2023 books involved collaborating with others—Gennifer Choldenko in Dogtown and Charlie Alder in Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy. How did those collaborations work?

Gennifer is brilliant and funny and—thank goodness—so much better at plotting than I am! Working with her was a dream. We’ve both written a lot of books, so it was great fun to compare our approaches and meld them.

Charlie lives in the U.K. and we’ve never had the chance to meet, which made the collaborative process more challenging, but also especially rewarding. She has the remarkable ability to take one simple declarative sentence from me and turn it into several hilarious illustrations. I don’t know how she does it.

Collaboration is magical—unless it’s with your husband. Then it’s more like mortal combat.

You have addressed important timely issues in your novels, including animal cruelty in The One and Only Ivan, childhood hunger in Crenshaw, caring for the environment in Willodeen, and acceptance and civility in Wishtree. What inspires you to delve deep thematically in your fiction?

I am inspired by what makes me mad. What motivated me in Ivan was that I never imagined that an animal could be mistreated like that for so many years. Humans are capable of such horrific behavior and yet can have so much compassion.

And in Wishtree, a Muslim family that moves into a neighborhood is not welcomed by all, and I wanted readers to ask why that was happening, and why people treat others that way. I knew I am not alone in feeling angry, and I wanted to ventilate. Writing a book is exactly how authors ventilate.

You’re embarking on two in-person tours this spring, one along the West Coast at the end of this month to promote Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy; and the other a cross-country trip in early May for The One and Only Ruby. Are you looking forward to meeting fans face-to-face after the virtual-visits-only dictate during the pandemic?

I am! I attended the Tucson Book Festival earlier this month, and it was so wonderful to be out in the real world again and feel reinforced and invigorated. I am so inspired by teachers and librarians and love to learn how they use my books with children.

On in-person tours, there is something special about talking one-on-one with kids and signing their books with them right there. You can’t replace that. But of course with virtual tours you can reach so many more people, including children in schools that are not close to a bookstore and Title 1 schools that don’t always have an opportunity to have an author visit.

Your national virtual tour for Wishtree in April will include components of social good, school-wide reading challenges, a reading guide, and community projects inspired by the themes of your middle-grade novels. What was your reaction to this initiative giving real-world applications to your fiction?

It’s such an honor for an author to see her books used in classrooms to promote real social change. After all, it’s easy enough for me to write the stories: I just sit at my desk, swig coffee, and type. It’s quite another thing for teachers and librarians to take those novels and help kids connect with the content. I’m so grateful to them, and to Macmillan, for giving kids a way to take what they’ve learned from a novel and translate it into real-world action.

And after your busy spring on tour, what’s waiting on your writing desk?

I am writing one—and only one—more One and Only Book. I had a cool idea for a story, and I knew it would be nice to revisit these characters one last time. The title and protagonist are still under wraps. For the record, it’s not Stella, who might seem like a logical choice. The One and Only Ruby is very much a tribute to Stella’s influence on Ivan, Bob, and especially Ruby. Ruby and Stella had similar backstories. They were both born in the wild, captured, and trapped in run-down circuses. In a way, I think The One and Only Ruby is as much Stella’s story as Ruby’s.

After more than a decade and four One and Only novels, will you miss being and writing in Ivan’s world?

I’ve written many series, but never have I found such comfort in the company of a group of characters. I love them dearly and will miss them profoundly.

Doggo and Pupper Search for Cozy by Katherine Applegate, illus. by Charlie Alder. Feiwel and Friends, $9.99 Mar. 28 ISBN 978-1-250-62102-3.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. Square Fish, $8.99 paper Mar. 28 ISBN 978-1-250-23389-9.

The One and Only Ruby by Katherine Applegate. HarperCollins, $19.99 May 2 ISBN 978-0-063-08008-9.

Dogtown by Katherine Applegate and Gennifer Choldenko, illus. by Wallace West. Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 Sept. 19 ISBN 978-1-250-81160-8.