It’s always an honor to talk with Newbery Award winner Katherine Applegate. I originally interviewed her here, and once I found out that Bob from THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN had his own book, I contacted her for a follow-up. THE ONE AND ONLY BOB is out now, and the audiobook is narrated by the incomparable Danny DeVito!
Bob sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family.
In our last interview, you said, “I love writing for middle grade students because they care about fairness and kindness.” What are some of the best things you’ve heard from middle grade readers about your books?
It’s not just what I’ve heard; it’s what I’ve seen! After reading CRENSHAW, which is about childhood hunger and homelessness, students all over the country set up food donation boxes. I’ve seen countless kids sponsor gorillas, both in the wild and in captivity, because they were moved by the true backstory for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. wishtree has been used in many One School, One Book reads, resulting in beautiful trees—some real, some handmade—covered in hopeful, touching wishes written by students.
One of my favorite examples of reader response happened with my book, HOME OF THE BRAVE, which was about a Sudanese refugee in Minnesota. A teacher and her enterprising students were able to help a Sudanese “Lost Boy” locate his brother and reunite them.
Middle graders are beginning to think about the wider world and their place in it. They’re full of compassion and energy, and ready to tackle big problems in fresh ways. Every time I do a school visit, I come away optimistic about the future.
I’ll bet! THE ONE AND ONLY BOB offers a look into what Bob’s life has been like after we left him at the end of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. How were you able to make Bob’s voice so distinct?
You know, it’s an interesting conundrum, writing from an animal POV. Inevitably, you end up being anthropomorphic, at least to some extent. I love dogs. I’ve researched dogs. But at the end of the day, when you enter the head of another species, you are taking a big leap into the unknown. Understanding their senses, their fears, their instincts helps. Nonetheless, man’s best friend remains a bit of a mystery. What’s it like to have a sense of smell thousands of times better than our own? We can only guess.
In the Disney IVAN movie, Danny DeVito voices Bob, and I found, as I was writing THE ONE AND ONLY BOB, that I often heard the inimitable Mr. DeVito in my head. He also read the audiobook of BOB, and oh man, is he perfect! Sarcastic, thoughtful, gentle, funny. Honestly, who could go wrong with Danny DeVito’s voice helping you out?
Danny DeVito is all of those things, and he also seems to bring a beautiful, yet subtle compassion into his work. In general, what middle grade books would you like to see more of and why?
Where to start? To begin with, let’s aim for a literary world that reflects the real world. Let’s see writers who truly understand the lives of their young readers.
I’m pleased to see middle grade novels tackle more complicated, formerly “off-limits” topics, too. I’m a parent, and I understand the desire to protect kids. But let’s make sure we aren’t so worried about “protecting” that we forget about the kids who need to hear stories that reflect their lived experience. It’s complicated, I know. But it’s also important.
I agree. As a librarian, this has been my main issue with censorship–kids have always needed books that embody the nuances of their unique life stories. And the wider variety of books they have to choose from, the better. What has been most helpful to you during the current uncertain times we live in?
Always and forever, family. Remembering how lucky I am. Appreciating little things that are actually the biggest of things: pets, music, gardening, a good sitcom, a nice cup of coffee, the mockingbird who wakes me up every morning.
This is a time when stories aren’t just entertainment, they’re salvation. Good books remind us that others have been through challenging times. They encourage us to be kind. To listen outside our comfort zone. And to feel hope, even on the darkest days. That’s the real power of story.
For more of Katherine Applegate’s books, go to: