Publishers' Preview: Fall 2021: Five Questions for Katherine Applegate

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Fall 2021, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Migratory visits of hummingbears are the main attraction in Perchance, but the sweet creatures are fewer this year. Does it have to do with the unloved screechers who also live in the woods? Willodeen and her friend Connor want to find out.

1. Are you a hummingbear or are you a screecher?

For the uninitiated, hummingbears resemble tiny, winged polar bears. Their ­luminous nests are a huge tourist attraction. Screechers have bristly fur and ­twirling tusks; they look like warthogs and often smell like skunks. They’re considered a ­nuisance species. But screechers are loving parents, though they’re prone to occasional episodes of ear-splitting shrieks. I’m pretty sure my kids would vote me onto Team Screecher.

2. What was your best adventure with a friend?

I may rank as the least adventurous child to ever inhabit Grand Rapids, Michigan, and environs. I was, however, one of the first to have pet gerbils. I had a male and a female and — gerbils being gerbils — that meant I regularly had to recruit my friends to help find good homes for baby gerbils.

3. Trees are huge (figuratively) in children’s books these days. Why do you think that is?

Trees are ubiquitous, and many live long lives, so they become part of the fabric of our neighborhoods and families. Unfortunately, these days trees are often a bellwether for environmental disruption. On school visits, I’m struck by how well-informed and concerned kids are about climate change. Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing so many arboreal appearances in books (like the “blue willows” in Willodeen). It hurts to see providers of shade and oxygen and beauty threatened.

4. Where and when do you imagine Willodeen taking place?

The setting is an isolated one, slightly dated, a place where the effects of climate change are just beginning to be acknowledged. Sadly, there are plenty of real, current-day eco-crises I could have used — places where the impact of humans on nature has led to devastating changes. But I wanted to conjure up a fictional ecosystem that any child, living anywhere, could appreciate.

5. Can nature forgive us?

I’m not sure she should.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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