You may have heard her name. If you have children older than the age of eight, they may have read her Animorphs books. Or at the very least flipped through her books to watch the changing pictures on the pages as people morph into animals or insects.
This year, Katherine Applegate has won the high honor of the Newberry Award for her book about a gorilla in captivity, The One and Only Ivan. I love this story because I’ve always been appalled by the conditions some animals must endure in captivity. Through Ivan’s viewpoint, Katherine tells the true story of his 27 years in a shopping mall before being transferred to the Atlanta Zoo.
Katherine Applegate states in this PW interview that Ivan’s story first came to her when she read about his plight in a newspaper and clipped the article. She tossed it in a box of story ideas. How many of us do the same thing when we see a kernel of a story that intrigues us?
The clipping stayed in the box for many years, as clippings tend to do, but the idea never left Katherine’s mind and heart. She was distracted enough by Ivan that finally her editor at HarperCollins asked her to go ahead and write his story already. Wouldn’t an editor like that be a true gift?
Once she began writing the story, it wasn’t all cake and ice cream easy. She ran into trouble on the first draft, according to another PW article, and had to go back and rethink the presentation of his story. At one point, she wasn’t even sure if she could make it work. I’m sure all you writers reading this can relate to her predicament. Her editor worked with her and advised her during this process.
Katherine didn’t let the story go. She tried different viewpoints and different styles of writing until she found the one that worked best for Ivan. It resulted in a book that touches our hearts and souls and speaks to our humanity.
There are several lessons I took away from Katherine’s tale.
- Never stop writing. She’s written hundreds of books and articles and become a master at her craft.
- Never give up on a story that moves you. If it touches your heart, it’s valuable. You just have to find the right way to tell it.
- A good editor can be an incredible ally in this publishing world. I feel lucky to have an editor that I truly respect and who supports my ideas and helps me work through them. A critique partner or group can do the same thing. As a matter of fact, one of my longtime writing pals is a critique partner with Steve Sheinkin, winner of a Newberry Honor for his book, Bomb.
- Never throw away those clippings. Whether they’re in a box, a file drawer, or a computer folder, they’re one of a writer’s most valuable assets.
How about you? Did you find any inspirations from this year’s Newberry winner and honor recipients?
In closing, I want to give congratulations from deep in my heart to Katherine Applegate, Laura Amy Schlitz, Steve Sheinkin, and Sheila Turnage. My writer’s cap is off to you!