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No wish too big: Newbery Medalist encourages kids to dream

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    Applegate

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    ‘Sometimes You Fly’ by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

For Newbery Medal-winning author Katherine Applegate, big messages can come in small packages.

The author, whose latest picture book, Sometimes You Fly, was released Tuesday, will visit Gathering Volumes, 196 E. South Boundary Street, Perrysburg, at 4:30 p.m. April 15 as the culmination of a contest held last fall in connection with the release of her book Wishtree.

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Applegate

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MacMillan Publishers invited independent bookstores across the country to participate in the contest.

As part of Gathering Volumes’ entry, about 100 rocks painted by adults and children were hidden in 20 Perrysburg businesses throughout October; the community was invited to search for them to be entered into a drawing for a prize. The bookstore also hosted a youth cooking competition, with customers encouraged to pay to taste-test the food. Gathering Volumes raised $350 for the Promise House Project, a grassroots charity that assists homeless youth, with a particular focus on the LBGTQ+ community.

The contest was judged not on the amount raised but on creativity, Gathering Volumes owner Denise Phillips said, adding that she was shocked by the store’s victory.

“Part of opening an independent bookstore is wanting to be part of the community and host community events, and bring people together,” she said. “It’s not super easy to get authors to come into this area. To get a Newbery author is exciting … and to get an author that both of my kids [Mackenzie, 11, and Isaac, 9] love is fantastic.”

Wishtree is the story of Red, an old oak tree to which people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to the branches. When a new family moves into the community, Red sees that not everyone is welcoming and sets out to make things right.

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‘Sometimes You Fly’ by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

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“I wrote it in the throes of the election process, very frustrated at just the othering of entire groups of people and the vitriol and the unkindness that was flowing every time you turned on the news or looked at Twitter,” Applegate said in a conversation with The Blade. “I wanted to do something that was so small and accessible that even a very young child could grasp it.”

Her recent school visits have included asking children to consider three wishes, one for themselves, one for someone or something else, and, finally, one for the world.

Applegate said that inevitably the personal wishes are for things such as a Lamborghini, a billion dollars, or even a billion more wishes.

“That’s the whole point,” she said, adding that as the focus of the wishes progresses, “it’s so touching and so beautiful to see these young hearts come up with these wonderful wishes. It’s very heartening. You come away thinking the world’s going to be OK, these kids, they’ve got it.”

Plus, she said, it’s fun for the kids. “You’re kind of channeling your own needs, and then you’re moving outside of yourself to think about other people,” she said. “That’s always a good exercise for all of us.”

Among the wishes she’s heard are “I wish my dog were still alive,” “I wish my grandma didn’t have cancer,” or even those that focus on fixing the world’s ills, such as global warming or school shootings.

“I think sometimes we forget how tied into the real world very young kids are,” she said, “which is why I think sometimes addressing something like prejudice and immigration issues and that kind of thing, it works at a very young age.”

Applegate got her start in writing as a ghostwriter. “I’ve written many very bad books over the years,” she said with a laugh.

The experience is one she uses in many of her talks, because she considers it a pertinent lesson. 

“I was really totally afraid to get into writing. It just seemed like an incredibly public way to fail, and it is,” she said. “I just dipped my toe in it by becoming a ghostwriter.”

Among her early works were a couple of Harlequin romance novels.

When she won the Newbery Medal for her 2012 book The One and Only Ivan, Applegate used a quote from one of those romances “to much howling from the audience.”

Still, those early books were a way to learn to mimic a voice and meet a deadline.

She also wrote for Disney with such book series as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, and some of the Sweet Valley Twins books.

“I eventually got the nerve to start branching out,” she said. “I tell that story to kids and say don’t do what I did and be afraid you’re going to fail, because of course you’re going to fail. You’re going to fail magnificently, so you might as well go ahead and get it over with.”

She almost gave up on The One and Only Ivan, which is the story of a silverback gorilla who lived in a cage at the mall. The story, inspired by an article in the New York Times, is based on a real gorilla who lived in a similar situation for almost 30 years before being taken in by Zoo Atlanta in 1994.

“I was just sure [the book] was a crazy idea, but I love animals,” she said. “It just really took hold.”

In addition to winning the 2013 Newbery Medal, the story has a film adaptation in preproduction with Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, and Bryan Cranston among the cast.

She compared the book’s success to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning, and keeps a piece of paper on which she wrote, “Do I give up on Ivan or not?”

Her talks about successes and failures provided the inspiration for Sometimes You Fly. It stresses the importance of each, no matter the size or significance.

“I was one of those kids who thought I had to be perfect,” she said. “It wasn’t my parents’ fault, it was just genetic. If I got an A minus, I was devastated. “

She credits the successful message of Sometimes You Fly to illustrator Jennifer Black Reinhardt.

“They’re just hilarious and charming,” Applegate said of the artwork. “It’s one of those books where the page-turn is very important and the illustrations are vital to that. … They’re a reminder that failure doesn’t have to be the most awful thing in the world.”

Katherine Applegate will talk about her career and sign books beginning at 4:30 p.m. April 15. Copies of her books, including “Sometimes You Fly” and possibly the upcoming middle-grade novel “The Endling,” will be available for purchase at Gathering Volumes. Those who purchase books at the store will receive a ticket to ensure their books are signed in the event of a time crunch.

Contact Shannon E. Kolkedy at: skolkedy@theblade.com.

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