Kathi Appelt–A Lovely Interview PLUS a Skype Giveaway

kathi appeltKathi Appelt is the author of over a dozen picture books, as well as two wonderful middle grade novels.  Her New York Times best-seller “The Underneath” was a National Book Award finalist and received a Newbery Honor. “Keeper” won Kathy yet  more devoted fans, with its haunting story of a young girl convinced her mother is a mermaid.

Now Kathi’s written a rollicking tall tale,   “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp”. Publishing July 23, it’s the story of raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah, a 12 year old boy named Chap, and the beloved swamp they all fight to save.

Kathi recently stopped by for an interview.

true blue scouts


MUF: I’ve long been a fan of your picture books. (Can you say “Bubba & Beau” or “Toddler Two-Step”?) Could you comment on  your transition to writing middle grade?

KA: I’m not sure there was a big transition.  Even though I’ve always written picture books, I also wrote poetry, and a couple of other books for young adults, including a memoir and a collection of short stories.  I love being able to slip back and forth between audiences. However, I confess that it took me a long time to find my way into that middle grade zone.  I don’t know why because middle graders seem to have the hugest love for reading of the whole big bunch.  I’m glad I finally found my way.

MUF: As a reader, I’m always interested in where an author gets her ideas. As a writer, I’m (all too) aware of how many ideas do not, in fact, pan out as books. Could you say a little about how this process works for you?

KA: I have drawers full of unfinished books, all of which seemed like good ideas at the time.  It’s taken me years to figure out that an idea is not the same as a story.  What has changed for me is that now, once I get some germ of a story and begin putting the barest scribbles on the page, I really try to figure out what the ending is going to look like.  If I can do that, then I can usually find my way there.  That’s not to say that the eventual ending won’t change, only that I have to have some idea of where I’m going.  Otherwise I’ll just wallow in the deep, mucky middle for eternity. That’s not fun.

MUF:  The language in your books is always drop-dead gorgeous! From picture books to novels, they all beg to be read aloud. I know you love music–is there a relationship there?

KA: I think you are the first person to ask me that, and yet you’re so right!  Music plays an integral role in my writing.  I feel hugely influenced by it.  Not only am I inspired by really great lyricists, but I try to pay attention to rhythms and beats, and the ways that they can provide subtext.  This is especially important when I’m trying to create a certain tone in a story.  I also look for places in my prose where I can take “riffs,” that is, where it feels like I can improvise a bit with the language and with the way that the words are situated on the page.  I love that.  Thank you for asking.

MUF: Just the title of your new novel is so much fun to say! After two middle grade novels with pretty serious themes, what was it like to write such a funny tall tale?

KA: One morning Cynthia Leitich Smith sent me an email that said, “Write something funny.”  At first, I didn’t know what she was talking about.  Me?  Funny?  But after I thought about it some more, I realized that Cynthia was paying attention to me as a friend, and she knew that I needed some light in my life.  She was right.  And because I respect her so much, I decided to go with it.  And what I discovered—or rediscovered—in the process, was how much I truly love to write.  This book reminded me of that.  And I have Cynthia to thank for it.

MUF:  I hear there are some new kittens at your house–six to be exact!  Any chance there’s a kitten book on your horizon?

 KA: There’s always a chance for a kitten book, but next year, I actually have a dog book on the horizon.  It’s a picture book called “Mogie, the Heart of the House,” and it’s about the real live dog who lives at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston.  Not a single kitten.  Doesn’t it seem like something is wrong with that picture?

MUF: No! It’s no doubt going to be wonderful! Thanks so much for stopping on by, Kathi!

Kathi will give away a copy of her new book plus–are you ready–a free Skype visit to a class, book club, scout troop, or other middle grade group. The visit can be scheduled now or during the coming school year. To be eligible, all you need to do is leave a  comment below! 


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Tricia Springstubb
Tricia is the author of many books for middle grade, most recently "Every Single Second" (HarperCollins) and the third book in the Cody series, "Cody and the Rules of Life" (Candlewick Press). A frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, she lives in Cleveland OH. You can find out more about her and her work at www.triciaspringstubb.com
  1. Great interview! I especially loved Kathi’s comment “. . . middle graders seem to have the hugest love for reading of the whole big bunch.” I agree wholeheartedly. There is so much passion at that age. Thanks for the chance at a Skype visit – I’ve never tried it and would love to start out with Kathi!

  2. My niece teaches at-risk 5th and 6th graders. They would love a Skype visit!
    Not many books in their homes, so the book would be a fantastic classroom giveaway or addition to the class library. Crossing my fingers!

  3. I know a certain class of kids in Plano, Kentucky who would love to Skype with Kathi Appelt!!!

  4. My daughter as read and LOVED her books! Thanks for posting this I plan on sharing it with her.

  5. I have an ARC of this book. Time to move it to the top of the pile! Would love a Skype visit for my 6th grade classroom.

  6. Thank you for this fantastic interview–and what an amazing giveaway! I heard Kathi speak several years ago, and know that the school, club, or library, or other middle grade group who have a chance to Skype with Kathi will love their prize.

  7. Thanks for a wonderful interview. I look forward to reading her newest book!

  8. Our school suffered mine subsidence, got hit by a tornado, and now is finally up and running again (in a new building) A skype visit with Kathi would be a wonderful way to start a luckier new school year!

  9. I have 2 intermediate teachers who would love to Skype with Kathi! I loved meeting her at TLA.

  10. Sure hope I win so that I can bring your work to life for my students!

  11. My introduction to Kathi was The Underneath. Talk about subtext! It runs deep throughout. Thanks for a great interview.

  12. Don’t enter me in the contest, but wanted to say a huge CONGRATULATIONS to Kathi for that absolutely STELLAR review in the NY Times this past Sunday. Woohoo! I’m a huge fan of your lovely writing!

  13. I bought “The Underneath” for my classroom library this school year. The kids loved it. it was always checked out

  14. What a wonderful opportunity for a Skype visit! It is always great great when students can visit with an author. It just takes the wonder of books and reading to a whole new level. I am looking forward to reading your latest book I must say. Tanks for the interview!

  15. I enjoyed reading your interview with Kathi Appelt. I think students, and adults for that matter, often think that writing is just a matter of dashing off a manuscript over the course of an evening or two. If only that were the case! I too have wallowed in the middles of stories that will most likely never see the light of day. I like her suggestion of working out the end early on, even if it does change. I’ll pass this advice on to my students.

    I am a Grade 5 teacher in Ottawa, Canada. it would be a wonderful opportunity for my students to Skype with Kathi this fall. We have studied tall tales in previous years and “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” looks to be a good fit.

    Fingers crossed we get to meet!