Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kathi Appelt, Interview

Tuesdays with Morzant:

Getting to Know an Author

MORZANT: Zulko, humans. Today I’m talking with author Kathi Appelt. Welcome, Kathi. I’m happy to meet you. Bigfoot speaks highly and frequently of your performance years ago in YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. I understand you were quite convincing as Snoopy. Tell me, how did you prepare for the role of a food-obsessed beagle?

KATHI APPELT: As you know the big number in that play is “Suppertime.” Since I’m all about Method Acting, I had to be sure that I portrayed Snoopy authentically, so for several weeks all I ate was Purina and Alpo. Grrrr.....

MORZANT: You certainly seem to be as dedicated to your writing as to your acting. You’ve written picture books, novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. How do you account for your multitudinous body of work? Do you time travel? Or perhaps you acquire manuscripts from other versions of yourself in parallel universes?

KA: Actually, all of those reasons sound rather more glamorous than the truth, which is that I get bored with myself and my own writing fairly quickly. I’ve learned to cope by switching genres from time to time.

MORZANT: BIGFOOT READS followers are familiar with my studies of Earth literature. In POEMS FROM HOMEROOM: A WRITER’S PLACE TO START, you tout writing creatively as liberating in its allowance of the invention of personalities and settings that never before existed. Forgive me, but aren’t you basically saying that it’s fun to fib?

KA: Well of course. One of the wonderful things about being a human is that we get to make stuff up.

MORZANT: I see. For a number of years, you taught creative writing to children and adults. Did you observe a difference in how children and adults approach creative writing?

KA: Up until they’re in about the 4th grade, young Earthlings are much less inhibited by perfection. They’re more about the Story itself than about the commas and dangling participles. After 4th grade, we get much more bogged down by those matters of grammar and logic. More self-aware I guess, which is too bad.

MORZANT: “Bogged down” has such negative connotations. Personally, I find a strict observance of logic to be stimulating. Do you believe that anybody can learn to write creatively?

KA: Barring some physical or mental issue, yes, I do believe that anyone can learn to write creatively. Yeppers.

MORZANT: I’m thinking specifically of my friend Norman who is a half-invisible turtle. He’s been working on a novel. Although my studies of Earth literature are just beginning, based on my research to date, I’m tempted to conclude that Norman’s novel is the worst story ever written.

KA: There’s a critic in every room.

MORZANT: Perhaps you’re correct and I’m being unduly harsh. On the other hand, the last scene he shared with me included a termite playing penny hockey with a walrus while they contemplated the meaning of life. But I digress.

I must admit that a particular poem from POEMS FROM HOMEROOM inspired me to expand my own writing repertoire beyond scientific reports. In the poem, Dreaming in Haiku, a boy with mathematical inclinations is drawn to the poetic form haiku because of its adherence to a structure dictating that each of its three lines consist of a fixed number of syllables. Being a mathematically-inclined being myself, I endeavored to write haiku. I found the experience not unlike solving an equation. Here’s my solution:

Numbers are my friends

I add them when I’m able

Wish they’d multiply


My friend, this is sweet.

If you write one each morning,

multiply they will.

MORZANT: I did enjoy writing haiku, but I’m baffled by other poetic forms. Many of your picture books are written as poetry and your novels use poetic imagery. What purpose does poetry serve? Isn’t it more efficient to say what you mean directly?

KA: It might be more efficient, but it wouldn’t please the ear. I’m all about happy ears.

MORZANT: Poetry may be a pleasant diversion, but I’ve found some evidence that indulgence in exuberant language may lead to anarchy. The copy of POEMS FROM HOMEROOM that I borrowed from the public library contained the graffito “[name redacted] is a HUNK” written in pencil near the poem The Yearbook Photographer. Do you feel your creative writing contributed to the delinquency of this library patron? I can’t help but wonder what this particular yearbook photographer is a hunk of.

KA: If my poem moved a person to act, even in this way, that sort of makes me smile, makes me feel that the graffiti artist and I made a small connection.

As for the hunk part? The yearbook photographer is likely a “hunka hunka burning love.”

MORZANT: On a side note, I understand your husband is a photographer. I feel foolish asking, as the odds of an affirmative answer are essentially astronomical, but has he ever successfully photographed Bigfoot?

KA: My hubby was a professional photographer for several years. He’s not in that business any longer. He mostly took photos of weddings, so unless Bigfoot got married, I doubt Ken took his photo.

MORZANT: No, Bigfoot is a bachelor. I wonder if your husband has any theories as to what might be causing Bigfoot’s photography impediment? I’m at a standstill in my research and I’m willing to entertain any suggestions.

KA: Like most of us, Bigfoot probably just doesn’t think that having a portrait made is all that much fun. Plus, he’s probably sick of the paparazzi!

MORZANT: If only the answer were so simple. But I mustn’t dwell on the cause of his blurry photographs now. Let’s get back to you and your books. You’ve written about dogs, cats, bats, bears, pigs, crows, seagulls, horses, and elephants. Furthermore, in answer to a reader who inquired as to why you included crabs in your middle grade novel KEEPER, you stated in a video on your blog that you feel crabs have received short shrift in literature. I feel gastropods are similarly ignored. Have you ever considered writing about them? Earth readers have been deprived of a gastropod book for far too long. Would you consider filling this gross literary void with a well-researched tome, or even a poem?

KA: Excuse me, but perhaps you have never read SOME SMUG SLUG, by Pamela Duncan Edwards? Or THE AMAZING TRAIL OF SEYMOUR SNAIL, by Lynn E. Hazen? It’s not gastropods who are underrepresented in literary letters. It’s squids. With the exception of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, in what tome can you find a squid in the role of hero?

MORZANT: I’m not familiar with either of those gastropod books, but you can be sure that I will be soon. Thank you for informing me about them. I shall pursue your theory about squid books. If true, that does seem a shameful oversight.

I noticed that many of your characters dance: the bats in BATS AROUND THE CLOCK, the cats in THE ALLEY CAT’S MEOW, and the pigs in PIGGIES IN A POLKA. I don’t have a question regarding this. I merely thought it was worth mentioning.


MORZANT: Indeed I did. I also neglected to mention TODDLER TWO-STEP and RAIN DANCE. It’s fascinating that dancing recurs so frequently in your work. Is that a reflection from your life?

KA: Hah! I only dance in my imagination, and okay, also when I drink.

MORZANT: I wasn’t aware of a connection between rhythmic movement and hydration in human physiology. It seems I’ll never learn all there is to know about Earth and its inhabitants.

Several months ago the Cryptid Book Club discussed KEEPER, a book in which there are mermaids. During that meeting, and since, I’ve been widely criticized by my friends for monopolizing the meeting with my questions about which creatures exist on your planet and which do not. My friends entertained themselves by providing me with spurious answers. Can you please tell me if are mermaids real? If so, have you ever met one?

KA: Of course mermaids are real. You can see them up close and personal at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida. If you sign up early, you can even attend Mermaid Camp.

Have I ever met one? Did I meet my grandmother?

MORZANT: I recently learned how to recognize a rhetorical question and I believe I’ve spotted one here. You mean to say that you most assuredly have met your grandmother. Furthermore, she was a mermaid. This means I now have confirmation independent of my jokester comrades that mermaids do indeed exist. Truly fascinating. I intend to travel to Florida at the earliest opportunity to attend Mermaid Camp. I assume the mermaids there will take me canoeing and teach me how to make lanyards.

KA: They will probably also let you in on the secrets of opening oysters with your jaws.

MORZANT: Oh, dear. I trust the oysters are willing participants in that activity. In any case, Zeentonians don’t have jawbones. During that lesson I’ll take a hike or compose a campfire song. Maybe Oliver will let me bring his ukulele with me. Ever since Bigfoot read KEEPER to Oliver, Oliver has wanted to learn to play the ukulele like Dogie can. He’s had some difficulty strumming the ukulele with his paws, but he’s a persistent puppy. I have no doubt he’ll master it eventually. Do you know how to play any instruments?

KA: I played the flute when I was in high school, but now I just play the radio. I’m good at that.

MORZANT: In my research for this interview I discovered that as a child, your best friend was an imaginary horse. Have you kept in touch through the years? If you had a falling out, I’ll understand if this is a painful subject you’d rather not discuss.

KA: Yes, my imaginary horse’s name was Olaf. I haven’t seen him in years, ever since he galloped off to his imaginary pasture and joined up with the imaginary herd.

MORZANT: I also learned that you live in Texas, in the United States of America. Norman informed me that most Texans have at least two pet armadillos. How many do you have and do you find that they snore loudly?

KA: I have lost count of the armadillos. They don’t snore, but even if they did it wouldn’t matter because they sleep during the day and so don’t bother me.

MORZANT: As I’m sure you’re aware, Texas airspace is heavily trafficked by extraterrestrial craft. Have you ever seen what your people call “UFOs”? For the record, I have nothing to do with exsanguinated livestock.

KA: Ask me about my sister’s abduction.

MORZANT: Please, do tell.

KA: Well, the sister who had Christmas dinner with me swears that aliens picked her up. I’m still waiting for them to return my real sister.

MORZANT: I must tell you that your sister is having fun at your expense. Extraterrestrials have been known to give a human or two a tour of their spacecraft or a lift to the post office, but the concept of alien abductions is a human invention. One moment. It occurs to me that your sister isn’t the teaser, but rather it is you who are teasing me. You did confess earlier, did you not, that it’s your prerogative as a human to, how did you phrase it—to “make stuff up”? I hope it’s not rude for me to admit that I’m suspicious of virtually everything you’ve said today.

My final question is one better suited to your now obvious playful inclinations. I’ve become intrigued by the notion of hypothetical questions and I’d like to ask you one now based on a creative writing prompt from POEMS FROM HOMEROOM in which you set forth a scenario whereby one may bring three companions with them to a deserted island. My question for you is, which three cryptids would you bring with you on an all-expenses paid (by you) trip to Hawaii?

KA: For sure, no zombies. But Sasquatch would be fun to meet. And Nessie too. I think Pan would make a good traveling partner.

MORZANT: Bigfoot informed me there are no such things as zombies, so you needn’t worry about a zombie disrupting any luaus you attend. Bigfoot and Penny might be a bit disappointed that you’d pass over their company for Bigfoot’s Canadian cousin and Penny’s great uncle Bill’s ex-girlfriend. Not to be immodest, but I’d be a superior traveling companion to any of your choices. I’m a delightful conversationalist, which helps pass the time at airports, I pack lightly, and I usually have stretchy foods on hand for snacking. But I harbor no resentment toward you for not inviting me on this hypothetical vacation. Instead, let me thank you for sharing your time and writing insights with me and the BIGFOOT READS audience.

KA: I was actually planning to put you all in my suitcase. That way it’s only $25 for your airfare. (Can I just say that I’m relieved about the whole zombie thing? Whew!)

MORZANT: As I suspected. You’re as much of a kidder as Norman. Although, might I add, a much better writer.

Good-bye for now, humans. To keep you busy until we meet again, might I suggest you read some of Kathi Appelt’s wonderful, and sometimes mermaid-filled, books. Here’s a sampling of her work:



(illustrated by Keith Baker/Harcourt, 1993)


(illustrated by Neil Waldman/HarperCollins, 1995)


(illustrated by Dale Gottlieb/Henry Holt, 1996)


(illustrated by Melissa Sweet/HarperCollins, 1998)


(illustrated by Ward Schumaker/HarperFestival-HarperCollins, 2000)


(illustrated by Emilie Chollat/HarperFestival-HarperCollins, 2001)


(illustrated by Jon Goodell/Harcourt, 2002)


(illustrated by Arthur Howard/Harcourt, 2002)


(illustrated by LeUyen Pham/Harcourt, 2003)


(illustrated by JOY FISHER HEIN/HarperCollins, 2005)



(co-authored with Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer/HarperCollins, 2001)


(with illustrations by David Small/Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2008)


(with illustrations by August Hall/Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2010)



(Harcourt, 2000)


(Henry Holt, 2002)


(Henry Holt, 2004)


Kaethe said...

We are fond of the classic Slugs in Love for gastropods. I agree, there should be more squids. Great interview!

Anonymous said...

Great interview Morzant!!!

Kelly Bingham said...

Wonderful interview!

Dad said...

Great interview. Although i think outspoken Bob would have done better. Dad

Morzant the Alien said...

Kaethe, It would seem I’ve been woefully ignorant of many fine gastropod books. Thank you for sharing this title with me. I’ll track down a copy immediately.