In 2012, Katherine Applegate won the Newbery for her beautifully emotional middle grade novel THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Her new novel, CRENSHAW, coming later this month, tells a very different story, but with every bit as much love and hope. Katherine’s letter to booksellers about her story—and the imaginary friend at the center of it—was too perfect not to share!

If cats could talk, they wouldn’t.
—Nan Porter

Although I am—as gauged by age, if not behavior—a grown-up, I freely admit to having lots of imaginary friends. That’s not so surprising, I suppose, given my vocation.

What is rather surprising is that I never had any imaginary friends as a kid (at least none I can recall.) I had beloved stuffed animals, and beloved real animals, aplenty. Maybe they were all I needed at the time.

Nonetheless, I’ve always longed to write about an imaginary friend. (This may explain why “Harvey” is one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and head to Hulu, stat.) Naturally, once Crenshaw, a large—extremely large—cat, leapt into my own imagination, I simply wouldn’t let him leave the premises.


I loved the idea of casting a cat in the role of a young boy’s confidant. And he had to be a cat, precisely because it played so well against type. Don’t get me wrong: I love cats. Some of my best friends are cats. But let’s be honest. They’re not exactly the go-to species when we talk about “man’s best friend.” They’re aloof, regal, and more than a little stand-offish. “We smirk,” Crenshaw tells his friend Jackson. “We sneer. Rarely we are quietly amused. But we do not laugh.”

It seemed to me that an imaginary friend would be especially welcome in a time of crisis, and Jackson, who’s about to enter fifth grade, is enduring just that. His family is wading through rough economic waters, and he and his little sister Robin have found themselves hungry on more than a few occasions. Jackson is a practical, just-the-facts kind of guy, and the unexpected reappearance of his long-abandoned imaginary friend is disconcerting, to say the least. (In fairness, discovering a giant talking cat, especially one taking a bubble bath, is bound to be a bit unsettling.)

With CRENSHAW, I wanted to limn the experience of so many families in our country—the lost jobs, the scrabbling to make ends meet, the worry and the tears—while realistically portraying a loving family doing their best to get by. I think kids understand far more about the world than we sometimes realize. They know when money’s tight, when parents are on edge, when their world is about to unravel.

And they know, most importantly, when they are loved.

For Jackson, it’s Crenshaw—a big, black and white cat who “looks like he’s heading somewhere fancy in a hairy tuxedo”—who helps him navigate this complicated time. Crenshaw may be imaginary. And he may be easily distracted by a nice, juicy frog. But he’s the best kind of friend to have when times are tough.

If cats could talk, perhaps they wouldn’t. Or perhaps they’d be like Crenshaw, a cat of few words who always knows just what to say.

Crenshaw may be imaginary, but the hunger that Jackson and his family face certainly isn't—thousands of children in the U.S. don't have enough to eat every day. But independent bookstores and food pantries across the country are partnering up to raise food, and give hungry families the same hope that Crenshaw gives Jackson. Have your local indie bookstore register to join the Crenshaw Food Drive, and compete to see which store can collect the most non-perishable food. (Katherine just might make an appearance at your local store!)

Crenshaw Food Drive

Posted by michael at 04:08 PM Link to this post
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