Looking for an author whose books will charm you and make you think deeply all at once? Katherine Applegate is a master at writing middle grade books that do just that, consistently and with heart.
Applegate has been publishing books for young people since the 1990s, including several series with her husband, Michael Grant. As K.A. Applegate, she authored the hugely popular Animorphs series (now being adapted as graphic novels by Chris Grine). But it was with the 2013 Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan that she moved into a new territory: heartfelt, charming novels, full of wonder, hope, and friendship, mostly told from non-human points of view. These books are lighter on text, making them perfect for newer middle grade readers. Yet they also delve into universal themes, making them excellent choices for read alouds and One School, One Book programs. Most importantly, they have unforgettable characters that readers love.
Below, you will find eight fantastic books by Katherine Applegate that will win your heart and give you plenty to ponder!
Middle Grade Novels by Author Katherine Applegate
The One and Only Ivan illustrated by Patricia Castelao
Ivan the gorilla lives in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, where he helps bring in customers by drawing crayon pictures. Along with his friends Stella the elephant and stray dog Bob, Ivan has accepted this gloomy life. But then baby elephant Ruby arrives. Stella’s dying request is that Ivan finds a way for Ruby’s life to be different–and together with Bob and the custodian’s daughter, Julia, he works to do just that. Inspired by the life of a real shopping mall gorilla, this Newbery Medal winning story will break your heart and make it grow ten sizes all in one.
The One and Only Bob illustrated by Patricia Castelao
With Ivan and Ruby now living in the animal sanctuary, Bob, the streetsmart dog, is trying to adjust to living as a pet with Julia’s family. Not one to be easily tamed or to forgive humans for their bad behavior, Bob fears that he is a Bad Dog. But when a hurricane strikes and puts his family–both human and animal–in danger, Bob finds there is a compassionate hero in himself after all. A sharp-witted look at what it means to learn to trust others and to care enough to let them trust you.
The One and Only Ruby illustrated by Patricia Castelao
Ruby the elephant is growing up. Living with the herd in the animal sanctuary, she is supposed to be preparing for her Tuskday. But she hates her tusks and doesn’t want to celebrate growing up! Only by looking deep into her past will Ruby understand what she needs to move into her future. This coming-of-age story is a win for any reader, but particularly for those who have been following the tales of Ivan and his animal friends.
The Endling: The Last
Byx’s entire dog-like species is killed by the human ruler, Murdano. Is she the last of her kind? She sets off on a dangerous journey searching for a safe place, the Dairne’s mythical homeland. She’s joined by her new friend Tobble, a wobbyk, and meets more friends of different species, both human and animal. This uniquely imagined fantasy adventure will take you on a mesmerizing journey of magic, betrayal, friendship, family, and good vs. evil.
Crenshaw is an enormous talking cat. Jackson is a fact-loving, soon-to-be fifth grader who hasn’t seen his imaginary friend Crenshaw in three years–not since his family was last homeless. Now, his family is struggling again, and Crenshaw is back. As things get worse and his parents pretend everything is okay, Jackson’s anxiety grows, and Crenshaw insists he must “tell the truth to the person who matters most.” Dealing with issues of homelessness with care and clarity, Katherine Applegate creates a deeply sympathetic picture of what it is to be growing up in a family trying to stay on its feet.
Wishtree illustrated by Charles Santoso
Wishtree’s narrator, Red, is a northern red oak tree who has been around a long time. For years people have called Red “the wishtree,” because each year, they come to whisper their wishes and a tie paper or cloth to Red’s branches in hopes of the wish coming true. But now, two things are upsetting Red’s peaceful life: the owner of the house wants to cut Red down, and a new family moves in nearby and is bullied because they are Muslim. Can Red and the animals help young neighbor Samar and save Red, too? A touching story that focuses on tolerance and hope through the unusual narrator’s gently wise perspective.
Willodeen illustrated by Charles Santoso
Set in a world just different enough from our own to add a layer of magic, this book explores very real issues of extinction and environmental impact. Eleven-year-old orphan Willodeen feels different from everyone else in Perchance–for one thing, she loves the screechers, smelly, fierce, warthog-like animals that the town pays people to get rid of. But she is also perceptive, and notices that as the screechers disappear, so do the beloved hummingbears that the town relies on to bring in tourists. Along with an unexpected new friend, Connor, Willodeen seeks out the connection between the two creatures and then must learn to find her voice and stand up for her convictions in order to make change.
Odder illustrated by Charles Santoso
Based on real sea otters helped by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, this novel-in-verse is sweet and sad and full of hope. As a rambunctious pup, Odder is saved by aquarium workers when she is separated from her mother during a storm. They teach her how to be an otter and re-release her into the wild. After a shark attack, she once again returns to their care, very much in need of healing for her body and her heart. Full of sea otter facts and with a deeply loveable main character, Odder is a tale by Katherine Applegate that shouldn’t be missed!
Dogtown written with Gennnifer Choldenko and illustrated by Wallace West
At the Dogtown animal shelter, regular dogs don’t like the robot dogs that many humans choose to take home instead of dogs. That is until Chance meets Metal Head. Metal Head is different–and he has a plan to go home. Will Chance help with the escape? And will she ever find her own family again, or have they truly abandoned her? With lovable characters and a heartwarming end, Katherine Applegate’s most recent book will be enjoyed by dog and robot lovers alike!
Katherine Applegate’s middle grade books bring us genuine characters, described with charm and affection. Her explorations of topics like homelessness and endangered species are thoughtful and thought-provoking. You won’t be disappointed when you pick up one of these stories–and you won’t want to let it go when the last page arrives!