Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Author Interview & Giveaway: Kathi Appelt, ANGEL THIEVES

ANGEL THIEVES
by
KATHI APPELT
Young Adult / Magical Realism / Historical / Contemporary
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Date of Publication: March 12, 2019
Number of Pages: 336

Scroll down for the giveaway!



An ocelot. A slave. An angel thief. 

Multiple perspectives spanning across time are united through themes of freedom, hope, and faith in a most unusual and epic novel from Newbery Honor–winning author and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt.


Sixteen-year-old Cade Curtis is an angel thief. After his mother’s family rejected him for being born out of wedlock, he and his dad moved to the apartment above a local antique shop. The only payment the owner Mrs. Walker requests: marble angels, stolen from graveyards, for her to sell for thousands of dollars to collectors. But there’s one angel that would be the last they’d ever need to steal; an angel, carved by a slave, with one hand open and one hand closed. If only Cade could find it…

Zorra, a young ocelot, watches the bayou rush past her yearningly. The poacher who captured and caged her has long since lost her, and Zorra is getting hungrier and thirstier by the day. Trapped, she only has the sounds of the bayou for comfort—but it tells her help will come soon.

Before Zorra, Achsah, a slave, watched the very same bayou with her two young daughters. After the death of her master, Achsah is free, but she’ll be damned if her daughters aren’t freed with her. All they need to do is find the church with an angel with one hand open and one hand closed…

In a masterful feat, National Book Award Honoree Kathi Appelt weaves together stories across time, connected by the bayou, an angel, and the universal desire to be free.

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Interview with Kathi Appelt

You wrote that you were born in North Carolina, in the front seat of your parents’ car (and then you got to Texas as quickly as you could). Other than the brief period you lived in North Carolina, you’ve spent your life in Texas, were educated here, and come from seven generations of Houstonians, the earliest arriving when Texas was still a republic. It was a Houston cemetery that partly inspired, Angel Thieves, but how does (or doesn’t) being a Texan/Texas impact your stories?
I really believe that setting informs story. While I don’t necessarily think of setting as a character, I do see it as sub-text. Like a character, a good setting comes with its own background, its own sensibilities and traits. Texas is enormous and culturally, ethnically, geographically and topographically diverse. It’s wide open.

Being a Texan, growing up here, I always felt a sense of expansiveness, as if anything could happen, and specifically in Houston, with its Space Center and its world-renowned universities and hospitals, with cutting edge architecture and art, I believed (and still do) in all-things-possible.  Yes, I love the possibility of this home of mine.

Where did the inspiration for Angel Thieves come from?
I would love to say that there was a single source of inspiration for this story, but that would be a bald-faced lie. However, if I had to zero in on one reason, maybe it would be that a few years ago, my mother became seriously ill, and even though I can’t really say why, the knowing that I was losing her inspired me to try to find out more about who we were, about why we came to Houston in the first place, about who my ancestors were and where they came from. What were they doing in Houston? Why, of all the cities, in all the world, did they manage to choose Houston?

Were there any surprises when you started researching yours?
It was actually a surprise to me to learn that my family on my father’s side arrived there so soon, in the late 1830s, just after Texas won its independence from Mexico. They were among the earliest of the European settlers to make their home in what was then called Germantown, and is now called The Heights.

In trying to imagine their lives, in those early years of settlement, I came to see Houston in a different, more historical light than I ever had. I had so much to learn.

In so many ways, Houston is new and shiny, but it has its shadows. Those early Texans didn’t come alone. They brought their slaves with them, and relied upon their labor to get the economy moving. I’m proud to say that my relatives did not own slaves, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t racist. It was something I felt I needed to face.

This piece of Texas history must have significantly impacted you since you made one of your main characters a slave. Did you keep digging?
Yes. In my research, I quickly came to realize that one of the primary reasons—maybe the primary reason that Texas fought for its independence was because Mexico had made slavery illegal. Those early Texans didn’t want that. They wanted to keep their slaves. All those fields of cotton, all those cattle, were labor intensive. In many ways, the Texas Revolution was a kind of mini-Civil War, or at least a precursor to the larger war that followed not that many years later. In the case of Texas, the slave-holders won. Independence in Texas didn’t mean independence for everyone. As a seventh generation Texan, I felt compelled to say this, to show this. It wasn’t something that I ever learned in my Texas history classes. All those heroes of the Alamo?  All slave holders. This seemed to me to be a major omission. Then again, the victors always get to write the history.

I’m not a victor, nor am I a historian, but I do believe that art, literature, music, can offer up some corrective beauty. That was my intent.

Another of your main characters is an ocelot…
When it comes to a place like Houston, there’s a lot to say. It’s the fourth-largest city in the country, and one of the most diverse. Its history is both long and short. As a settled city, it’s not nearly as old as New Orleans or Boston, or even Galveston. But it’s not like there wasn’t a history of it before the Allen Brothers staked their claim on the confluence of the Buffalo and White Oak Bayous. Indigenous peoples had settled along those swampy banks for centuries before the Texans moved in, including the Caddo, the Karankawas, and others. As well, there’s the natural history of it, including a time when ocelots, passenger pigeons, black bears, and even bison, were abundant.

I used the bayou as the narrator for the simple reason that she, in her ancient existence, had known about every person and creature who had ever wandered along her banks. She ties the various histories of this story together. She’s the witness.

You mentioned that you wrote some unintentional parallels to real-world issues; what are they?
Interestingly, when I began this novel, no one was aware of the children being separated from their parents along the Border. Who could have believed that all these years after the Civil War, our government would be tearing children away from their mothers again? In my book, Achsah is running for this exact reason, to avoid losing her baby girls. And ironically, she’s running toward that same river—The Rio Grande—the one that has, over the past few centuries at least, always represented the line between slavery and freedom. She’s running south, however. Not north. 

That was ironic and also unintentional.

What’s next?
Good question. But I think the next story is going to have a camel.


PRAISE FOR ANGEL THIEVES:
Spiritual, succinct, and emotionally gripping. 
-- School Library Journal

A heartfelt love letter to Houston that acknowledges the bad parts of its history while uplifting the good. -- BCBB

Shows the best and worst sides of humanity and underscores the powerful force of the bayou, which both holds and erases secrets.  
-- Publishers Weekly

Narrative strands are like tributaries that begin as separate entities but eventually merge into a single thematic connection: that love, whether lost or found, is always powerful. -- Horn Book

Richly drawn and important. -- Booklist, starred review






Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max ... Attacks

She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and their six cats. She serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

-------------------------------------
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THREE SIGNED COPIES OF ANGEL THIEVES
SEPTEMBER 24-OCTOBER 4, 2019
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