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Shy possum gets lead role in Holly Goldberg Sloan’s new middle-grade novel

First Published      Last Updated Oct 03 2015 01:05 am

A shy possum gets the lead role in Holly Goldberg Sloan’s middle-grade novel.


You don't think possums — those nocturnal creatures with the bald tails — are adorable? Well, then, you haven't read "Appleblossom the Possum" yet. The irresistible heroine of screenwriter and director Holly Goldberg Sloan's new middle-grade (ages 7-12) novel just might change your mind.

"Appleblossom" tells the story of a young possum who learns how to take care of herself and others along the way. An animal fantasy in the tradition of "Charlotte's Web," the novel deftly combines natural history with an appealing narrative. Furthermore, Sloan's vibrant language makes this a nice choice for reading aloud.

Sloan, who will be signing books at The King's English bookshop on Tuesday, recently spoke with The Tribune about "Appleblossom," the writing life and the importance of independent bookstores.

Why possums?

Possums are misunderstood. They are shy, nocturnal, nomadic marsupials that live in our world, for the most part unseen, minding their own business. A possum, unlike a raccoon, would never tear a hole in your back door or shred your lawn furniture.

Is Appleblossom based on anybody living or dead? (Or is any resemblance purely coincidental?)

Appleblossom is a combination of many young girls I know. She's modern in that she feels both independent and capable, but at the same time she's anxious and concerned to strike out on her own. But more than anything, Appleblossom is curious. And being curious in the world always leads to adventure.

Can you share any interesting possum facts with our readers?

Possums are marsupials. They are the only marsupial in North America, but they exist all over the world. Possums have more in common with kangaroos than with rodents. They have prehensile tails, which means the tail itself can hold things. Possums when they are young can hang by their tails. Possums are shy. They are sweet. They are nearly defenseless. They are nomadic and will move every few days.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

Appleblossom the Possum was born the night our rescue pitbull mix came in from the yard with a possum in her mouth. The animal was so large and obviously dead. It was stiff and smelled, and my husband and I were very upset. We got the dog to drop the possum and then went to get a plastic bag to dispose of the poor thing. When we came back, the possum was gone. It was a shocker. The possum was playing possum. This opened up a whole world of possibilities for me in terms of telling a story. There was a victim. An attacker. A body. And then an unsolved crime.

There is an emphasis on "acting" in this story. Did you draw upon your involvement in the movie industry for that piece of it?

Absolutely. I have many friends who are actors. I love actors. I've directed three movies, and the joy of that was working with talented people. I think possums as the actors of the animal world is the central idea of "Appleblossom the Possum."

Why do you write for young readers?

I love two things: kids and animals. I have written for film and television, and my work shows that I go to these subjects repeatedly. I think being a screenwriter ("Angels in the Outfield," "Made in America," "The Big Green") has trained me to think in a visual way for storytelling. I like young readers because I'm not interested in violent stories, and I'm also not motivated to write using what's considered adult language or circumstances. This makes me a natural fit for telling stories for young people.

What advice would you give to a young reader who wants to write?

Read. Read. Read. And write. Write. Write. If you wanted to be a professional pianist, it seems obvious that you would need to practice every day. If you want to be a writer, you need to write all the time.

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‘Appleblossom the Possum’ in Salt Lake City

Holly Goldberg Sloan is on tour to promote her new middle-grade book, “Appleblossom the Possum”

When » Tuesday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.

Where » The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East in Salt Lake City

More information » For more on the event, call 801 484-9100 or visit www.kingsenglish.com. For more information about “Applepossum the Blossom” and Holly Goldberg Sloan, visit www.hollygoldbergsloan.com.