And the answer: K.A. Applegate.
K.A. Applegate, also known as Katherine Applegate, wrote over 150 books in her lifetime. She co-created and co-authored the science fiction Animorphs series with fellow children’s book writer and husband, Michael Grant.
Even without any knowledge of the extensive (and perhaps strange) lore of the Animorphs series, you’ve likely laid eyes on one of their otherworldly covers. It’s safe to say that Katherine Applegate claimed her niche in children’s books, as she and her husband, Michael Grant, had already published fifty-four Animorphs books by 2001—only five years after the release of the initial series. While it was later revealed that around half of those titles were written by ghostwriters, 25 books in five years is no small feat.
The Animorphs series follows five human children: Jake, Marco, Cassie, Rachel and Tobias, as well as one alien, Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill (nicknamed Ax). The kids (plus alien) obtain the ability to transform into any animal they touch, and name themselves "Animorphs" (a portmanteau of "animal morphers"). With this newfound ability, the kids battle a secret alien infiltration of Earth led by a parasitic race of aliens called Yeerks. The Yeerks have their own transformative abilities, as they are able to take humans as hosts by entering and merging with their brain through the ear canal (suddenly, turning into an animal doesn’t sound all that bad).
Interestingly, Applegate reports that the inspiration for this fantasy series was found beside a dumpster—bet you wouldn’t have guessed that! As the story goes, Applegate and Grant were walking around their Sarasota, Florida, apartment complex one evening when they decided to brainstorm ideas for a new children's series. Applegate describes:
“I wanted to write about animals—to put kids into the heads of animals somehow. And right there, as we lapped past the dumpster, we got part one of the equation: kids turning into animals. Then we realized we needed some jeopardy.”
Sometime past the dumpster, Applegate had the idea to toss an alien invasion into the mix, and suddenly, Animorphs was born. Throughout the process, Applegate and Grant stayed true to the depictions of animals by conducting extensive research, visiting zoos, and even spending time with injured birds at a raptor rehabilitation center.
Learn more about the iconic Animorphs series here.