Kate DiCamillo's first children's book, Because of Winn-Dixie, was a 2001 Newbery Honor Book and her second book, The Tiger Rising, was a National Book Award finalist. Kate DiCamillo was awarded the the 2004 Newbery Medal, one of the most prestigious awards in children's literature, for her novel, The Tale of Despereaux and those books were only the start! The books and awards have continued, with the latest honor being named by the Librarian of Congress in 2014 to a two-year term as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and winning the 2014 John Newbery Medal for her latest book, Flora and Ulysses. As you read about the author, her approach to writing, her characters, and her books, you may find the perfect book (or books) for your child.
The Chat Room Discussion
One of the great things about the World Wide Web is the opportunity it provides to meet and visit with people you might never ordinarily have a chance to know. The About Children's Books community and I had such an opportunity, back when chat rooms were popular, when Kate DiCamillo visited our chat room. At that time, Kate was the author of two novels for children: Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising, which were published in 2000 and 2001 respectively by Candlewick Press. Prior to the chat, I visited with Kate by phone, and we had a practice chat session so she could get used to chat procedures. We decided to have an informal chat, and Kate indicated she'd be happy to talk about both the process of writing and her books. Much of what follows came from our chat.
The Writing Process
Kate has a degree in English from the University of Florida in Gainesville. At that time, she had been writing daily for the past seven years. Thanks to a competitive grant from the McKnight Foundation, Kate received some financial support while writing her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie. The most frequently asked question at our chat was, "How long does it take you to write a book?" Kate said it took about a year. "I write every morning, or try to, no matter where I am or what I am doing. I give myself a page limit. Two pages. That's all I ask of myself." Kate went on to say that she also did a lot of rewriting.
Being a part of a writing critique group has been very helpful to Kate. She had been meeting with the same group of writers for about five years. They meet every other week to read their work aloud to one another and discuss it. The group provides "support and community."
One of the things we were particularly interested in was how Kate got her ideas for stories. We were intrigued by her response to the question, "Your characters are very real to you. Do they come to you already formed or do you shape them?" Kate said that they shaped her by "telling me their stories." She stated, "It's always a challenge to get myself out of the way so that the story can be told."
Kate mentioned that twelve-year-old Rob Horton, the main character in The Tiger Rising, first appeared in a short story she wrote. "Rob just kind of haunted me and it took me awhile to figure out the story he wanted me to tell." Although both of her novels share the theme of the loss of a parent, Kate said that as she was writing, it was "a theme I was not even aware of."
As Kate DiCamillo told us, having her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, designated a 2001 Newbery Honor book was "an incredible honor." When you have won such a prestigious honor, what's left? According to Kate, "I just want to tell more stories." In 2003, The Tale of Despereaux was published and in 2004, she was honored with the Newbery Medal for the book. A quirky fairy tale, it is quite different from her previous work, although the excellent writing and several familiar themes are still present. The inspiration for this story came, according to the author, from her best friend’s son, who asked for a story about "an unlikely hero. He has exceptionally large ears." The hero certainly is unlikely; he's a mouse who loves music.
Since Our Chat Room Visit
After writing three novels for older children and winning the Newbery Medal for the third (The Tale of Despereaux) and numerous honors for the fourth (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), Kate DiCamillo introduced a new, and funny, early chapter book series for younger readers. The Mercy Watson series, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, features a pig with a yen for buttered toast. In addition to Geisel honors for one of her Mercy Watson books, DiCamillo received the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Medal for beginning reader books for Bink and Gollie, a very entertaining book about a pair of unlikely friends, which she co-authored with Alison McGhee. Tony Fucile illustrated the book, the first of several Bink and Gollie books by the trio.
In addition, Kate DiCamillo has written several picture books, including Great Joy and Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken. Her latest children's novels are The Magician's Elephant, published in October, 2009, and Flora and Ulysses, published in 2013, for which she was awarded the 2014 Newbery Medal, both of which I highly recommend. If you and your children have not yet read any of Kate DiCamillo's books, I encourage you to do so. Her novels are enormously popular with middle grade readers and newly independent readers love her beginning reader books. I particularly like The Tale of Despereaux as a read aloud that you and your children can enjoy together anytime, while Great Joy is a favorite Christmas read aloud.
My 2014 Interviews with Kate DiCamillo
To find out more about Kate DiCamillo's recent activities, I interviewed her via email in early January, resulting in the following two interviews: The 2014-2015 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature: An Interview with Kate DiCamillo and Kate DiCamillo: An Interview About Her Writing and Her Award-Winning Books. I am always eager to get my questions answered and to learn more about authors and illustrators of children's books and appreciate this opportunity to share the results with you.