Monday, December 1, 2014

Because of Kate DiCamillo

Every well-written book is a light for me. 
When you write, you use other writers and 
their books as guides in the wilderness.   
                          – Kate diCamillo

To me, Kate diCamillo looks like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. And her children’s books seem like the sort that Meg -- I mean Kathleen Kelly -- would write. Her stories are whimsical, touching, funny, serious, and altogether wonderful.

Kate Dicamillo
Katrina Elizabeth DeCamillo was born in Philadelphia in 1964. In childhood, she suffered from chronic pneumonia, and her mother took her to Florida to recover. Her father remained behind to sell his orthodontist practice. But years passed, and he never joined his family.

At age thirty, Kate moved to Minneapolis and found work as a “picker” on the children’s floor of the Bookmen’s warehouse. 

That first winter in Minnesota, the worst on record, Kate was suffering from "dog withdrawal." On her author site, she says, “I was living in an apartment where no dogs were allowed, but there weren't any rules about imaginary dogs. So I made a dog up, the best dog I could think of: a smelly, friendly, big old mutt.” And so Kate’s first book was born—Because of Winn-Dixie.

Winn-Dixie is the story of a ten year old girl who adopts a furry, smelly, and very loud dog after she and her father move to Florida. The book, published by Candlewick Press in 2000, was a Newbery Honor winner for 2001 and was awarded the Mark Twain Award for 2003. In 2005, the novel was adapted for film, starring Jeff Daniels and AnnaSophia Robb. In 2012, the School Library Journal included Because of Winn-Dixie in its list of the top 100 chapter books of all time. 

Not too shabby for a writer's first book -- but that was only the beginning.

The next year -- 2002 -- Kate published The Tiger Rising, which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. In 2004, she won the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux, and in 2006, she won the Boston-Globe--Horn Book Award for Fiction, for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. The list goes on, and it's hard to imagine this children's author publishing any story that doesn't win an award.

Why is this writer so successful, with an audience comprised of both children and grown-ups? I think it's because her underlying theme is hope, even in hopeless situations. Her characters are on a quest. India Opal Buloni (Winn-Dixie) is trying to find out about the mother who abandoned her. Despereaux (a small mouse with big ears) loves light and words--and he dares to love a human princess. Edward Tulane is a china rabbit who journeys to the bottom of the sea and around the world, searching for home. Kate's stories are charming and whimsical and multi-dimensional. And a great deal of fun to read.

In 2014, Kate was appointed to a two-year term as National Ambassador for Children's Literature by the Library of Congress. Her latest book, Flora and Ulysses, won the Newbery Medal for 2014 as well. 

In this story, Flora watches in horror as her next door neighbor, Mrs. Tickham, accidentally vacuums up a squirrel with her super-suction, multi-terrain Ulysses 2000X vacuum cleaner.  And not just any squirrel, mind you. This squirrel is a superhero. And a poet. What can anyone say in such a circumstance but "Holy bagumba!"

Kate says that books are "guides in the wilderness" for writers. Kate's books are certainly a guide and an inspiration for me. I guess that if a mouse can dare to love a princess, I can keep hoping to someday write a story as wonderful as as the ones she writes. 

It's because of Kate diCamillo that I keep trying.

If you want to be a writer, write a little bit every day. Pay attention to the world around you. 
Stories are hiding, waiting everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and your heart.
                --Kate diCamillo