Littsburgh is thrilled to be able to share with you an interview with Kate DiCamillo (two time Newbery Award-winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) by the youngest member of our literary roster, eleven-year-old Grace Randall. Grace has recently interviewed Rainbow Rowell, Gregory Maguire, Andrea Davis-Pinkney and Littsburgh’s Nick Courage. Check out her site, The Authors Among Us, for more!
Kate DiCamillo is one of the most celebrated children’s authors of our time. From the first days that she captured our hearts with Because of Winn-Dixie in 2000, to the magic she brought us in 2013 in Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, she has always been able to juxtapose humor and joy while balancing hard topics such as death, loss, and separation, as in The Tiger Rising, The Tale of Despereaux, and The Magician’s Elephant. Writing these books has been a way for her to find the joy in her life, even while grieving or unhappy. Like her, readers can be helped to work through their own sorrow and distress. She encourages them to laugh, and to cry, both at the same time. Ms. DiCamillo’s works have had a large impact on how many of us write about the world, and how even more of us see it.
Joy is a substantial part of Ms. DiCamillo’s creations. While many of her books deal with hard-to-grasp subjects that not all children can easily wrap their heads around, she makes them easier to understand and confront. She said in her Newbery Award speech in 2014 for Flora & Ulysses that writing it brought her the joy she needed in the months after her mother’s death. “Plugging into [a story]… it’s smarter than I am, and it knows what’s going on, and that is a joyful experience for me,” she said, elaborating on that idea. Writing a story is a journey, and that voyage is one that brings us happiness.
Humor is another thing that Ms. DiCamillo incorporates successfully into her writing. Her quick quips make us chuckle and her punchlines make us laugh out loud. It’s marvelous how she balances that comedy with tough subjects. “There’s a part of me that’s funny and a part of me that’s serious, but those two parts exist simultaneously, all the time, so when I’m writing, that’s what ends up happening with the stories,” she said, explaining her perfect dichotomy. That is what we find so lovely about her humor: she doesn’t make joke after joke, she puts a laugh where we’re about to cry. She slips in a smile within that frown. “I think the world is beautiful,” she explained, “and I want to get that in there too.”
Kate DiCamillo is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the 2014-15 term, yet her books do not only appeal to children. Adults and young people alike have been drawn into Ms. DiCamillo’s world of miraculous characters. I asked her if that was her intention. “I don’t think about anything except telling the story… my publisher decides who it’s for,“ said Ms. DiCamillo. She also uses very large, complicated, and descriptive words in her books, like the one so emphasized in The Tale of Despereaux: perfidy. She stressed that while reading you don’t have to know the definition of the word to understand its general meaning. (In case it is now bothering you: perfidy is defined as “A deliberate breach of faith or trust,” dictionary.com)
Kate DiCamillo is a very intelligent and kind woman. Once I finished with my questions for her, she asked me about what kind of writing I wanted to do when I grew up. I told her that I might want to write musicals, but that I wasn’t very good at writing music. She took a genuine interest in me and gave me some advice, saying that maybe I could just write the lyrics to songs and have someone else do the music. I was very flattered that she had made the time to meet with me in person, since she had been talking with elementary schools from around the world via webcam all day and was minutes from speaking to a sold-out audience in Carnegie Lecture Hall.
Her stories on navigating through life, told through her books, have influenced a generation of readers and writers, some of them living through those tough moments, and all of them comforted by the world of odd yet familiar characters, like the “unlikely hero with exceptionally large ears,” of Despereaux in The Tale of Despereaux, or “the preacher” from Because of Winn-Dixie. She connects us all through her storytelling and her natural kindness. Those readers and writers have all found their joy, because of Kate DiCamillo.
To learn more about Kate DiCamillo, click here.
This review reprinted here by permission of the author and The Authors Among Us.