A Word with Kate DiCamillo

Our editor Katherine Granich  talks to world-renowned children’s author Kate DiCamillo about her new book, being an introvert, and why children’s literature matters.

Kate DiCamillo is a literary legend and a treasure in the world of children’s books. She’s won two John Newbery Medals (an award given to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” by the American Library Association) and was appointed the National Ambassador

for Young People’s Literature in 2014-15 by the Library of Congress. Her books Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux have been made into films, and her other titles – the Mercy Watson series, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, and more – grace the bookshelves of children worldwide. In fact, my four-year-old son brought our well-worn copy of Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig to me tonight, asking for his bedtime story. Kate’s books explore themes of hope and belief amid impossible circumstances, and her tales are beautifully woven and appealing to children of all ages (and their parents). Her new book, Raymie Nightingale, is about a 10-year-old girl struggling with her feelings about the

recent separation of her parents, among other big things. It’s a story that many children will relate to, particularly those who are introverted, shy, and caught up in the belief that somehow, they have to fix this.It’s not easy to interview one’s favourite children’s author, but I managed to contain my fangirl tendencies – mostly. Here’s what Kate had to say about her new book

Q Raymie is struggling with a couple of different things – her father has left, her mother seems emotionally unavailable, and she’s set herself this amazingly out-of-character task – entering the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition – with the idea that winning will solve everything. What lessons can Raymie teach children who are also facing these same kinds of difficulties?

Kate: It is so interesting to me that you say that Raymie has set herself “this amazingly out-of-character” task of entering and winning the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Contest. Because it is exactly that – out of character. But I never “realised” that as I was writing the book. What I did slowly come to realise as I wrote is that Raymie is capable of things that she never imagined herself capable of. And so maybe Raymie’s experience can help readers realise that they are stronger, more capable, than they ever imagined.

Q Raymie takes herself out of her comfort zone a number of times, and as an introvert, this is REALLY challenging! What else can you tell us about Raymie?

Kate: The longer I worked on this book, the more I realised how much of my childhood self is embodied in Raymie. And I was the shyest, most introverted kid on the planet. I think she is presented here in all of her complexity – shy, watchful, hopeful, terrified, and full of wonder.

Q Do you have any words of wisdom for introverts like me, and the parents of introverts?

Kate: I am an introvert. I need to be myself (and reading!) in order to re-charge. But as I’ve aged, I’ve learned that I need to connect with other people, and that there is a huge joy in that connection. I push myself a little – push against the shyness and the reluctance to come out of my shell – now that I know that about myself.

Q Raymie thinks a great deal about her soul. What does Raymie’s “soul” represent, or mean, to a 10-year-old?

Kate: I think kids are intensely alive. And I think that they are intensely “spiritually” alive. Ten-year-olds might not be thinking about their souls. But they are experiencing their souls – wonder, hope, joy, fear – and that it is a relief to have words (soul shrivelling, expanding) to talk about this experience.

Q Is there anything you would say to children, particularly 10-year-olds, who will read Raymie Nightingaleand see themselves in it?

Kate: You are stronger than you know. You are capable of wondrous things. And you will be okay.

Q Although the animals were not the main characters in this book, they did play a part. Can you tell me more about your affinity for animals in your writing?

Kate: I just love animals. You’re right that (this time) they are not the main characters. But no matter what I do, the animals find their way into my stories. I need them, I guess.

Q In 2014-15, you were National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature – a position I equate to being Queen of Children’s Books. As Ambassador/Queen, is there anything you learned or experienced that surprised you about people’s views of children’s literature, or anything that made you feel heartened to be in this space?

Kate: The Queen of Children’s Books! I love it. I love, too, the notion of being heartened by being in this space. That is exactly what it was for me–a heartening experience. I got to connect to so many readers. I got to see up close that stories and books matter. It was a wonderful experience.

Q Will there ever be another Mercy Watson book? (I have read those six books to my kids so many times, the covers are falling off, and the words “hot buttered toast” are said in a certain voice in my house!)

Kate: There will be more Mercy in unexpected ways!

Q If you ever come to New Zealand, would you please allow me (and my daughter) to take you to very fancy high tea?

Kate: I would love to join you for high tea. Is that scones? And clotted cream? And fancy sandwiches?

Kid questions

10-year-old Emma rose is the same age as book character Raymie, and she asked Kate some questions, too

Q: What is your favourite children’s book?

Kate: Just one? Really? Do you have one favorite? Okay. Um. I guess if you made me pick one. It would be Charlotte’s Web by EB White.

Q: Do you ever dream of your characters?

Kate: I dream of my characters when I’m working on a story. But I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed of them once the book is out in the world. Weird, huh?

Q: Do you have a favourite word, and what is it?

Kate: Hmm. I like the word “portmanteau.” It has a lot of magic in it, I think

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