If your kids love to read, they likely own at least one of the 14 memorable books written by author Kate DiCamillo. The Newbery Medal- winning children’s author writes picture books, early chapter books, and teenage novels. My daughter raced through the funny Mercy Watson early chapter books. They feature Mercy, the “porcine wonder,” whose desire for buttery toast often gets her into trouble. That delightful series marked the beginning of my daughter’s long and intimate relationship with Kate’s work. Two of her novels, The Tale of Despereaux and Because Of Winn-Dixie, have also been made into movies. She’ll be at Davis-Kidd Booksellers at 6 p.m. on May 13th, to sign her books and answer questions.
We caught up with Kate at her home in Minnesota to talk about writing, friendship, and encouraging the reluctant reader.
MP: One of your top selling novels, Because of Winn-Dixie, is set in the South (Florida). When you wrote the story, did you have ties to the South?KD: Yes, I grew up as a kid in Central Florida, which at that time was mainly citrus groves. Then, seven years ago, I moved to Minnesota, and that year we experienced one of the worst winters on record. The temperatures dropped to 30 below. I was homesick, I missed having a dog, and in my head, I heard a little girl’s Southern voice saying, “I have a dog named Winn-Dixie.” I went to sleep knowing what I would start to write the next morning. Because Of Winn-Dixie was a way to write my way back home.MP: Your new early chapter book, Bink & Gollie, won the Theodor Geisel Award from the American Library Association. It’s a funny tale of friendship between two girls that doesn’t sugar-coat jealousies and conflicts in their relationship.KD: Bink & Gollie has been well-received. My co-writer, Alison McGhee, is a friend. When we were both between books, Alison said, “What if we write something together?” It’s nothing but dialogue and it’s a cross between a picture book, early chapter book, and graphic novel.MP: Which books were on your bedroom shelf when you were growing up?KD: I read the backs of cereal boxes. I loved Little House on the Prairie, Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, and Stuart Little. But Black Beauty scared me off of animal books. It was sad so I never read Charlotte’s Web. By high school, I was making noises about writing.MP: You’re not a parent and yet your stories resonate with kids. What have you learned about the inner lives of children?KD: I was a 10-year-old who was a mystery to my parents. We’re all mysteries to each other in a way. That’s why I love to read and write stories. It’s a chance to see one another. I learn more about myself with every story — and about the human heart.MP: For some kids, reading isn’t a priority. Do you have tips to help parents encourage reluctant readers?KD: My best advice is to read together as a family and to let kids see you reading books for your own pleasure. Sometimes parents tell their child to go read for 15 minutes and then sit down and watch television themselves. You can’t force kids to read. It’s a gift they can give themselves. It’s the right book at the right time, and many reluctant readers come to it on their own. Right after Because Of Winn-Dixie came out, I got a letter from a boy who wrote that he hated to read until he came across my book. His mother even attached a note to write that she didn’t make him write the letter. That never gets old; it brings me to my knees.MP: Many of your characters grow up without mothers. You grew up in a single-parent household. How does that affect your writing?KD: When I was growing up, I was the only one with parents who were divorced. My dad was missing and my subconscious turns it around and deals with the parent who was there. I’m still addressing that in my stories.MP: What’s your current writing project?KD: I just turned a funny novel for ages 8 and up into my literary agent. In the drafting stage, I start writing at 5:30 a.m. and finish two pages per day. When I’m revising, I spend more hours writing. There is no right or wrong way to tell a story and that is one reason that writing is so wonderful and terrifying. You have to find your own way. The only wrong way to do it is not doing it.MP: Of your 14 books, which is your personal favorite?KD: That’s like asking a mom, “Which of your kids do you love the best?” I can’t pick a favorite book, but The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie are my best-selling books.MP: Are there plans to make film versions of other books?KD: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Magician’s Elephant look like they may be made into movies. You sit alone in your little room and write, and it’s astonishing enough that your story gets turned into a book. When this little idea you rolled around in the morning is on the big screen, it’s surreal.