Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kate DiCamillo, Role Model?

I took a couple of pictures, which came out weird. I’m sure she’ll
appreciate me using one from the Candlewick site instead.

One of my critique group members, Edith Cohn bought tickets for us to see a screening of “Because of Winn Dixie” at the Somerville Theatre. Then I won four tickets from The Official Kate DiCamillo Page on Facebook. The librarian at my children’s school had an extra. So my whole family, including in laws, got to see Kate DiCamillo read the beginning of Because of Winn Dixie and do a Q&A, and view the movie. Woo hoo!

I have to explain my admiration for Kate DiCamillo.

We read Because of Winn Dixie in my fifth-grade reading group, and the students loved the book. Reading it gave me a greater understanding of voice. This summer, my daughter and I listened to the audio book on the way back from New York. Near the end, I had to drive through Connecticut with teary eyes.

My son enjoyed it when I read A Tale of Despereaux aloud. Kate DiCamillo defining a word (perfidy) in the text motivated me to define important words at the beginnings of chapters in my manuscript Muriel and the Misfits. The manuscript didn’t go anywhere and it was probably a bad idea. But still, the author had inspired me to try something different.

I saw an autographed copy of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at Porter Square Books and picked it up since I liked her other two books. This book blew me away. I wasn’t expecting it. It touched me in a way that few books touched me. I cried. Twice. It’s on my top ten list of favorite books. Maybe top five. Read it. Now. Go!

Kate DiCamillo admits to receiving nearly 400 rejection letters for her short stories (and piercing each one with darts). But her first novel Because of Winn Dixie was quickly accepted. And it won a Newbury Honor. Her first book. Impressive, no?

Edith snagged us seats in the third row, right in the center. I held onto five seats for my family on the side. While waiting, I was amazed that even though the event took place in Somerville, Cambridge was representin’. I spotted three girls from my daughter’s class, the librarian from my kids’ school and one from my old school, a child and dad from my former babysitting coop, and a girl from my son’s class with her parents. The last one didn’t surprise me since the mom is an editor at Candlewick Press , the publisher of Kate DiCamillo’s books.

When it was time for Ms. DiCamillo’s Q&A, it was obvious she had been a teacher. The woman seemed as comfortable on stage as she would be in her living room. She took questions from the audience (But not my daughter, even though she had her hand raised the ENTIRE time. Her question was, “Are you going to write another book about dogs?”), and answered with wit, humor, and honesty.

And what adoring fans. Authors of children’s books have The. Best. Readers. Watching them confirmed why I write children’s books.

When asked by a child which book was her favorite of the ones she’d written, she called on the kid’s mom to choose a favorite among her children. Kate DiCamillo then explained that each book was like a child, special in its own way, so she couldn’t have a favorite.

She admitted she doesn’t know how to write a book without an animal in it. I could relate because all my manuscripts have fantasy element to them. Anytime I try to go real world, I become bored and abandon the piece.

Her advice to children and adults who want to be authors was to write a little everyday and read all the time. (check, check.)

Ms. DiCamillo said she’d been complimented on her writing in college, so she bought turtlenecks and called herself a writer without actually writing. By age 30, she realized that wasn’t going to get her published. Although she didn’t say it during the Q&A, she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days per week. In ten years, she has about eleven books published, from novels to picture books to early readers. She’s one prolific chick!

A parent asked about The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, “It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Did you write it for children or adults?”

Kate DiCamillo asserted the book wrote itself. She was given a creepy rabbit doll from a friend, who said it was named Edward. She had a dream about the rabbit at the bottom of the ocean, and wondered how it got there. As she wrote the book, she felt like she was just the messenger. It was a gift.

Then she was asked what she was writing at the moment. Her response; “When I’m in a good place, I think it’s a funny, long book. When I’m in a bad place, I think it’s a funny, long, and stupid book.”


Kate DiCamillo:

10-year published author of 11 books

1 Newbury Award

1 Newbury Honor

and a National Book Award finalist

has doubts?

I remembered her answer to an earlier question, “Which book was the easiest to write?” Her answer was Because of Winn Dixie because there were no expectations from her publisher or readers. She could write without worry.

We writers are a neurotic bunch, and that probably doesn’t change when writing a new manuscript, no matter how many came before and how successful they were or weren’t.

After being introduced and called a role model, Kate DiCamillo said she didn’t want to be own it because it was too much pressure and she’s made too many mistakes. But she would accept being a role model for trying really hard.

Sorry, Kate DiCamillo. As a writer, you’re a role model to me.

Have you read any of Kate DiCamillo’s books?

Let me know your thoughts.


  1. Wow. Thanks for all this good information once again! I think Kate Dicamillo was mentioned in your interview so I have The Miraculous Journey on my list to get the next time I visit the bookshop...but now I've got another one on the list, Because of Winn Dixie! Thanks for your recommendation! I will surely read her books. :)

  2. I've read many of Kate DiCamillo's books! I think The Tale of Despereaux is my favorite (although I've never seen the movie). The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is also a great read!

  3. Oh Theresa Milstein slap me silly and call me Barbara but no I've not read any of the wonderful Kate DiCamillo's books but you've convinced me to try at least The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane!!! :-)

    Oh she sounds so wonderful - so glad you and your whole family went to see her!! Yay!!! And she comes across as so down to earth too!! She's a worthy and one fantastic role model!!

    Take care

  4. I can't wait to read that book! What a great post - I'm sure it will inspire a bunch of your followers :)

  5. She definitely sounds like a great role model! I haven't read any of her books, but I'm sure going to now! Glad you had such a great time :)

  6. I've heard how writers get more nervous and doubtful after they've become published. I believe it, for sure.
    But it's nice to know that fabulous authors are just humans with real worries too!

  7. @ Len, I wrote the interview weeks ago, before I knew anything about the screening. Imagine how excited I was to get the opportunity to see her.

    Let me know when you read one of her books.

    @ The Golden Eagle, of the three, Despereaux is my least favorite, though I still enjoyed it. I didn't see the movie either.

    @ Old Kitty... er Barbara, these books are short enough that you can read them quickly. That's the nice thing about most middle grade books.

    @ Kathleen, I hope a bunch of readers are inspired.

    @ Meredith, if you read one, let me know.

    @ Lydia, I guess it IS true. Yes, authors are humans!

  8. I'm sorry to say that I haven't read any of her books, but every one that I've heard of sounds amazing, so I'll pick one up sometime. Sounds like a fantastic experience!

  9. That sounds like a great experience! I haven't read any of Kate's books yet, but based on your recommendation, I'll have to check them out.

  10. That was a great post. I love Kate DiCamillo. She has an interesting story about how Because of Winn Dixie became published.

    My fav book of hers has to be Tiger Rising.


  11. What a dedicated and respected writer, it's wonderful that you were able to hear her talk. I love to hear published authors speak about the craft and writing life. Our local university hosts writers, and my daughter and I often go. Each one offers new and valuable insights, into writing and life too.

  12. I haven't read her yet. And 400 rejections--wow. She has an amazing story and she sounds like role model material.

  13. I haven't read any of her books as yet either, but you've convinced me! She is such an inspiration to keep persevering and pushing on! This was a very timely post :)

  14. Oh I agree! We love her in this house. :)
    When my daughter was much younger (she's in high school now) we read Winn Dixie together and she loved it so much she went on to read it many more times on her own in elementary school.

    Some books transcend age groups. :)

    This is a warm and wonderful recap. (as always)
    Thanks for sharing.
    Have a delightful weekend, Theresa.

  15. I haven't read her books, but wow... I love her take on being a role model for trying really hard. :)

  16. A role model for trying really hard, sounds like the best role model to have. It's great to have favourite books that make you cry. I love it when the emotion creeps up on you, and it feels like you're in the story. That's good writing, and hard work!

  17. @ Shelley, if you decide to read one, let me know what you think.

    @ Kelly, it was a great experience. Maybe this post will get her a few more readers, though she seems to be doing fine on her own.

    @ Sharde, she talked about living in Minnesota and missing the warmth of Florida + it being the first time she didn't have a dog. It's amazing how factors come together for inspiration.

    @ Joanne, I love seeing writers around here too. Because Cambridge is so literary (or because many of them in New England), they all seem to come here.

    You'll have to tell me which authors you've seen.

  18. @ Medeia, I think to keep going after that and tackling a novel is inspiring. I don't have nearly that many rejections yet. Probably.

    @ WritingNut, glad you got some inspiration.

    @ Lola, I'm shocked over how many blogging buddies haven't read her books. Not everyone reads middle grade, especially if they don't have children.

    I have a feeling my daughter will read in multiple times too. Right now, my mother-in-law has our copy + Edward Tulane.

    @ Sara, I think trying really hard is a worthy reason to see her as a role model too.

    @ Simon, many books that are sad don't make me cry. When Mockingjay came out, Facebook and the blogosphere was full of authors who cried at the end. But a couple of things just pulled me out of the story and I was more annoyed than anything else.

    I agree with your last part:

    "I love it when the emotion creeps up on you, and it feels like you're in the story. That's good writing, and hard work!"

  19. Awesome! I like that she said "each book was like a child, special in its own way, so she couldn’t have a favorite". And I get what you mean (and she means) about having fantasy or animals. Mine is always a bit of mysticism!

  20. I read Because Of Winn Dixie. I started reading it in one of the classes that subbed in. It was such a good book, I went out and bought it, so that I could finish it. What a great book!

  21. I've never read any of her books, but I like her philosophy towards writing :) Do movies count :p ?

  22. @ Christina, I think we all have something that ties our books together. I liked books with mysticism.

    @ Choices, that's a good endorsement of The Giver!

    @ Erica, I didn't see The Tale of Despereaux, so I don't know how true it was to the book. Because of Winn Dixie added two subplots that didn't exist in the book, but other than that, it was pretty good. One subplot increased tension. The other provided kid comedy.

  23. Sadly I havent read any of her book,s but I have seen the movie for Desperaux (so cute!)
    And I totally agree with you: No matter if we are published and stable in our writting careers, well always be neurotic. Sometimes, its what makes us great, no, superb, writers!

  24. I haven't read any of her books either, but I'm so (selfishly) happy that other writers are neurotic like me! So I have years of neuroticism to look forward to! Not sure if that's a good thing... but at least I'll be in good company. :)

  25. I haven't read any of Kate's books but I'll have to give them a go. She sounds so inspiring!

  26. @ Clara, now I want to see the movie. I could see it being a fun movie to adapt.

    If being neurotic makes great writers, I'm in luck!

    @ Talli, being in good company is an excellent way to look at it!

    @ L.T. Elliot, she was awesome. If you read any of her books, let me know.

  27. Wow, how cool you got to meet her! Jealous!

    I love her and all the books of hers that I've read. Winn-Dixie, Edward Tulane, Despereaux. I need to read the rest.

  28. @ The Words Crafter, it was very cool to meet her.

    I have The Tiger is Rising, but haven't read it yet. I need to get The Magician's Elephant.

  29. I've got at least 5 of her books in my classroom, but I haven't read any of them yet. I definitely will after reading this post! Thanks :)

  30. This is a wonderful post about an obviously wonderful author. I've never heard of her, but after your post I really must. Glad you had such a great time at the theatre..:)

  31. @ Jemi, you must read them. You know which one I recommend to read first.

    @ L'Aussie, maybe she hasn't made it over to you. Let me know if you're able to find any of her books.

  32. I haven't read her books, but my little cousin was devouring the Tale of Despereaux last time I saw her.

    Sounds like it was a wonderful Q&A, but I wish she would have answered your daughter's question.

  33. @ Missed Periods, she was very good about taking questions from all areas in the room, including the balcony. My daughter raises her hand for everything. She can't get called on all the time! We'll keep our eye out for another dog book.

  34. Wow...400 rejections and a Newberry!

    Theresa...I have an award for you over at my blog. :)

  35. I just saw Kate DiCamillo in New York City for a workshop with kids and parents on reading. She was amazing! I came across your blog when I was searching for more tidbits on her.

    It's amazing that she has written so much, based on the 2 page a day routine. Thanks for sharing!


  36. @ Sheela-Chari, that must've been a wonderful workshop.

    I agree - two days a day and she's quite prolific.