If I taught third grade, I’d be reading aloud to children Because of Winn-Dixie. If I taught fourth grade, I’d be reading aloud The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. If I taught fifth grade I’d be reading aloud Flora and Ulysses. The list goes on. Every book was written by Kate DiCamillo. She has a way with words, and a keen understanding. No wonder children love her books. No wonder I love her books.
Kate’s newest book is Louisanna’s Way Home. Louisiana is one of three characters in her earlier book, Raymie Nightingale. The book is not a sequel, but a standalone story of this girl. In Kate’s words, “Louisiana did not go away, her story had to be told.”
Kate is from Minneapolis, so the chances of her being here are slim, yet she was here. Oh, I signed up early. Good that I did. As it turned out, even the waiting list was sold out. And here is the story of what happened:
Concord, Massachusetts is steeped in history, so it comes as no surprise that their library is simply magnificent. This is the area where Kate spoke. Yes, wow!
Three of us traveled together to hear Kate at the library. We walked to the front door and it was locked. A small sign said that people who were here for the Kate DiCamillo presentation were to use the side door. Okay. So, we walked around to the side (no door) and then to the back (no door). We backtracked to the front, and low and behold, there was Kate, walking along, going the wrong way, too. I said, “Kate.” She said, “I’m late.” I said, “The side door is the other way.” So we walked together. Yes, together. Me and Kate DiCamillo.
“Kate, I just finished reading Louisiana. It is so good.”
“Did you like it?”
“I absolutely loved it. Of course you have to write about Beverly Tapinski.” (She is the third character in the book.)
“It’s so hard for children today. Growing up is…”
We reached the door and the rest of her words were swallowed and mixed in with others, including my two friends. As soon as we checked into the library and got settled I said to my friends, “What was the last thing Kate said?” They said, “We couldn’t hear because she was walking with you. We were behind.”
If my chance meeting wasn’t enough, Kate began her presentation with a “ya’ll.” I turned to my friend who is also from West Virginia and we both smiled. Music to our ears, and a piece of home. Because home is a central theme in Kate’s new book. And in all her books. Finding your way, figuring out who you are and where you belong – all written with an understanding that pulls in the reader and makes one realize that ‘she knows’.
Kate read aloud the opening pages of the book. Sigh! She also read aloud the opening pages of her first book, the one that launched her into success, Because of Winn-Dixie.
This is what I took away from her presentation and answering so many questions from the audience:
“I didn’t read Charlotte’s Web as a child. I had read Black Beauty And was traumatized by what happened. So, every time I went to the library and saw the cover of the book, I wouldn’t read it. Have you seen the expression on Wilbur’s face? And of course you know the first sentence in the book, “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” And then, at last, I read the book. Charlotte’s Web is my all-time favorite.”
“I can’t do character development because they’re real. Some characters take over the story – I never know what’s going to happen. There are stories that need to be told.”
“My favorite books growing up include the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and the Beverly Cleary books. I was very sick as a child, so I had plenty of time to read. And I did!”
And my favorite words that Kate said, “There’s room for magic and humor, and it all ends with hope.” Don’t you just love that?
Before she left the podium to get ready for book signing she said, “For all of you who are teachers and read out loud and put books in the hands of children, you have no idea how much that means.”
By the time we got to the the book signing, those words were still fresh in my mind. Kate smiled and said, “I saw you.” I put my hand on her arm and said “I’m the reader-aloud. I actually read chapter books to preschoolers.” My friend said, “We’re reading Charlotte’s Web.” I said, “Yes, and Charlotte has just written RADIENT.” The nearby audience loved this conversation. So did Kate. She beamed and said, “You have no idea how much that means. Thank you!”
I showed her the post card she had sent me some years ago. She loved that!
Thank you, Kate DiCamillo. Keep writing, and I’ll keep reading.