Last night Candlewick hosted a dinner for Kate DiCamillo with DC-area children’s book reviewers, and I was lucky enough to attend. Kate was in town as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Earlier in the day, she had participated in an event with former Ambassadors Katherine Paterson and Jon Scieszka, who spoke to a room full of students and educators at the Library of Congress. In part, they paid tribute to the fourth former ambassador, Walter Dean Myers, who died last July. But at the dinner, DiCamillo was just hanging out with us, a bunch of children’s book lovers, and it was an amazing evening of camaraderie and book talk.
Here are few things I learned about DiCamillo that made me love her even more than I already do for writing books that all three of my children love, whether it’s “Because of Winn-Dixie,” the “Mercy Watson” series, or her Newbery Award-winning “Flora & Ulysses.”
–She left her hometown in Central Florida for Minnesota at age 30. It’s fairly well known that DiCamillo wrote “Because of Winn-Dixie” because she was homesick for Florida, where she had lived since she was five years old. The interesting thing is that once a central Floridian, she never left the State for 25 years. She went to college at the University of Florida, and it wasn’t until she was 30 that she decided it was time for a change and left the State (and a then-boyfriend) behind to reinvent herself in Minneapolis, where a good friend was living. That move, DiCamillo says, changed her life. She got a job at a book warehouse, where she would read children’s books all the time, and that inspired her to work on her own book ideas.
–She’s super petite: At 5-6, I’m just a bit taller than the average height for a woman, so if I feel like a giantess next to someone, you know they’re petite. DiCamillo is tiny, and I only mention it, because it’s evident in her collaborative book with fellow author Alison McGhee, “Bink and Gollie.” Although the girls’ adventures in those books are fictional, they are about a short girl and a tall girl: the tiny one with wild white-blonde hair and the tall one a brunette, just like DiCamillo and McGhee. Plus, DiCamillo likes to point out to kids that she’s small but can imagine big things in her work, just like they can. Isn’t that great?