Kate DiCamillo - Author
Kate DiCamillo is the award-winning author of Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Desperaux, and The Tiger Rising. Her first book was Because of Winn-Dixie, and it was named as a Newbery Honor book and became a bestseller. It's now been made into a major movie.
Before being published, DiCamillo worked in a book warehouse in the children's section. She grew up in Florida, where Because of Winn-Dixie is based.
RIF: What is your favorite animal character from literature?
Kate DiCamillo: You know, I’m not the best person to answer that question because I read Black Beauty as a kid, but it tore me up inside because it was so sad. I swore I’d never read another book with an animal on the cover. I remember looking at Charlotte’s Web as a kid and wondering what was going to happen to the pig. I couldn’t stand it. I didn’t read it until I was an adult.
There were a couple books that got in under the radar before the Black Beauty experience. I loved Stuart Little, the Beverly Cleary Ribsy books and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
RIF: What were some of your favorite books growing up?
KD: I loved both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I would go back to those again and again. I also loved The Twenty-One Balloons, which is a book that’s still in print, but kind of obscure.
Every time I answer this I answer it differently because I read all the time. I can’t remember reading a book I didn’t like, other than Black Beauty. I don’t want to malign Black Beauty, but it was too much for me. It broke my heart. I went to the library all the time. I have to thank my mom for that.
RIF: Do you write full time now?
KD: I do, but I still do it the same way as I did when I worked – two pages a day in the morning. The rest of it is spent in an office, doing correspondence, emails and interviews. I still write to the kids who write to me. I get about 50 letters a week. I don’t know how much longer I can keep up with it. I might have to think of another way to do it. Right now I write it out by hand on postcards. I am getting hand-cramps.
RIF: What's the best letter you've gotten from a kid?
KD: My all-time favorite was from a boy in Illinois. He hated to read and his librarian suggested Because of Winn-Dixie and he read it. He wrote me a letter about how he’d always hated to read but he loved Because of Winn-Dixie. I wrote him back and told him about another book of mine that was coming out, called A Tiger Rising. He wrote me back and said that he’d read it too and liked it just as much as Because of Winn-Dixie. He listed the similarities and differences. He was so right. He’s a fabulously intelligent guy. I got a letter from his mom and she said that he’d done all that on his own and he was a reader now. When I got that, I thought, “What else matters? What could be better than that?” That’s the highest compliment in the world, to know that maybe you’re doing something that matters.
RIF: Do you go to schools to talk to kids? Do you get nervous?
KD: I do go to schools, although I’m not doing it now because of all that’s going on with the movie. It’s great because I never would have realized how much I enjoy kids.
I get nervous anytime I have to stand up in front of anyone on stage, and I’m always looking for the exit. I’m fine once I get up there, but I never want to go up there.
RIF: What do kids think of the movie?
KD: They seemed wildly enthusiastic, so I hope that holds true. I don’t think there are a lot of movies for kids that deal with them as complex, emotional, fully-formed beings. Kid movies are usually just flat-out fun. But kids are always walking around with the same emotions and burdens that adults have. So hopefully it’s nice to see a movie that takes their emotional life seriously. People just think that kids are always happy, without any problems. But they’re laboring under a lot of burdens, too. I think it’s a mistake to assume otherwise.
RIF: Were you a serious kid?
KD: No, but I remember all the things I was aware of as a kid. It was frustrating to be treated as someone who didn’t see what was going on. I wasn’t a particularly serious kid, but I’m an adult who remembers what it's like to be a kid.
RIF: Is it harder to write a good kids' book than a book for adults?
KD: It is. Every word counts and there’s very little margin for error. You have to keep all the balls up in the air. It has to move forward all the time. There has to be lots of action and dialogue. But writing is hard no matter who you do it for.
Get in touch with Kate!
c/o Candlewick Press
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140