When I need a reminder that, despite its sorrows, the world is aglow with hope and meaning, I read Kate DiCamillo. I discovered her writings as an adult, but I wish she had been part of my childhood; her stories linger, begging to be re-read, and I have the suspicion that their layers evolve with age. Two of her novels have been made into major motion pictures: The Tale of Despereaux (Universal 2008) and Because of Winn-Dixie (2005). Since 2000, she has published seven novels and two book series, with her new novel Raymie Nightingale anticipated for April of this year (Amazon). She was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014-2015, and has won two Newberry medals, the Boston Globe-Horn Book award, and was a National Book Award finalist (author’s website). It is safe to say that Kate DiCamillo has put her dent in the universe.
Kate’s trademark quote is, “When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see one another.” This is exactly what her books accomplish. Her works are united by themes of love, belonging, and believing, but the worlds she creates are completely diverse from one another. You never know where opening her pages will take you. Below, I highlight three lovable and quotable favorites.
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
“Once, oh marvelous once, there was a rabbit who found his way home.” Coda
Heartbreaking and joyful all at once, this is The Velveteen Rabbit with an instructive twist. A china rabbit is as loved as he could possibly be, but this does not make him real. Instead, it is his own learning to love that transforms him. Through the “dark night” of hardship and loss, as he wanders into the lives of hobos and sailors, young men and old ladies, and is repeatedly yanked away by various means against his will, Edward is often tempted to despair. Nevertheless, the shadows of his journey are the means to the softening of his heart. Instead of being pre-occupied, haughty, and self-preserving, Edward learns to listen, to persevere, and to feel protective of the weak and ailing. As he begins to extend love to others, he is correspondingly able to receive love himself. I ended the last chapter in happy tears. The atmosphere is like a children’s antique, the feeling of a Golden Book; full color, full page gloss illustrations perfect this ambience.
“Oh, yes,” said Sister Marie. “All of God’s creatures have names, every last one of them. Of that I am sure; of that I have no doubt at all.” pg 90
Here enters an otherworldly reality steeped in mystery and magic, akin to Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, perhaps. When a magician tries to make his mark on the world by performing real magic, he inadvertently causes an elephant to crash through a roof and lands himself in prison. The magician’s life seems a failure, but this elephant is just the impossible possibility an orphan needs to find his long lost sister. Here also enters a host of characters who, though unknown to one another, are each seeking a place to belong, a real “home”. Many of these characters are creatures who might normally be overlooked: two orphans, a beggar, a blind dog, a prisoner, a cripple. But each of them have a gift to share and a place in the world that can only be filled by them, even if they do not know it yet. As their paths cross, they help one another find this miracle of belonging by seeing past the surface to the “somebody” beneath—a sort of naming. The accompanying black and white, full page illustrations are piercing and mesmerizing, they envision the characters distinctly, bringing them to life.
“She thought, I sure have felt a lot of hearts recently.” pg 216
Spunky, hold-your-sides-hilarious, and oh so endearing, Flora Belle Buckman and her newly transformed super-hero squirrel Ulysses are the stars of this adventure. Flora lives her life through the lens of her favorite comic character Incandesto. We get a peek into her unusual imagination with the comic strip style scenarios spattered throughout the book. Like many young girls, Flora finds herself in the middle of the aftermath of her parents’ divorce and is questioning if her mom really loves her. She is convinced that, in a contest for affection, her mom’s antique lamp would take first place. Through her unexpected friendship with a devoted, courageous, (and hungry) squirrel, Flora comes to find out that even though it can be difficult to put love into words, love overcomes disappointed expectations. She finds that by exchanging love we rescue one another—be it annoying neighbor, heartsick mother, or endangered rodent. Cartoon style illustrations make it easy to transport your imagination into a Pixar film, and cannot help but add to the laughter.
What is your favorite Kate Dicamillo book?