An evening with Kate DiCamillo

A few weeks ago when I found out Kate DiCamillo was coming to the Children’s Museum only a half hour from us, I didn’t hesitate to scoop up tickets.

Her breakout novel, Because of Winn Dixie, was one of the books that deepened Alyssa’s love of reading. Alyssa always enjoyed books, but I would mark that book as a point at which her appetite for stories became insatiable. Pretty much since then, she has kept two books going at a time — one for home, and one for school — and she finishes them so quickly that I can’t even keep up with what she’s reading.

I think that sort of love for reading comes from being exposed to some great books.

When I was Alyssa’s age, I was reading Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. They gave me stories and characters I will never forget like Ramona, Fudge, and Henry Huggins. And bigger yet, they gave me a love of reading. What I would have given to have met either of those women! (Did you know Beverly Cleary is still alive — she’s 98 years old!) When I was small, they were not even tangible to me, though, and that was one reason I thought it would be such a great experience for the kids to put a face with the name on some of the books they loved most. I was right.

And since we were there an hour early (write it down!), we were right up front.

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See. We were super close.

Kate DiCamillo was outstanding. She talked for nearly an hour to a packed house, and answered questions from the audience for another 45 minutes. The kids couldn’t really believe it was her. The woman with all the stories. The Kate DiCamillo. And she was right there!

To hear her talk about how the idea for Despereaux came along, and why she chose the name Opal, and how growing up without her dad has somehow found its way into each of her books…

She was funny, relatable, inspiring — if you’re a reader or an aspiring writer or anything in between. It’s hard to explain, but I think she made everyone there feel like they could do… whatever that thing is they want to do.

She patiently and candidly answered each question from kids and adults alike.

I was sure Alyssa would ask something. She always has a question. But this time she said she didn’t have one. Finally, when it was almost over, she raised her hand. I asked what she was going to ask, but she wouldn’t tell me. That made me a little nervous. Because really, you never know.

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Turns out she waited too long to raise her hand, and she wasn’t called upon. When we left, I asked her again what her question was. She said she just wanted to know if Kate DiCamillo had ever read Harry Potter.

Ha. I would’ve like to have heard the answer to that.

When the talk was finished, she took the time to sign books for everyone, and she engaged all of us individually as if she had all the time in the world.

It’s a terrible picture, but I love it anyway. She was talking to Alyssa.

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Even Dylan, who is past those childhood books now, was kind of in awe. He still talks about reading Winn Dixie aloud in third grade with Miss Regina. Getting to talk with Kate DiCamillo was a pretty big deal for him too.

We got a pile of books signed, and as we walked away, I heard her say to the woman who was helping her, “Now that’s a reading family.”

I smiled. We are a reading family — thanks to the Kate DiCamillos of the world who wrote powerful words and beautiful stories and unveiled to us that magnificent, magical world of books.

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