Kate DiCamillo (1964 – )
Where and when born: Kate DiCamillo was born on the 25th March, 1964, in Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States to a dad who was an orthodontist (someone who fixes teeth) and a mum who was a teacher. She was always falling ill as a child with pneumonia, so she and her mother and brother moved to a small town in Florida for the warmer weather, and her dad stayed behind to sell his business. Unfortunately, he never joined his family in Florida and Kate grew up in a single-parent home. But she loved Florida, spending her time running around barefoot, swimming in the lakes and the ocean, sitting high up in a jacaranda tree and “reading, reading, reading”.
Why and when she began writing: When Kate went to university she was told she had writing talent, and became determined to be a famous writer. But she then spent the next ten years doing lots of different casual jobs and talking about being a writer but NEVER actually sitting down to write! She worked at Disney World, in a greenhouse, at campgrounds and amusement parks. One day, when she was 29, she suddenly realised that unless she started practising writing, she would never become a writer at all. So she sat down every day to write just two pages. This turned into a short story which she rewrote and rewrote and rewrote till it was good. She then sent it to a publisher and it was rejected. The next year she moved to Minnesota and began working in a book wholesale business in the children’s books section. She started reading the books and loved them so much that she decided she wanted to write for kids. Then winter came, and it was the worst winter ever recorded in Minnesota. She became very homesick for Florida, but she couldn’t afford to go home, so she decided to write a story for kids set in Florida instead. At the same time, she was badly missing having a dog, as she wasn’t allowed one in her apartment block. So she decided to invent the biggest, scruffiest, happiest dog she could think of for her story. That story became her first published book, Because of Winn Dixie – and it took the world by storm! It was on all the children’s best-sellers lists that year, and the next year (2001) it won a Newbery Honour Medal! Kate wrote a second book, called The Tiger Rising which also won a prestigious award, then wrote her third and most famous book, The Tale of Despereaux, which won the Newbery Medal! (The Newbery Medal is the highest honour for a children’s book in the United States). She has since written two more wonderful children’s novels and a very funny series of chapter books for younger readers about a pig called Mercy Watson. Today she makes her living entirely by writing, and still writes just two pages a day, every day.
“The Tale of Despereaux” was inspired by the son of a friend of Kate’s, a little boy called Luke Bailey, who asked her to write a story wtih a hero with “exceptionally large ears”.
There are lots of “missing mums” in her books. On her website, Kate says that she thinks the reason why is that she is subconsciously trying to deal with her childhood, when her father left the family and she had to grow up without him.
Of the five novels Kate has already written for kids, four have been (or are being) made into films, and four have received world famous writing prizes! That’s not a bad record!
Why I love Kate DiCamillo’s books: I love her books because they are about outsiders; people or animals who don’t quite fit in. We all sometimes feel like outsiders, and inside most of us feel lonely or rejected from time to time. Kate seems to know exactly how that feels, and she writes about sad feelings with great sympathy. But at the same time her stories are uplifting and rewarding, because her heroes and heroines all find love and acceptance in the end, in one way or another. She has a great love for humanity which shines through in all her stories. At the same time, she has a wicked sense of humour and the dialogue in her stories is often very witty. So her stories are sensitive, often funny, and beautifully written.
“I am short. And loud. I hate to cook and I love to eat“.
“If you want to be a writer, write a little bit every day. Pay attention to the world around you. Stories are hiding, waiting everywhere. You just have to open your eyes and your heart”.
“Each time you look at the world and the people in it closely, imaginatively, the effort changes you. The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a strange, beautiful flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine“.
“It distresses me that parents insist that their children read or make them read. I think the best way for children to treasure reading is for them to see the adults in their lives reading for their own pleasure.”
Kate DiCamillo has her own website at www.katedicamillo.com. The best thing about it is her brilliant list of Tips for Writers on the page headed “On Writing” which are the best tips I’ve ever read! In a nutshell, she says that if you want to be a writer, you must Write, Rewrite, Read, Look, Listen and Believe in Yourself.
There is a very good biography at www.wilsonbiographies.com/print/jrauthorbk_9th_dicamillo.htm;
And you can also hear lots of live interviews with Kate on YouTube though you MUST ask Mum and Dad for permission first! She’s a lovely lady with some very good practical advice about reading, writing and also encouraging reluctant readers.