"Where's Papa going with that ax?" E.B. White
Why would I ever start a post about my favorite author with a quote from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web? Because today, when I had the great pleasure to sit and listen to Kate DiCamillo, she spoke about how she had avoided any book with an animal on the cover since being emotionally impacted by Black Beauty. She recalled that a professor had prompted her to pick up Charlotte's Web. After reading the first line of his book, Kate's fears had been confirmed! It was a bad idea.
In all seriousness, I love Charlotte's Web and I adore the writing of Kate DiCamillo. Kate credited E.B White with writing the TRUTH. E.B. White and Kate have that in common. Kate's books are full of truth, adventure, heartbreak, friendship, determination, struggles with family, and hope. She weaves stories, each unique, that mirror real life in such a way that we readers are left breathless, filled with laughter, wiping away tears, heartsick, joyful, and filled with hope. Her characters are relatable. We can see ourselves in them and we can see people we know in them too. Her characters are so real-world that when they don't remind us of someone we know, they leave us yearning to meet someone just like them.
Kate, a self-proclaimed introvert, took questions from the owner of An Unlikely Story, Jeff Kinney. His bookstore, located in Plainville, MA is an absolute delight. He is also the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The question and answer session was utterly enjoyable. I got the sense that this thoughtful woman answered every single question from the heart. More often than not, she answered questions from children. She appeared to pour her whole heart into her responses as she stood before these children and answering their questions honestly. Kate DiCamillo seemed to delight in the questions asked of her. Even though she was on the spot, it appeared that she was completely at ease. This introvert was a masterful story teller. Sitting, and listening to Kate DiCamillo explain where she gets her ideas, how she develops a story, and how she has reacted to her success was the most satisfying way I could possibly spend a Sunday afternoon.
As I moved through the cue, waiting to have my books signed, I was fairly panicked over what I would say to Kate when I had the chance. I told her that I was a teacher and that I, too, had been an English major. She asked where I went to school and I told her. She chuckled a little, which was funny. She asked if I wrote. My heart sort of lurched. How could I answer that question? In the moment where I paused to consider my response, one of my colleagues, eves-dropping from behind responded, "yes!" I quickly responded that I do write, but not for children.
I do write. Kate talked about how she doesn't write to teach a lesson although her books surely do. She doesn't write for a specific child. She is quite in touch with her eight-year-old self. She writes for herself. She never imagined she'd have a readership. I can relate. Every time I sit down to craft a post, I write for myself. I often joke that my blog has an audience of one...ME...when I re-read a post for the purpose of proofreading. But, I do write. I write every day. I still don't know what will come of it, if anything. For now, I write for myself and it seems worthwhile.
My favorite part of Kate's message today was when she addressed teachers directly. There were a remarkable number of teachers in today's audience. She asked how many of us read aloud to our students and then thanked us for doing that. She spoke about the experience of hearing a book read aloud and how those moments can be transformative. She spoke of empathy and how relating to characters in books teaches empathy. She said that her very favorite interactions with her fans are letters she receives from students who acknowledge that they weren't really readers until they encountered one of her books.
I am grateful for Kate DiCamillo and all the authors like her who give teachers like me books worthy of being read to nine and ten-year-old consumers of literature eager to get lost inside the world of a magical story. Kate is my favorite of all children's authors. Meeting her today left a lasting impression. She is a gift. Today, I am grateful for Kate!