Ambassador Kate DiCamillo at Seattle Public Library

DiCamilloPodiumKate DiCamillo has a Southern accent. I did not expect this because I do not hear it in the lyrical rhythms of her wide-eyed fiction. Both the accent and the wonder are explained by her childhood in Florida, where she experienced a number of unusual theme parks, and was particularly impressed by the vision of hidden worlds granted by glass-bottomed boats. It was on one of these boats that she heard a lady in a plastic rainbonnet say

Oh my. This world.

And knew exactly what she meant.

At Seattle Public Library last Wednesday, the multi-Newbery-winning National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature told stories about how stories connect people. Near the end of her talk, my 10-year-old leaned over to me and whispered, “This is deep.”

We inventoried our bookshelves before we left for the library, trying to decide which books to buy and have autographed. The Remarkable Journey of Edward Tulane, Tiger Rising, The Tale of Despereaux, and Because of Winn-Dixie had already made various members of the family cry. (Flora and Ulysses and Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken had been enjoyed, but not with tears. I don’t hold that against them.) Before the talk, we bought another copy of Tiger Rising as a gift for an upcoming birthday party. DiCamillo sent her birthday wishes with her personalized autograph. My daughter chose The Magician’s Elephant for her own autographed book, and begged until I got her younger sister a Mercy Watson picture book, too. I think that outside of a some significant fantasy series, the only author with more titles on our home bookshelves than DiCamillo is John Steinbeck.

The packed auditorium held equal numbers of adults and children who collectively sighed when she mentioned Island of the Blue Dolphins and used up lots of her speaking time in applause. Yes, there was children’s and childlike enthusiasm, but there was also much to applaud.

We are made of stories and these stories connect us.

– Kate DiCamillo

After the talk, DiCamillo took questions from the audience. Despite her claims of extreme shyness, she managed the crowd like a pro, making sure to pull from every corner of the room and call on adults and children equally. She moved around the room as she spoke, getting close enough to hear the small voices who wanted to know where the stories come from. DiCamillo turned each interaction into an opportunity to connect with a story about something significant. But she spoke with humor, too. When asked for her favorite character, she said, “It would have to be the dog Winn-Dixie. Because everything that has happened to me as a writer is Because of Winn-Dixie.” She complimented and teased the audience for its literacy, saying, “Here’s how I know I’m in Seattle – I get questions that start with ‘Can we talk about process?’ I love this city.”

Writing is not about listening to me. Writing is about listening to the world.

– Kate DiCamillo

For the record, her process is to write two pages a day, early in the morning before the voice that says, “Who do you think you are?” wakes up.

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