Kate Dicamillo (1964-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1964, in Merion, PA; Education: University of Florida, B.A., 1987.
Writer. Bookman (book distributor), St. Louis Park, MN, former bookstore clerk.
McKnight artist fellowship for writers, 1998; Newbery Honor Book award, and Hedgie Award, Hedgehogbooks.com, both 2000, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, 2002, all for Because of Winn-Dixie; finalist, National Book Award, for Tiger Rising ; Newbery Medal, 2003, for The Tale of Despereaux.
Because of Winn-Dixie, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
The Tiger Rising, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
Mercy Watson to the Rescue, illustrated by Chris van Dusen, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, illustrated by Chris van Dusen, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Jack and Jill, Alaska Quarterly Review, Greensboro Review, Nebraska Review, and Spider.
Several of author's books have been adapted as audio books; Because of Winn-Dixie was adapted for film, 2005.
Kate DiCamillo is "short. And loud," as she admitted on her Web site. Though she had trained to become an author throughout her education, prior to 2000 she had only published a few adult short stories in magazines. She worked in Minneapolis for The Bookman, a book distributor, in the children's department. It was during this time in Minneapolis, while she was missing the warm weather of Florida where she had spent much of her life, that DiCamillo began her first novel. Jennifer M. Brown, who interviewed the author for Publishers Weekly, reported, "This is what happened: she was just about to go to sleep when the book's narrator, India Opal Buloni, spoke to her, saying, 'I have a dog named Winn-Dixie.' DiCamillo says that after hearing that voice, 'the story told itself.'" From that moment, DiCamillo never stopped listening, and from India Opal Buloni in Because of Winn-Dixie to the mouse Despereaux in The Tale of Despereaux, each of her narrators has given voice to a new story, different from the last. Because of Winn-Dixie was named a Newbery Honor Book after its publication, and three years later, The Tale of Despereaux was awarded with the prestigious Newbery Medal.
Because of Winn-Dixie is the tale of a girl and her dog—only the dog in this case is Winn-Dixie, a stray mutt, a smelly, ugly dog who seems to have plenty of love to give. India Opal is in need of some of that love; she and her father just moved to Naomi, Florida, after her mother died, and she has been having trouble fitting in. "Rarely does salvation come in the form of a creature with as much personality as Winn-Dixie," wrote a Horn Book reviewer. Somehow, Winn-Dixie manages to open doors in her life that she had not even seen. "Readers will connect with India's love for her pet and her openminded, free-spirited efforts to make friends and build a community," assured Gillian Engberg in her Booklist review. Helen Foster James, writing for School Library Journal, asked if libraries really need another girl-andher-dog book, then answered her own question: "Absolutely, if the protagonist is as spirited and endearing as Opal and the dog as loveable and charming as WinnDixie." A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that DiCamillo's "bittersweet tale of contemporary life in a Southern town will hold readers rapt," while Kathleen Odean wrote in Book that Because of Winn-Dixie is "a short, heartfelt book."
It took DiCamillo some time to get Because of Winn-Dixie to a publisher. She continued to work at The Bookman until she ran into a sales rep for Candlewick Press. "I told her, 'I love everything that Candlewick does, but I can't get in the door because I don't have an agent, and I've never been published, and they won't look at unsolicited manuscripts,'" DiCamillo explained to Kathleen T. Horning in an interview for School Library Journal. The sales rep responded, "If you give me a manuscript, I'll get it to an editor." From there, it wasn't long until DiCamillo became a published children's author. "So that's how it happened," she explained, "great good fortune."
DiCamillo's second novel, The Tiger Rising, is aimed at a young-adult audience, but contains a similar setting to Because of Winn-Dixie. Rob and his father move to a small town in Florida, and Rob cannot figure out how to fit in. Rob has been dealing with pain for a long time, however, and he is good at keeping his emotions to himself. He manages to get a job with his father's boss, Beauchamp, the boy taking care of a caged wild tiger Beauchamp keeps at an abandoned gas station. Ultimately, Rob meets Sistine, another new kid at school who is as openly angry at the world as Rob is secretive about his feelings, and things begin to change in Rob's life. Rob and Sistine come to believe they must free the tiger in order to liberate themselves.
The Tiger Rising "has a certain mythic quality" according to a reviewer in Horn Book. A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that, with her second novel, "DiCamillo demonstrates her versatility by treating themes similar to those of her first novel with a completely different approach," while School Library Journal reviewer Kit Vaughan cpraised the "slender story" as "lush with haunting characters and spare descriptions, conjuring up vivid images." Claire Rosser, writing in Kliatt, complimented DiCamillo's text as "spare, poetic, [and] moving," while GraceAnne A. DeCandido, in a Booklist review, wrote that the author's "gorgeous language wastes not a single word."
In 2003, DiCamillo took a new path in her writing, released something entirely different with more than a little trepidation. In the acceptance speech for her Newbery Medal, she explained, "Four years ago, when he was eight years old, my friend Luke Bailey asked me to write the story of an unlikely hero. I was afraid to tell the story he wanted told: afraid because I didn't know what I was doing; afraid because it was unlike anything I had written before; afraid, I guess, because the story was so intent on taking me into the depths of my own heart. But Luke wanted the story. I had promised him. And so, terrified and unwilling, I wrote The Tale of Despereaux." DiCamillo needn't have worried; the book was well received by critics and readers and earned her the Newbery Medal. The story, which has the subtitle Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, tells of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse more interested in reading books than eating them, who falls in love with a human princess. It also tells of a villainous rat, Roscuro, who longs to live in the light, and Miggery Sow, a serving girl who believes that someday she will become a princess. When Roscuro and Miggery kidnap the princess, it is up to Despereaux, small even for a mouse, to come to her rescue.
Narrated in a style that encourages reading aloud, The Tale of Despereaux contains "all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. Peter D. Sieruta, writing in Horn Book, noted that "DiCamillo tells an engaging tale.… Many readers will be enchanted by this story of mice and princesses, brave deeds, … and forgiveness." Miriam Lang Budin, writing in School Library Journal, considered the book to be "a charming story of unlikely heroes whose destinies entwine to bring about a joyful resolution." Kathleen T. Horning wrote in School Library Journal that the book "contains a cast of quirky characters that would have made Dickens proud," while a Publishers Weekly critic, imitating the narrator's style, wrote, "I must tell you, you are in for a treat."
DiCamillo is also the author of a series of early chapter books about a pet pig named Mercy Watson, who has "personality a-plenty" according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. In the first book, Mercy Watson to the Rescue, Mercy manages to make her owners' bed start to fall through the floor of their room while they are on it; afraid to move, they cheer for Mercy as she leaves the room, convinced that she is going to find a way to rescue them. After a series of chaotic events, the neighbors eventually call the fire department, and when Mercy's owners are rescued, they give the pig all the credit. A Publishers Weekly critic felt that with Mercy Watson to the Rescue, DiCamillo "once again displays her versatility with this jaunty debut to an early chapter-book series."
DiCamillo once told Something about the Author: "I was a sickly child. My body happily played host to all of the usual childhood maladies (mumps and measles, chickenpox twice, and ear infections), plus a few exotic extras: inexplicable skin diseases, chronic pinkeye, and, most dreaded of all, pneumonia, recurring every winter for the first five years of my life. I mention this because, at the time, it seemed like such a senseless and unfair kind of thing to me, to be sick so often, to miss so much school, to be inside scratching or sneezing or coughing when everybody else was outside playing.
"Now, looking back, I can see all that illness for what it was: a gift that shaped me and made me what I am. I was alone a lot. I learned to rely on my imagination for entertainment. Because I was always on the lookout for the next needle, the next tongue depressor, I learned to watch and listen and gauge the behavior of those around me. I became an imaginative observer.
"Also, I suffered from chronic pneumonia at a time when geographical cures were still being prescribed. I was born near Philadelphia and, after my fifth winter in an oxygen tent, the doctor gave my parents this advice: take her to a warmer climate. We moved to central Florida. There I absorbed the speech patterns and cadences and nuances of life in a small southern town. I did not know it at the time, but Florida (and pneumonia) gave me a great gift: a voice in which to tell my stories.
"When I look back on childhood, I remember one moment with great clarity. I was three years old and in the hospital with pneumonia, and my father came to visit me. He arrived in a black overcoat that smelled of the cold outdoors, and he brought me a gift. It was a little, red net bag. Inside it there was a wooden village: wooden church, house, chicken, tree, farmer. It was as if he had flung the net bag out into the bright world and captured the essential elements and shrunk them down and brought them to me.
"He opened the bag and said, 'Hold out your hands.' I held out my hands. 'No,' he said, 'like this. Like you are going to drink from them.' I did as he said, and he poured the wooden figures, piece by piece, into my waiting hands. Then he told me a story about the chicken and the farmer and the house and the church. Something opened up inside me. There was the weight of the wooden figures in my hands, the smell of my father's overcoat, the whole great world hiding, waiting in the purple dusk outside my hospital room. And there was the story—the story.
"I think of that moment often. It was another gift of my illness. When I write, I sometimes stop and cup my hands, as if I am drinking water. I try, I want desperately to capture the world, to hold it for a moment in my hands."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Book, May, 2001, Kathleen Odean, review of Because of Winn-Dixie, p. 80; November-December, 2003, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. 67.
Booklist, May 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Because of Winn-Dixie, p. 1665; June 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Tiger Rising, p. 1882, Patricia Austin, review of Because of Winn-Dixie, p. 1906; October 15, 2001, Lolly Gepson, review of audio book The Tiger Rising, p. 428; January 1, 2004, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. 780; March 1, 2004, Patricia Austin, review of The Tale of Despereaux (audiobook), p. 1212.
Horn Book, July, 2000, review of Because of Winn-Dixie, p. 455; May, 2001, review of The Tiger Rising, p. 321, Kristi Beavin, review of Because of Winn-Dixie (audiobook), p. 359; September-October, 2003, Peter D. Sieruta, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. 609; May-June, 2004, Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, review of The Tale of Despereaux (audiobook), p. 349; July-August, 2004, Kate DiCamillo, "Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech," pp. 395-400, Jane Resh Thomas, "Kate DiCamillo," pp. 401-404.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2003, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. 962.
Kliatt, November, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of The Tiger Rising, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of Because of Winn-Dixie, p. 88; June 26, 2000, Jennifer M. Brown, "Kate DiCamillo," p. 30; January 15, 2001, review of The Tiger Rising, p. 77; April 9, 2001, review of Because of Winn-Dixie (audiobook), p. 28; July 9, 2001, review of The Tiger Rising (audiobook), p. 22; June 16, 2003, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. 71; June 20, 2005, review of Mercy Watson to the Rescue, p. 77.
School Library Journal, June, 2000, Helen Foster, review of Because of Winn-Dixie, p. 143; March, 2001, Kit Vaughan, review of The Tiger Rising, p. 246; June, 2001, Lori Craft, review of Because of Winn-Dixie (audiobook), p. 74; August, 2001, Emily Herman, review of The Tiger Rising (audiobook), p. 90; August, 2003, Miriam Lang Budin, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. 126; March, 2004, Barbara Wysocki, review of The Tale of Despereaux (audiobook), p. 88; April, 2004, Kathleen T. Horning, "The Tale of DiCamillo," pp. 44-48, review of The Tale of Despereaux, p. S28; April, 2005, "A Winn-Winn Situation," p. S7.
Kate DiCamillo Home Page, http://www.katedicamillo.com(July 31, 2005).*
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