Event was part of World Read Aloud Day
What makes a great ambassador? For Minneapolis writer Kate DiCamillo, this involves engaging with communities by simultaneously reading stories to eight schools around the world.
On March 5, DiCamillo and Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota Libraries, hosted a storytelling event to celebrate World Read Aloud Day. With the help of a little technology, DiCamillo and Von Drasek participated in a live videoconference session with schools across North America.
DiCamillo, recently named the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, read stories and enthusiastically answered questions from eager students. Schools in Hong Kong and Indonesia also participated by sending in questions for DiCamillo to answer and planned to watch a recording of the event the following day. DiCamillo, whose stories evoke themes of hope and belief, stressed the importance of reading for enjoyment and developing self-awareness.
A ‘late bloomer’ to writing
Throughout the event, DiCamillo emphasized that enjoyment and inspiration can be found in all types of stories. She began by reading the poem, “Starting Now” from “What the Heart Knows” by Joyce Sidman. DiCamillo explained that this poem showed her not to be intimidated by poetry, a literary form she had only come to enjoy late in life. In addition to encouraging the exploration of new stories, DiCamillo told students not to hesitate in writing their own stories.
What may have come as a surprise to many participants, DiCamillo described herself as “a late bloomer” to being a writer. She shared a personal story of delaying writing for 10 years. DiCamillo started writing her first book, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” when she was 30 years old by writing two pages a day.
Two pages a day
DiCamillo encouraged students to do the same when facing writer’s block: write two pages a day. Her personal strategy to combat writer’s block is “to pretend it doesn’t exist.” DiCamillo emphasized that it is best to “show up and do the work” even when it feels like the writing is not going anywhere.
To reinforce this point, Von Drasek presented a page from the first rough draft of “Because of Winn-Dixie,” that is held in the Children’s Literature Research Collections. Von Drasek read from DiCamillo’s draft, written without capitalization or punctuation, and humorously described it as “one long, run-on sentence.” With this draft serving as an example, DiCamillo told the students not to be discouraged when having lousy writing days and to “believe in the story.”
Writing is work
When facing her own challenges writing the plot heavy “The Tale of Despereaux,” DiCamillo focused again on doing the work. She expressed the importance of having her drafts and notes held in archival collections.
The Children’s Literature Research Collection holds the production materials for a number of DiCamillo’s books, including “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “The Tale of Despereaux,” and the “Mercy Watson” series. Materials held include typescripts, correspondence, notes, proofs, dummies, and layout notes.
DiCamillo said that the accessibility of these archives is important because they “convince you that writing is work.” She concluded the event with these words of encouragement for all aspiring writers, “You don’t have to be good, but you have to work.”
Now start your two pages.
Kate DiCamillo is a writer of children’s books, including “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “The Magician’s Elephant,” and “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.” She is the winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal for her book “Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures” and the 2003 Newbery Medal for “The Tale of Despereaux.” DiCamillo is the current Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Lisa Von Drasek is the curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota Libraries.
The Children’s Literature Research Collection is housed in the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota. The collection can be viewed by the public, but appointments are recommended to prepare the requested materials. Contact information and collection details are available at lib.umn.edu/clrc.