Allison's Book Bag

Illness, A Poodle, and Children’s Lit

Posted on: May 21, 2015

Here are a few more facts about me: I am short. And loud. I hate to cook and love to eat. I am single and childless, but I have lots of friends and I am an aunt to three lovely children (Luke, Roxanne, and Max) and one not so lovely dog (Henry). I think of myself as an enormously lucky person: I get to tell stories for a living.

–Kate DiCamillo, About Kate DiCamillo

Two-time Newbery award-winner, Kate DiCamillo likes to think of herself as a storyteller. Writing for both children and for adults, her novels often confront themes of death, separation, and loss. She won a Newbery Medal in 2014 for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures and earlier in 2004 for The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, a book I’ll review tomorrow. Save the date: May 22!


DiCamillo was a sickly as a kid, and suffered from chronic pneumonia, which is why the family moved to the warm southern climate of Florida when she was five.  Actually, according to Britannica, her mother and older brother to move with her to Florida when she was five. Her father, an orthodontist, was scheduled to follow the family in due course but he never did.

People apparently talked more slowly in Florida than her birth home of Pennsylvania and said words DiCamillio wasn’t familiar with such as: “ain’t” and “y’all” and “ma’am.” Everybody also knew everybody else. It was all so different from what she had known before. DiCamillo tells Scholastic that she loved it.

DiCamillo also shares with Scholastic that she considers being ill contributed to her development as a writer. She learned early on to entertain herself with books. Reading everything she could, DiCamillo learned to rely on stories as a way of understanding the world.

She also grew up with a black standard poodle named Nanette whom she loved and might have inspired Winn-Dixie. DiCamillo spent a lot of time dressing Nanette up in a green ballet tutu and then later like a disco dancer. To Scholastic, DiCamillo praises Nanette as a “wonderful, very accommodating dog”.

After majoring in English at the University of Florida, DiCamillo took on various short-term jobs. Britannica reports that in 1994, she moved to Minnesota, where she worked in a book warehouse and became drawn to children’s fiction. Her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, was published after a young editor spotted it in the “slush pile”. In ten years, DiCamillo has come a long away as an author. 2014, DiCamillo was named to a two-year term as the national ambassador for young people’s literature by the Library of Congress.


Writing her own stories had always been one of her dreams, but DiCamillo didn’t start until she was 29. DiCamillo’s warehouse job not only made her fall for children’s literature but, notes Scholastic, also taught her how much time and work goes into creating stories. In college, teachers had often complimented her on her writing, but DiCamillo believes talent isn’t everything. Discipline is important too. So five days a week, DiCamillo made herself get up to write. She required herself to write two pages a day. Dicamillo never wants to write, but is always glad that she has done it. It takes her about a year to finish a book.

According to Scholastic, DiCamillo wrote Because of Winn-Dixie because she was homesick for Florida and because she wanted a dog but lived in an apartment building that didn’t permit them. The story allowed DiCamillo to go home and to spend time with a dog of the highest order. As for the other characters, she doesn’t know where they came from. “I just feel happy and lucky when they choose me to tell their stories. India Opal Buloni seems so real to me, I don’t think I could have made her up. Rather, I feel like I discovered her.”

Scholastic quotes DiCamillo as saying that the most rewarding part of being a writer is when people say that her stories have meant something to them. Also, she’s gotten letters from kids who say they didn’t like to read until they read Because of Winn-Dixie, and now they like books. It makes her feel like the stories she tells matter.

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