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Posts Tagged ‘Kate DiCamillo’

dicamilloWhen a vacuum cleaner swallows a squirrel, obsessive comic-book reader Flora Belle Buckman rushes to the rescue, resucitating the now-not-so-furry creature only to discover she has a superhero on her hands. Ulysses — as Flora calls him after the vacuum cleaner model — has somehow acquired the superpowers of strength, flight and poetry-writing.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick, purchased hardcover), which this week won author Kate DiCamillo her second Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. She won her first 10 years ago for The Tale of Despereaux,  and her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, set in the small-town Central Florida where she grew up, was a Newbery Honor Book in 2000. She now has more than a dozen books for young readers to her credit, including the popular Mercy Watson series. I wrote about her when I was at the Orlando Sentinel and again on this blog a few books back, http://tinyurl.com/owbs4av.  I was getting ready to write about her again because earlier this month, Kate DiCamillo was inaugurated as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress. Then came word that Flora and Ulysses had captured the Newbery. Super!

Or holy bagumba, as Flora might say. Like her creator, Flora has a “capacious” imagination, a super-sized vocabulary, a droll wit and a tender heart. All are shown to advantage in the book, where the narrative is nicely complemented by K. G. Campbell’s illustrations and cartoon panels. It’s altogether funny and charming, a whimsical winner if ever there was one.

lockwoodI love books that successfully bend/blend genres. Jonathan Stroud kicks off his new series about teen ghost detectives, Lockwood & Co., with the frightfully funny and wickedly smart The Screaming Staircase (Disney-Hyperion, digital galley). London has a Problem: disagreeable ghosts, spirits and spectres of all kinds. The solution: teenagers with specially honed psychic abilities who have the best luck vanquishing the supernatural foes. Narrator Lucy Carlyle, who hasn’t always been lucky, joins the independent psychic detection agency, Lockwood & Co., teaming up with ambitious Anthony and aggravating George. They rid one London structure of its ghostly occupant only to discover a corpse and burn down the house in the process. Nevertheless, another haunted mansion awaits — Combe Carey Hall, site of way too many sudden deaths, surprising secrets and, of course, the screaming staircase. Great fun for kids (and adults indulging their inner kid).

hollowI’m halfway through Ransom Riggs’  Hollow City (Quirk Books, purchased e-book), the sequel to his fascinating fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar  Children. So far, it’s just as good, if not better, as Jacob and a group of other peculiars flee their Welsh island time loop to participate in the war against the nightmarish creatures known as “hollows.” They’re accompanied by Miss Peregrine in bird form — they’re hoping to find help to change her back — and meet other peculiars, including animals. Really, you have to read the first book, you must, to fully appreciate the exciting and well-crafted backstory in which Jacob discovers he’s more like his mysterious and extraordinary grandfather than he ever supposed. Again, odd black-and-white vintage photos enhance the the tale. I’d write more, but those pages won’t turn themselves. At least not yet . . .

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Because Winn-Dixie is closing its Clermont store, I immediately thought of Kate DiCamillo because she grew up in Clermont and because her award-winning kids’ book Because of Winn-Dixie is set in that small Florida town near Orlando. Not as it is now, with sprawling subdivisions and modern supermarkets in  shopping plazas, but back 30 or 40 years ago, when Highway 50 sliced through the groves of orange trees and dusty roads and pretty lakes, and kids walked to school and made magic of mundane things.

Kate has been making magic with words for more than a decade now. A University of Florida grad, she kicked around Central Florida for several years, then moved to Minneapolis and worked in the children’s section of a book warehouse. She wrote Because of Winn-Dixie during a long, cold Minnesota winter when she was homesick for Florida and wanted a dog. Her apartment didn’t allow pets, so she imagined a big, friendly mutt. A lonely girl named Opal names the stray after the grocery store in which she first rescues him. And then, because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to meet people and all sorts of things — some odd, mostly good — begin to happen.

Kate proved to be a winning writer in every way from the start. Because of Winn-Dixie, published in 2000, was a Newbery Honor Book and was Orlando’s One Book, One Community 2003 selection. Her second novel for middle-graders and also set in Florida, The Tiger Rising, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her third, the oh-so-wonderful The Tale of Despereaux, “being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread,” won the 2004 Newbery, the highest award in children’s fiction.

So what does Kate do for an encore — two picture books, six early chapter books starring the toast-loving pig, Mercy Watson, and two more more magical novels, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, about a china rabbit’s unexpected voyage of love and self-discovery, and last September’s The Magician’s Elephant, a dream-like story about an orphan boy, an old soldier, a fortune teller, and a magician who longs to make “true magic” and conjures an elephant instead of lilies.

Kate is a fabulist in the best sense of the word, who long ago discovered the truth in fiction. Coming this fall is a new chapter book written with Alison McGhee, Bink and Gollie, about the comical adventures of two precocious little girls, “one tiny, one tall, both utterly irrepressible.” Looking at the cover illustration by Tony Fucile, I’d bet money the tiny one with the fly-away hair is Kate. I recognize the mischievous grin of a girl about to make more magic.

Open Book: Because she is one of my favorite storytellers, I’d write all these things about Kate even if she wasn’t a friend. Check out her website, www.katedicamillo.com, watch the video about The Magician’s Elephant (Candlewick Press), and be sure to read her most recent journal entry. Wait for the moon.

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