If you’ve never been to a Kate DiCamillo author event, you may have never experienced anything like it. Rock star, schmock star — the immediate past National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is her own brand of celebrity, beloved by children everywhere, not least the approximately one billion who attended the inaugural annual Margret and H. A. Rey Curious George Lecture Series at the Cambridge Public Library (okay, maybe not one billion, but there was an overflow room).
Youth services manager Julie Roach introduced the author this way: “When I read Kate DiCamillo’s books, I get the world just a little bit better. And I feel like someone in the world gets me.” DiCamillo’s talk began with her love of glass-bottom boats. “I believe you can see secrets, another world inside of this world, if you only have a way of seeing.” She was “the shyest child in the world,” but was moved to speak with (well, reply to) an adult with whom she shared a wonder-filled moment on a glass-bottom boat at Silver Springs State Park in Florida. While they watched the sea creatures swimming beneath their feet, the woman said four words that young Kate would never forget: “Oh my, this world.”
DiCamillo then spoke of a second-grade bully-kid (“I changed his name”) who would trip and torment her. Listening to their teacher read aloud from Island of the Blue Dolphins resulted in a shared edge-of-their-seats moment that brought detente (albeit temporary): “I saw him and he saw me. He was no longer a monster, he was just a boy.” DiCamillo concluded the lecture by echoing her National Ambassadorship platform: “Stories are glass-bottom boat rides. Everyone together in a room, everyone’s connected. We’re made of stories. Stories connect us. And when we connect, we’re changed.”
During the question and answer session, the author roamed the lecture hall, getting up-close and face-to-face with each child with whom she was speaking. You’ve never seen so many hands raised in one place — she had those kids transfixed and engaged; their minds were whirring. Questions included: Do you use different styles when writing about animals and humans? (A: “No, because animals seem like people to me. I try to get right inside my character’s head, whether it’s a girl or a squirrel”); You have lots of “interesting philosophical ideas” in your books. Who is the audience, kids or adults? (A: “I don’t have an audience in mind while I write, I’m just telling the story as well and as true as I can. I’d say the answer to your question is kids, though, because I find kids to be more open to interesting philosophical ideas than adults”).