The Children’s Book Review | October 2, 2018
Kate DiCamillo is one of America’s most beloved storytellers. She is a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal, for The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Florida and now lives in Minneapolis, where she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week. Her latest book, Louisiana’s Way Home, is a remarkable tale that showcases the power of writing things down and truly encourages readers to be both wily and empathetic.
The Children’s Book Review: If we counted correctly, you are the published author of twenty-five books—twenty-six when we include your new novel Louisiana’s Way Home. These include picture books, early chapter books, novels and two anthologies—and you write for both children and adults alike. You’re a storyteller and there’s no doubt about it. Yet, we read that the only part you find easy about writing is making up the names of your characters. This alone brings up a bunch of questions. So we’ll start here: What are the hardest parts about writing for you? How do you overcome these writing challenges?
Kate DiCamillo: The hardest parts? Yikes! Where to start? Self-doubt. That’s hard. And being patient. I am generally impatient. But stories demand patience. And time. Lots of time. And then one of the biggest challenges is getting out of my own way. I’ve found that the story is always smarter than I am, so I have to listen to it. Does that make sense?
It totally does! On your website, there is a great piece that describes a moment you had with a first writing teacher, in which he helped you realize that as a writer it is your duty to pay attention and to see. You ask these questions: “What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past everyday? What love? What hopes? What despair?” How do you think you learned to truly pay attention and what to take note of?
I’ve found that seeing people, really working to see them, is the way into story-telling. And also (I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s true), my heart gets bigger when I imagine my way into other lives.
Since the naming of characters is the easiest part, which character have you had the most fun naming, so far? And how did you decide what to call the namesake character of Louisiana’s Way Home: Louisiana Elefante?
Ohhh, they are always so fun. All of the character names are fun. And I truly don’t know where they come from. They literally pop into my head. I’ve had a particularly good time recently with some of the names in the Deckawoo Drive stories. And in Louisiana’s story, I love Reverend Obertask’s name.
You’ve mentioned that you have a special connection to your characters and that they almost whisper in your ear and let you know if they have another story for you to tell. We know a lot of people ask you if you will ever write a sequel to the beloved Because of Winn-Dixie, but you feel as though you left main character Opal in a place where she is happy and loved. Would you say that the opposite is true for Louisiana Elefante in Raymie Nightingale, and that’s why she gets her own novel now?
This is an excellent question. I never consciously thought: oh, I’m worried about Louisiana. What happened to her? But I must have been worried and that is why her voice showed up.
Your main characters are usually multi-layered and often on a quest for self-discovery that results in many changes. Why is it, do you think, that stories can be such a powerful way to encourage self-discovery among readers?
I think its empathy. Stories teach us how to be empathetic. That empathy extends outward, to other people. But stories also teach us how to be empathetic with ourselves—how to look at ourselves differently, how to change.
Louisiana’s path has her meeting characters such as a walrus-like minister and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder. How do you decide which traits and quirks these sub-characters will have in order to propel the main character to their point of discovery?
It’s weird, because I never decide. I get asked pretty often how I develop my characters and I never have an answer. I don’t develop them. It’s more like I discover them—crows and walrus whiskers and all.
Can you share one highlight from Louisiana’s Way Home?
When Grandfather Burke gives Louisiana his dessert. And tells her to take it. “It’s for you, doodlebug. Take what is offered to you.”
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far?
Um. Someone who read the story at their desk and had to go into the bathroom and cry after she finished it.
And the golden question: Will Louisiana appear in another book? Perhaps something that delves more into the curse on Louisiana and Granny’s heads?
Ohhh, I don’t know. I’m tempted.
Since you are of the camp that to be a writer you must be a reader: What was the last book you read? What are you reading now? What will you read next?
As somebody who dislikes cooking and yet loves to eat, what is your favorite non-cooked snack to eat while you’re writing?
I never eat while I’m writing. I drink coffee while I’m writing. And the food is the reward for when I’m done writing.
Can you tell us something that even your most loyal fans may not know about you?
Gosh, I can’t think of anything. I’m a big old mess who can’t cook, and who loves to tell stories. I’m really pretty boring. Maybe we should talk about how loud and annoying my laugh is. Maybe people don’t know that I’ve been asked to leave restaurants because of my laugh.
*If only, at this moment, you could hear my own loud laugh!* Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Louisiana’s Way Home, your writing, or yourself?
Just that I am so grateful that I get to do this. Tell stories, that is. And I am so grateful for all the people who love stories.
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Publisher’s Synopsis: From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.
When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)
Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.
Ages 10-12 | Publisher: Candlewick | October 2, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0763694630
This interview—Kate DiCamillo Discusses Louisiana’s Way Home, Writing, and Loud Laughs—was conducted between Kate DiCamillo and Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books About Grandmas, Kate DiCamillo, Middle Grade Books, and Self-Discovery.