DiCamillo, Kate

DiCamillo, Kate
▪ 2007

      The year 2006 saw the career of American children's books author Kate DiCamillo reach new heights with the publication of two titles, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which featured a conceited china rabbit that learned how to love through tragedy, and Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, the second adventure of the pig that loved toast. The former title had an initial print run of 350,000 copies and a $300,000 publicity campaign. At the launch of her 12-city U.S. book tour, her fans filled a 1,100-seat theatre in St. Paul, Minn. By 2006 DiCamillo's overall sales figures had exceeded seven million copies, a remarkable achievement for an author whose first book was published in 2000. In addition, her name appeared repeatedly on best-sellers lists, and her writing enjoyed critical success—the New York Times hailed her work as explorations of “love, spiritual salvation and emotional transformation.”

      DiCamillo was born on March 25, 1964, in Philadelphia. Her father was an orthodontist and her mother a teacher. As a child she suffered from chronic pneumonia, a condition that prompted her mother and older brother to move with her to Florida when she was five. Though her father was scheduled to follow the family in due course, he never did. DiCamillo majored in English at the University of Florida and then took on various short-term jobs. At the age of 30 she moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where she worked in a book warehouse and became drawn to children's fiction. Her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, was published by Candlewick Press in 2000 after a young editor spotted it in the “slush pile.” The book, a heartwarming tale about a girl who adopts a stray dog, was made into a motion picture in 2005; two other film adaptations of DiCamillo's work were in progress. The Tiger Rising (2001) was a National Book Award finalist, and in 2004 she won the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux (2003), the story of a courageous mouse.

      Death, separation, and loss were frequent themes in her work, giving her writing depth and stature, while her plots and language were exuberant and assured. DiCamillo credited her sickly childhood with having shaped her as a writer, since she spent time alone in her bed imagining and observing. She also explained how a gift of a toy wooden village from her father when she was in the hospital had influenced her. It was as if he had brought the outside world into her ward, opening up a wonderful realm of story possibilities.

Siobhan Dowd

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▪ American author
in full  Katrina Elizabeth DiCamillo 
born March 25, 1964, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.

      American author, whose award-winning children's books commonly confronted themes of death, separation, and loss, while her plots and prose were often exuberant and assured. She won a Newbery Medal in 2004 for The Tale of Despereaux (2003).

      As a child DiCamillo suffered from chronic pneumonia, a condition that prompted her mother, a teacher, and older brother to move with her to Florida when she was five. Though her father, an orthodontist, was scheduled to follow the family in due course, he never did. DiCamillo credited her sickly childhood with having shaped her as a writer, since she spent time alone in her bed imagining and observing. She majored in English at the University of Florida at Gainesville (B.A., 1987) and then took on various short-term jobs. In 1994 she moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where she worked in a book warehouse and became drawn to children's fiction. Her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie (2000; film adaptation, 2005), was published after a young editor spotted it in the “slush pile,” a publishing house's collection of manuscripts sent unsolicited by aspiring authors. The novel—which relates the story of 10-year-old Opal, a girl made lonely by the loss of her mother and her arrival in a new town, and the mangy dog she finds in a supermarket—was praised for its gentle humour, the clarity of its writing, and the endearing nature of its young protagonist.

      In DiCamillo's second novel, Tiger Rising (2001), she again explored the life of a child beset by the loss of a parent. In it, two friends discover in the woods a caged tiger, and DiCamillo interspersed lines from William Blake (Blake, William)'s The Tyger to help drive the narrative. The award-winning The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread (2003), DiCamillo's third novel, is the story of a nonconformist mouse who falls in love with the princess of the castle in which his family lives.

      In addition to her novels, DiCamillo began publishing a successful series of chapter books beginning in 2005. The series began with Mercy Watson to the Rescue (2005) and follows the adventures of the exuberant, toast-loving pig Mercy Watson. Her fourth novel, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006), featured a conceited china rabbit who learns how to love through tragedy. By 2006 her overall sales figures had exceeded seven million copies, a remarkable achievement for an author whose first book was published only six years earlier. The fourth installment of the Mercy Watson series, Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise, appeared in 2007.

Siobhan Dowd
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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