Dylan Teut, Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival Director, and Carla Ketner, owner of Chapters Books and Gifts, meet Kate DiCamillo in Weller Auditorium. Photo by April Bayer.
By April Bayer
Children’s author Kate DiCamillo, a two-time Newbery Medal winner and New York Times bestselling author, visited Seward on Saturday, Dec. 8 to promote her new book “Louisiana’s Way Home.”
“Louisiana’s Way Home” follows Louisiana Elefante, a character who first appeared in DiCamillo’s book “Raymie Nightingale.” In DiCamillo’s most recent story, Louisiana is led away from her home by her grandmother in the middle of the night and winds up in a small town in Georgia. She begins to search for a way to return home but struggles to say goodbye to the new friends she has found along the way.
Students, alumni, and community members gathered in Weller Auditorium to listen to DiCamillo give a reading, speak about her career, and sign books. The event marked DiCamillo’s first visit to Nebraska, and while her trip was short, she said the scenery on the drive through was beautiful.
“I am a very shy person, so it always surprises me to think about how much I enjoy meeting those readers,” DiCamillo said. “Writing is a very solitary pursuit, and so to actually have the reader standing in front of you, speaking with you, is deeply meaningful, so I love that.”
Instead of reading an excerpt from her new book, DiCamillo chose to read from the beginning of her first book “Because of Winn-Dixie.” She explained that reading from her debut novel was important to her because the “Louisiana’s Way Home” Tour began at the same bookstore in Minnesota where she delivered her first public reading 18 years ago.
“I never in a million years, if you were talking to me when ‘Winn-Dixie’ got published, (would say I) thought it would get published. I never thought I would have a career,” DiCamillo said. “I did not ever anticipate that people would open their hearts to that book the way they did, and if I were talking to myself (back then), I just wouldn’t believe what happened to me.”
DiCamillo followed the reading with a question and answer session. She responded to several questions from audience members about her characters, her career, her favorite books, and her writing style. She also offered some advice for aspiring writers.
“Read as much as you can, find some way to make a deal with yourself about how you are going to do the work, and then keep a notebook with you. Write down what you see, and eavesdrop,” DiCamillo said.
The author’s visit concluded with a book signing. Nearly 100 guests, including Seward local and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, lined up to meet DiCamillo.
Concordia alumna and freelance editor Carolina VonKampen traveled all the way from St. Louis, Missouri, to listen to DiCamillo speak.
“Kate is one of my favorite authors from childhood. I tried to write my own (version of) ‘The Tale of Despereaux’ when I was in third grade,” VonKampen said. “My teacher read the book out loud to us. It was just great. I loved it, and it made me want to write.”
DiCamillo’s appearance was part of an ongoing collaboration between the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival and Chapters Books and Gifts, who try to bring at least one author to the community each year in support of children’s literacy and independent bookstores.
“The way (Kate) writes is unlike any other author I’ve known, and I think what makes her stand out is her craft,” Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival Director Dylan Teut said. “That includes things like those unique names (she uses for her characters), repetition of lines, repetition of people’s full names. You can tell all her stories run deep within her heart, and I think that’s what makes them so universal and so well-loved.”
DiCamillo will return to Seward for the 2019 Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival and Adult Conference from Sept. 19-21 to interact with students and educators and to deliver the annual Adult Conference luncheon keynote address with author Jacqueline Woodson.
“It’s a dream come true for the festival and for a lot of area people who have been requesting (Kate’s) presence on conference evaluations. It means a lot to us that she’s finally stopped here and that she will be back in the fall to deliver the luncheon keynote,” Teut said.