LA LA LA: A STORY OF HOPE Written by Kate DiCamillo Illustrated by Jaime Kim (Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La Laby Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.
Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.
We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.
I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.
Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.
La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.
We’re back again today with more on Kate DiCamillo’s latest middle grade novel, Raymie Nightingale. Hilary Taber’s got some terrific questions lined up for a chance to get the author’s insights about writing this moving story.
Hilary Taber:Raymie is a character that is dear to my heart. She’s going through such a hard time, and at the same time she’s looking for what is true about life, what is real, what can be counted on. Is Raymie like you in this way or is that a particular facet of her character?
Kate DiCamillo: Raymie, oh Raymie. Raymie is very much like me. In particular, she is very much like me as a child.
HT:Raymie’s father’s secretary, Mrs. Sylvester, is such a sweetheart. It’s sort of like Raymie gets to have a very practical, straightforward mentor and encourager on the phone whenever she needs someone. Mrs. Borkowski is almost like the opposite of Mrs. Sylvester. She says such mysterious things that make you wonder if they are true somehow. Are these characters based on someone you know or are they both a symbol of the archetypal wise woman?
Children’s book author, Kate DiCamillo, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015 and winner of a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor.
KDC: I had the great good-fortune of growing up on a dead-end street in a small town. One side of the street was families with young children; and on the other side of the street there were three widows: Mrs. Lucas, Mrs. Lindemann and Mrs. Broadfield. These ladies all kept their doors and hearts open to the kids on the street. I could also go and sit on Mrs. Lindemann’s porch and talk with her. Mrs. Sylvester and Mrs. Borkowski are fictional characters, but they are also a way of thanking those ladies.
HT:Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana each have a problem of their own. Their shared suffering seems to unite them until they are almost a little family. Are these three friends going to make it? I believe that Raymie will make it, but I worry about Beverly and Louisiana. You’ve got me so invested in them!
KDC: I believe—absolutely—that all three of them will make it. I have no doubt about this.
HT:I’m fascinated by Louisiana’s bunny barrettes. They seem like Louisiana herself – present but also little, a tiny bit removed from reality. Did you make those up or did you ever see anyone who wore those?
KDC: Oh boy. And: bless you. I had bunny barrettes. I lost them in Mrs. Lucas’ backyard.
HT:As a child, did you have a book about a larger than life hero like Raymie did? Was there a particular person that you considered your hero when you were a child?
KDC: Librarians were my heroes. Teachers were my heroes. Anybody who put a book in my hand was my hero.
HT:Marsha Jean. Marsha Jean haunts me. Marsha Jean is not real, but yet she is. She’s the, “…ghost of what’s to come.” She’s a person that Louisiana’s grandmother has made up to keep her granddaughter on her toes. What made you think of writing about Louisiana who is pursued by the unknown?
KDC: Hmmm. I don’t know. So much of what happens in a story is not planned out by me, but is rather a surprise to me. So I don’t know how this happened. I do know that I am familiar with that feeling of being pursued by the unknown.
HT:Beverly is initially such a gritty realist, but she can be very sweet. Louisiana is more vague and kind initially, but she can be strongly adamant about how there is room to hope. Where do you see Raymie to be? Is Raymie somewhere between these two?
KDC: Raymie is somewhere in the middle, yes. She is an introvert, a hoper, a watcher. Like me.
HT:The more I read Raymie Nightingale, the more I realized that wisdom and truth are ever present in everyday life. Raymie is someone who listens for it. She listens for people to say something true, something wise. Were you like Raymie when you were a child? Did you listen for a certain phrase or words of truth like Raymie does?
KDC: I did. I still do.
Many thanks to Kate DiCamillo for answering my questions, and to the entire team at Candlewick! As Kate is my writing hero I treasure this chance to interview her. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity I will not soon forget. Summer reading is coming up! Be sure to go to your local indie bookstore and get a copy of Raymie Nightingale today. I can’t imagine anyone else that I would rather spend the summer with than Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana a.k.a. The Three Rancheros! Click here to read Hilary’s review of Raymie Nightingale from Monday, May 16th. Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s Facebook page. Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s website.
Interview courtesy of Kate DiCamillo and Hilary Taber
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE Written by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)
Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more
Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.
It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.
On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.
Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop. Download a teacher’s guide here. Download a book discussion guide here.
Superhero Princess to the Rescue! Hilary Taber reviewsThe Princess in Black (Candlewick Press, $14.99, Ages 5-8), the first book in a new chapter book series.
Who says you can’t be a princess and a heroine? Allow me to introduce you to Princess Magnolia. This princess wears pink, has a sparkle ring, glass slippers and, at the beginning of the book, she is taking tea with the Duchess Wigtower. The Duchess has a feeling that Princess Magnolia is perhaps too perfect. Princess Magnolia appears to the Duchess to be too prim and proper. Princess Magnolia therefore must have a secret.
It seems that the Duchess will certainly have an opportunity to find out what that secret might be when Princess Magnolia’s glitter stone ring suddenly gives off an alarm. However, Duchess Wigtower (deftly and sweetly illustrated by LeUyen Pham with a wonderfully towering wig) never quite catches on that there has been a call to action! The glitter stone ring is actually a secret alarm. The Princess excuses herself to change into her black outfit to become the Princess in Black!
Princess Magnolia’s kingdom just happens to be located right next to Monster Land. A daring princess is clearly needed here. Together with her black pony (who is usually disguised as a unicorn), she sets off to find out why the alarm was sounded. When the princess arrives, she finds that the rather dim witted monsters who live underground in Monster Land have forgotten why they are not allowed to go above ground. It’s especially hard for them to remember the reason for this rule when they can smell the lovely scent of goat floating down into their cave. They love goats, but not in the strictly, “I’m just admiring these charming goats. Reminds me so much of Heidi!” Certainly not. The monsters want to eat the charming goats. This is a job for the Princess in Black! Well, these silly monsters have certainly met their match, but will Princess Magnolia be able to save the day and protect her superhero identity? If anyone can outwit duchesses and monsters it would be Princess Magnolia, a.k.a. the Princess in Black!
LeUyen Pham’s charming illustrations meet Shannon and Dean Hale’s lively writing punch for punch and sparkle for sparkle. The illustrations are so sweetly princess-like when they need to be, but so full of action-packed, adorable fun when they should be that they are impossible to resist. There are also many interesting clues to be found in the illustrations that the attentive reader can pick up on that prove, without a doubt, that Princess Magnolia is actually the Princess in Black. Additionally, The Princess in Black is the first in a series. Huzzah! This series will provide a much needed bridge to longer, more challenging reading when the time is right. Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series will find much to enjoy here. Princess fans of all ages will find a heroine to inspire them, for Princess Magnolia is a model of both fashion and bravery.
Click here to find out Seven Things You Didn’t Know About the Princess in Black.
Enter by clicking here. Include your name and address please. Remember to write 1000+ in the subject line. Contest ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, Feb. 18 and three winners will be selected and notified on Weds. Feb. 19, 2014. For eligibility, entrants must first follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Contest rules also available here. Good luck!
“In addition to interviews with Kate DiCamillo, K. G. Campbell and Aaron Becker, we’ve been delighted to have both Flora & Ulysses and Journey reviewed on our site. So, it simply made sense to offer our readers a chance to share the enjoyment we’ve gotten from reading both these brilliant books. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t use this occasion to thank all our followers for their continued support. We love bringing our favorite books, authors and illustrators to our readers’ attention.”
– Ronna Mandel, founder Good Reads With Ronna
“Working at Candlewick is an embarrassment of riches for any book publicist, honestly. There are too many wonderful books and authors, it can be overwhelming!
But working with Kate DiCamillo is a singular privilege that I can honestly say is one of the defining aspects of my career in publishing. Over almost a decade now, we have worked and grown together, and her books have continued to surprise and impress me at each publication. Not to mention, she’s a good person, and who doesn’t want to see a really, genuinely good person do well?
While no longer an underdog by any means, she’s still easy to root for. And I count myself among her biggest cheerleaders — ever.”
Here’s a different kind of list to kick off 2014. Please read what reviewer and bookseller Hilary Taber has entitled her Author Shout Out for Good Reads With Ronna. We always look forward to Hilary’s take on what’s selling in her store and can just picture her standing up on a stage, behind a podium, announcing all these wonderful winners.
The Top Ten Authors That I Most Admire,
Why You Should Know About Them,
& Why I’m Giving Them a Coveted Bookseller Award
Well, folks, I’ve officially read over 400 hundred children’s books! This has given me a real perspective on the craft of writing, and what makes an author someone whose books I will recommend without hesitation. I’ve gathered together my top ten authors, and the reasons why I am their fan for life. Certainly, personal taste has a lot to do with it, but so does a winning streak of books. In each of these excellent books the writing (and sometimes the art as well) speaks for itself in terms of excellence. Each author, in their own way, has hit their stride with every book they write. So, from board books to young adult, here are my top ten author shout outs. I only wish I had a lovely statue with a bookseller on top in gold to give to each of you, but hope this star will suffice.
His latest book, Animal Opposites, was a wonderful collection. Each illustration was so finely done. There is pairing not just animals, but also opposite characteristics such as quiet and loud. Each pop up element was so beautifully done, and so pleasing to the eye. His board books are colorful, eye catching, and beautifully drawn. In this author and artist’s work, beautiful art meets a lively story. Strawberries Are Red remains my very favorite. Petr, you rock, and your books are this bookseller’s dream come true for the two and up set!
Can we ever have too much of Mo Willems’ books? I think not. Every book is so full of humor that appeals to both adults and children. Willems books are always story time hits. Do you know how rare that is? It’s very rare that I am able to sell a book that is more guaranteed to bring a smile and a laugh to the entire family. My favorite books are in the Pigeon series, but the beginning reader series of Elephant and Piggy has earned a special place in my heart for being such fantastically engaging beginning reading. Thank you so much, Mo, for your humor. Thank you for sharing it with us, and by sharing it you make reading so much fun!
Kate, how can I tell you how much your books mean to me, and to all the children to whom I’ve sold them? Your books are so full of hope at an age when children are just beginning to learn that the world needs their hope. I’ve never met a child who wasn’t just in love with your work. The care you put into each book makes it shine like stars in the night sky. When I read a book written by you, I admire the effort you put into each book, and also the love. God bless you, Kate! My favorite titles include Because of Winn-Dixie, and Kate’s latest book, Flora and Ulysses about a girl named Flora who discovers a new best friend in the form of a squirrel, named Ulysses who has super powers, can write poetry, and can type!
Will I ever tire of reading about the charming Penderwick family? I really don’t think so. Every book is filled with adventure, and the reassuring presence of family. I’ve loved seeing each character grow and change to become the person that they can most fully be. Plus, there’s Hound, the Penderwick’s dog! I adore Hound. Little Women comes to mind as a possible “ancestor” of the Penderwick series. I so appreciate that every child can recognize some part of themselves in each of the sisters in the family, just as you can in Little Women. There’s something for everyone here in this lovely series of the changing lives of this most eccentrically beloved family. This is a family who affirms that the person you are is fantastic. This type of personal affirmation is present throughout the books. In fact, you should be free to be yourself!
Illustrator and author, K. G. Campbell discusses Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures and more with Ronna Mandel!
Illustrator and author K. G. Campbell
I had the good fortune to sit down with K. G. (Keith) Campbell earlier this month when he joined Kate DiCamillo for a Flora & Ulyssesbook event at Vroman’s in Pasadena. He’s a charming L.A. local with an intoxicating accent who’s not only an extremely talented and versatile illustrator, but an author, too. This Q & A focuses mostly on his artwork.
Click here now to enter our giveaway. Thanks to Candlewick, we’re giving away 3 copies of Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12). Please write FLORA in the subject line, include your address and enter by midnight on Sunday, November 10, 2013.
GRWR:A quote I read called you an “up and coming illustrator.” How do you know when you’re no longer up and coming, but have arrived? What’s changed?
K. G. CAMPBELL: Well I think that’s a description from Candlewick Press and at the time I’d had only published one book, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters for which I won the (2013) SCBWI Golden Kite Award. But since then I won the Golden Kite and an Ezra Jack Keats (New Illustrator) Honor for Lester. Flora & Ulysses had just come out and also Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman had also just released. I think you know you’re no longer up and coming when you no longer have to search for work. Candlewick just came to me recently and offered me another project
GRWR:Did you take it?
K. G.: Yes, actually. And also I’ve turned down a few. I guess that’s when you know – when you don’t have to pound the pavement.
GRWR:Tea Party Rulesis with which publishing house?
Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Viking Children’s Books.
K. G.:Tea Party Rules is with Viking. My second picture book with Kids Can Press, which is my manuscript, is due to come out next spring. It’s called The Mermaid and the Shoe.
GRWR:Can you please tell us the process when you try to develop the characters after after receiving Kate’s (DiCamillo) manuscript and how long it takes?
K. G.: So obviously the first thing that you do is read the manuscript. You try and get a feel for the characters which isn’t difficult for Kate because her characters are so three dimensional, quirky and hilarious. You look for visual clues you have to be really careful to see if there’s any physical descriptions in there. And you go from there.
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.
Being an LA local, what I tend to do is a little casting. I go in search of the perfect Flora or the perfect Phyllis or whoever it is. But unlike a casting director, I can select from anyone who’s ever lived. They can be friends or family, they can be famous actors They can be TV actors. They can be film actors. They can be theatre actors. They can be fictional. I try to find a type that will fit that character. Then that sort of gives me a feeling how they’re going to react physically in any given situation they’re faced with, expressions and all that stuff. And then I do the sketches based on that. And then, in this case, but it’s not always the case .., well, they always go through the art director and the art director has some input as to whether they think that physical manifestation of the character is appropriate. In this case, because Kate is Kate, they (the sketches) also went to her. Often, usually in fact, they wouldn’t go to the author. The author has very little input in the illustrations. But Kate had something to say. Some characters were modified from my original sketches. Now they are what they are so that’s perfect.
GRWR:Who was the most difficult character to draw or create?
K. G.: I think the most difficult was probably Ulysses himself, because, and it’s actually technical reasons. It’s a middle grade novel so the format is quite small. All of the images are printed as 5×7. I drew them very slightly larger just so it would crisp up as it was reduced, but I didn’t want to draw so much larger that I didn’t know what was going to happen to them. Ulysses is a squirrel and everybody else is a human being and human beings are much larger than squirrels. And in fact, I made Ulysses slightly larger than real life so that he would be visible. So getting the amount of character that we wanted to into Ulysses when his scale was so small, that was the most difficult part.
Flora, Ulysses and neighbor Mrs. Tickham with the Ulysses Super Suction vacuum as illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press.
GRWR:Who was the easiest to draw?
K. G: Phyllis.
GRWR:I love the look of Phyllis. I feel like I’ve met her before.
K. G.: I wanted someone with a crazy, curly hairstyle, girlie, melodramatic. And I actually had a person in mind for Phyllis. She was inspired by a Broadway actress. Phyllis is like my original sketch. Some changed a bit, some changed a lot. But not Phyllis.
GRWR: What medium do you work in?
K. G.: I usually work in water color and colored pencils combined but Flora & Ulysseswas executed entirely with colored pencils, no water colors.
GRWR:You’ve lived in Kenya, Scotland and California. Is one locale particularly more inspiring for you as an artist?
K. G.: Yeah, I would say Scotland, probably. The weather and the atmosphere make it a less attractive place to live, but it’s definitely a very romantic and gothic setting. And it makes for a good location for the kind of gothic stories that I like. Not that Scotland was the setting for either Lester or Ulyssses. It wasn’t. But in my future writing I think some of it will be set there.
GRWR:Since you do not consult with the author, is it scary interpreting their vision or is that a challenge you enjoy?
K. G.: It’s definitely more difficult illustrating for other people’s manuscripts than my own. Obviously not all illustrators are in my position. Not all illustrators write as well so they may not make that comparison. For me I do have that comparison and it’s definitely more difficult and more time consuming because you have more parties involved who make changes, so it becomes a bit more difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s more intimidating or daunting, but it’s more of a challenge.
GRWR:Do you prefer to illustrate others’ books or do the entire book yourself.
K. G.: It’s easier to illustrate my own, but illustrating other people’s work does take me to places that I wouldn’t have gone. So in that sense the product that emerges at the end is perhaps more surprising and unexpected. It becomes something of a team effort almost like a play, I suppose, or when you have several screenwriters working together it becomes a collaborative process and the creation is the product of that.
GRWR:You studied art history, did interior design yet always felt the call to illustrate even as a child. What stopped you from pursuing that from the start?
K. G.: Well that’s quite a complicated answer. And to be honest I’m not 100% sure that I have an answer to that. I was flattered and encouraged to take an academic route as I graduated from high school. My academics were pretty strong and I wound up going to a fairly prestigious school which is Edinburgh University. And really at that point I made the decision not to go to art school and I put down the pencil and I didn’t pick it up again for decades. I got onto a different path.
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters written and illustrated by K. G. Campbell, Kids Can Press.
GRWR:But it was always tugging at you to return to it?
K. G: Yeah. And the more I delved into exploring children’s literature and illustration, the more I felt compelled to do it, the more I felt very strongly that I had the talent and the skill to participate in that world. So I began to take it more and more seriously and so here I am.
GRWR:At that point, did you go back to school?
K.G.: No. As an artist I’m more or less self-taught. I’ve done some life drawing classes. Obviously I’ve done a bit of research on the materials and stuff online, but on the whole you would call me a self-taught artist. I did however go to UCLA and Art Center Pasadena for some night classes in creative writing, in children’s writing and specifically in illustrating. I did a class with Marla Frazee who’s a well-known children’s writer and illustrator who lives here in L.A. She teaches at Art Center. While it wasn’t an art class per se, it wasn’t teaching you to draw, it was teaching you how to use whatever skills you had and whatever style you had to illustrate and how images participate in a book and how they enhance a text. I did a great writing class with Barney Saltzberg who’s another local author/illustrator who has had a string of books published. He teaches a night class at UCLA in writing for kids basically.
GRWR: Did you find when you weren’t working in the field of children’s books that you were still drawn to it, that you still loved wandering around the children’s books department of a bookstore?
K. G.: Oh all the time! In fact I never really stopped reading children’s literature which a lot of my adult peers find a little odd. But definitely my favorite books probably are children’s books or perhaps adult books that have a fairy tale quality to them to some degree. I love sort of sophisticated middle grade novels. Philip Pullman, who wrote The Golden Compass, is one of my favorites.
GRWR:Which illustrators have most influenced you?
K. G.: Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Lisbeth Zwerger, an Austrian artist.
GRWR:How many hours per day do you devote to your projects?
K. G.: Well, I try to do a full workday. I am my own boss. I’m probably not working a full eight or nine hours, but maybe about six or seven hours a day. And depending on where I am in a project will dictate how much of that time is allocated to illustrating and how much is allocated to writing. An ideal scenario is kind of half and half – three and half hours writing and three and half hours illustrating. Something like that. But in the real world, as deadlines loom for my illustrating projects, I find that the writing has to take a back seat to some extent because the illustrations have to get done and that’s what happens.
GRWR:Any advice for new illustrators?
K.G.: I would certainly say if you haven’t, then take a class, some classes, in illustrating specifically because it is a distinct branch of artistic output and it’s about bringing to a text something that perhaps the text doesn’t already contain. But it has to be complementary. And in many cases, especially in picture books, you’re telling a story along with the text. Sometimes you are a carrying a subplot as well, and you can throw in characters, usually a pet or something, that aren’t mentioned in the main text and you can have things going on, a whole storyline, that’s purely visual. So I think understanding what illustration is is very important. It’s more important than any level of artistic skill or style.
HOLY BAGUMBA! It’s An Interview with Kate DiCamillo (As of 1/27/14 the 2014 Newbery Medal)
About FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES
Image credit: Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press
Good Reads With Ronna recently had the good fortune to meet multiple award-winning (including a Newbery medal) author Kate DiCamilloand illustrator K. G. Campbell at Vroman’s in Pasadena. It was standing room only for DiCamillo on her extensive publicity tour for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures(Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), now a New York Times Bestseller. Today’s interview features DiCamillo and next Friday’s interview will feature Campbell. Please click here for Hilary Taber’s review of Flora & Ulysses posted here last month.
GRWR:You mentioned at Vroman’s that finding an ill squirrel by your front doorstep and your late mom’s love of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner were a serendipitous comedic collision – is happenstance the genesis for many of your stories or do you usually begin with a plot outline or a character’s journey in mind?
KATE DICAMILLO: Oh, I never begin with a plot outline. I never know what’s going to happen. The origins of a story aren’t always as unusual as the collision of a vacuum cleaner and an unwell squirrel, but a story for me almost always begins with an image or two. Or a voice. Sometimes I hear a voice. And then I just follow the voice or the image.
GRWR:In Flora & Ulysses you give a powerful voice to underdogs, outsiders, lonely and grieving characters by giving them hope, love, joy and friendship. Do you feel your books set out to honor these types of people?
KATE DICAMILLO: I set out to tell a story. I set out to honor the world. All of it. All of us. That said, I guess I am preoccupied about the miracles that can happen when we see each other.
GRWR: William Spiver’s character has so many unique traits. A lot of kids and adults who read Flora & Ulysses may know someone similar to him from school or in their family. Is he simply a socially awkward genius or does he have Asperger’s?
KATE DICAMILLO: I never thought about William Spiver having Asperger’s. It is surely possible. But to me, he is just William Spiver—irritating, wonderful, complex, tender-hearted, and yes, very, very smart.
GRWR:You are to children’s book writing what Monet and Renoir are to Impressionism. Your words are like brush strokes of pigment. Do they flow effortlessly out onto the page or is each sentence finely and laboriously crafted?
KD: What a lovely thing to say. You are kind. And would that the words flowed effortlessly. Alas, they don’t. I work and work and work. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
GRWR: Can the two pages you write daily take two or ten hours or do you limit the amount of time you devote to a manuscript?
KD: The two pages usually take me an hour. Sometimes a little more. Sometimes less. And I limit the time in the first stages of telling, but when I am working on rewrites for my editor, I will spend all day working—short sessions of two pages at a time.
GRWR:Have you ever liked a character you’ve created so much that it’s hard to say good-bye at the end of the book or series?
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.
KD: I still miss Dr. Meescham.
And I miss Ulysses. And Flora.
And William Spiver.
It’s hard to say goodbye.
GRWR:Light and dark play an important role in Flora & Ulysses. There’s mention of illuminated adventures, the stars, William Spiver’s temporary blindness, the shepherdess lamp called Mary Ann, the neon Giant Do-nut sign, Incandesto and his arch-nemesis, the Darkness of 10,000 Hands. Were these intentionally woven into the book?
KD: They weren’t! I read through that list and I am kind of amazed because I didn’t know that I was doing that. It’s this wonderful thing where the story is smarter than I am.
GRWR:Can you please tell us what books you’re working on right now?
KD: I’m working on some stories about the secondary characters in the Mercy Watson stories. So: Leroy Ninker, Francine Poulet and Baby Lincoln are all getting their own stories, their own books.
I’m also working on another novel.
GRWR:It was wonderful to meet illustrator K.G. Campbell at your Pasadena signing. Although you did see illustrations in advance of publication, and made some alterations to the text to include both K. G. and the art director’s idea of comic strip-style artwork in the book, you never met or collaborated. Is it a scary feeling as an author to know that your imagination and vision are in someone else’s hands?
KD:Yes, but I have learned to trust Candlewick so implicitly in this respect. Art director Chris Paul’s vision of what the book should be is always something wonderful and astounding.
GRWR:Was the novel originally titled just Flora & Ulysses and, after the extra artwork, did The Illuminated Adventures get added or was it always intended to be The Illuminated Adventures?
KD: Originally, the book was entitled simply Ulysses, or the Squirrel.
I thought that this was very funny. Other people were not quite as amused. So, after many rewrites, the illuminated aspect came to the fore.
GRWR:I adore the bohemian look of Phyllis. Were you particularly fond of any character’s rendition more than others?
KD: I LOVE William Spiver.
Keith brings him to life so accurately and lovingly.
GRWR:On your website you advise aspiring authors to “Listen. Read. Write.” Do you have time to read as much as you used to and whose books are you reading now?
KD: I make time to read. It is so important to me. I can’t survive without a book. Right now I am reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
GRWR: Could the book’s premise have worked with a dog or cat as a superhero instead of Ulysses, the squirrel?
KD: Well, I love the notion of vacuuming a cat. I really do. But as impossible as it seems to vacuum up a squirrel, it seems even more impossible to vacuum up a cat. Or a dog.
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Candlewick Press, 2013.
I’m a huge fan of unexpected things, and finding unexpected friends tops this list. It just takes the strain off everything if you just happen to find a friend. This is precisely what occurs in Kate DiCamillo’s new book, Flora and Ulysses, the Illuminated Adventures.
When Mrs. Tootie Tickham receives a new Ulysses, Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain vacuum cleaner for her birthday from her husband she has no idea that it contains enough power to drag her outside her home, into the front yard, to ultimately suck up an unsuspecting squirrel! Luckily, her next door neighbor, Flora Belle Buckman, is watching and is able to bring the squirrel back to life by remembering advice from a comic she is fond of reading called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You!” Flora remembers how to administer CPR and the squirrel is brought back to life. Not just to his normal life though, for now he can appreciate life on a higher plane entirely! He can heft the vacuum cleaner over his head, he can type, and he can write poetry! Flora dubs him “Ulysses” after the vacuum cleaner that almost took his life. She tells him that he is a superhero, much like the ones she reads about in the comic books she loves.
Every self-respecting superhero needs an arch-nemesis to overcome, and Flora has decided that this has to be her mother who is convinced that Ulysses is diseased. Flora’s mother has decided that Ulysses must go. What ensues is nothing short of high adventure. It will take Flora, both her parents, a boy named William Spiver (who seems a very unlikely, slightly paranoid friend), and a doctor of philosophy to help Flora on her quest to sort out her life. Of course, all along the way there is Ulysses, the very best friend a girl could have. After all, when I look back on this sweet story, I begin to see that it is when Ulysses arrives that the problems in Flora’s life are pulled to the forefront. It is only through their adventures he finally brings out the truth in her life. Here is the truth of Flora’s life. She has parents who love her, discovers three new friends, and comes to find that she is not a cynic as she thought she was. Someone who can see superhero potential in a squirrel is someone who has hope dwelling in her heart.
K.G. Campbell’s illustrations, in a comic book style that appear every few pages, add soft, detailed, but action packed visuals to DiCamillo’s story. What originally appeared to me to be a funny, original story turned out to be something more. As so often in DiCamillo’s books, there is a depth of emotion and potent symbolism throughout the story. What is presented here is a tale that can be fully appreciated by young readers, but which is full of a deeper meaning that it took me two readings to truly understand it. What is wonderful about this book is that the reader can enjoy the book with or without understanding that deeper layer of meaning because it is so very funny! From the get go, Ulysses and his resurrection as superhero set the stage for many comic events (including my favorite one involving a giant donut restaurant), that lighten the tone of the book. Well done again, Kate! Very well done indeed. Be sure to put this one on your “to read” list right away! How can any of us say no to a story of a superhero, poetry-writing squirrel who loves Rilke, and giant donuts? You have to admit that this tale is extraordinary, and it is the sort of story only Kate DiCamillo could pull off, adding yet another wonderful title for readers of all ages to enjoy. Holy bagumba!
“Binkness” and “Gollieness” are words that have now actively entered my vocabulary. Bink and Gollie are best friends despite being very different. What they have in common: the need for speed on skates, a deep love of pancakes, and their love for each other. What they don’t have in common would be everything else! They are absolute polar opposites and I love that, despite their differences, they are best friends.
Gollie is tall, a little uptight, and lives in a modern, posh tree house by herself. Bink is short, not at all uptight, and has pots of peanut butter on shelves in her cozy cottage. She lives right at the bottom of Gollie’s tree house. Bink also lives alone and I love these little girls who almost live magically without adults! However, they always have one another for company. The illustrations are marvelous and the ever fantastic Kate DiCamillo (whom I adore) co-wrote it with the also fab Alison McGhee, so it’s very, very good! The first book is a Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winner to boot!
The first in the series, simply titled Bink & Gollie, introduces the reader to the two main characters. There are three stories in all, each with a different plot. I think my favorite one in the first book was the one in which Bink falls in love with a pair of outrageously, outlandish, over-the-top colorful socks. Gollie then proceeds to put her foot down upon the acquisition of aforementioned socks, and off we go doing what Bink and Gollie do best. That would be explaining how we can be friends with people who are totally unlike ourselves as long as compromises can be made. This is the most important message that each story shares in a different, amusing way. As long as compromises can be made wouldn’t you rather have your best friend around than have your own way all the time and lose her? I know that compromises are hard for children (and, yes, some adults as well) to understand, but this charming series goes a long way in showing the treasure that is true friendship.
The second in the series, Bink & Gollie, Two for One, follows our two friends to the state fair which proves to be full of fun games (“Whack-a-Duck” anyone?), to talent shows (Gollie freezes up in front of a crowd. Don’t worry, it turns out all right), and a mysterious fortuneteller. Bink & Gollie, Two for One, a truly a lovely sequel that will not disappoint, was recently followed up with Bink & Gollie, Best Friends Forever. In this final installment, Bink and Gollie return to their native homes (Gollie in her posh tree house, and Bink right at the bottom in her cozy cottage), and embark on more adventures. Gollie learns that she might be related to royalty, but that her “queen act” might not be the best way to stay on Bink’s good side. In the next story, Bink decides that enough is enough. She’s done being short! Then she proceeds to order the Acme “Stretch-O-Matic” to see if she can become taller. Obviously, this will need a bit of Gollie’s help and a good dose of self-acceptance. Finally, we come to my favorite story of this book, which is about trying to make or break a world record by collecting something better than anyone else in the whole world! This is my favorite Bink and Gollie story because my childhood best friend Laurie and I tried to make the world’s longest crochet chain in order to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Just like Bink and Gollie, we learned more about friendship than actually breaking any records. However, for the record, it was three houses long. Not bad, and I’m sure that Bink and Gollie would have commended us for trying something new, or, as Gollie says, for using our gray matter.
Farewell Bink and Gollie! I shall miss you both wholeheartedly! That is until I return to the first book and start reading them all over again. Just for fun, I’m dedicating this review to my current best friend, Meaghan, who I bought the last book for as a goodbye present when I thought that I was moving away. As it turns out I am not, but she had to put up with a lot of back and forth news about it, so kudos Meaghan (when you read the last book you will get the joke)! Thanks for being my friend and putting up with my own brand of wacky adventures. I think pancakes are called for as a sort of celebration because any day is a good day for pancakes and celebrating friendships. Thanks to Bink and Gollie for teaching me that.