Because I <3 Kate DiCamillo!

I’ve mentioned my fondness for reading out loud to my kids.  We do occasionally read picture books; I find them fascinating, particularly the illustrations and the complexity that can be found in stories simply told.  But mostly we read chapter books out loud.  We have read everything from classics (Heidi, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Dickens, etc) to newer releases (Ungifted, Homesick, Liar & Spy, The Graveyard Book, etc).  I think we have all enjoyed everything that we have read together, there were no real losers, and we enjoy the time together regardless, but some of our favorites have been novels by Kate DiCamillo.  She weaves magical tales that are completely absorbing, include captivating illustrations, and are a pleasure to read aloud (Dickens – not so much!).  Since I believe we have completed all of her children’s novels, I thought I would share a summary of them and what I particularly loved about each.  Don’t dismiss these novels just because you don’t have kids – or because they’re too young or too old – these are great stories for any of us!
Image“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I’m telling you a story.”  This is how The Tale of Despereaux begins and you are completely enchanted until the very end.  DiCamillo has written a modern-day fairy tale, the story of a mouse that is not like other mice, with his love of music, books, and the princess.  The story of a rat that lives in the darkness but is enchanted by light.  And the story of a slow-witted servant girl who simply wishes to be a princess.  Their stories all come together as the author directly tells you, the reader, this intertwining story in beautiful and thoughtful language.  While I loved all of her books, this was by far my favorite (a mouse that loves to read – how can you go wrong?).  The movie?  Don’t bother!

   Title: The Tale of Despereaux
   Author: Kate DiCamillo
   Genre: Children’s Fiction
   Pages: 272
   Publication: Candlewick, 2003

ImageEdward Tulane is a conceited china rabbit (yes – you read that right, but trust me – it works!) who is lost by his owner and goes on a journey of redemption, to learn of love and loss, from garbage piles to the bottom of the ocean to a hobo camp and beyond.  “Open your heart. Someone will come. Someone will come for you. But first you must open your heart…”

   

  Title: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
   Author: Kate DiCamillo
   Genre: Children’s Fiction
   Pages: 228
   Publication: Candlewick, 2006

ImageOpal moves with her father, the preacher, to Florida where she finds Winn-Dixie, a big, ugly, loveable dog who will be the friend she needs so desperately, while helping her to make friends in this new place.  She spends the summer learning the stories of Otis (the ex-con running the pet store), Franny (the local librarian), and Gloria (the blind woman who sees into Opal’s heart), while also using Winn-Dixie to get her father to tell her about her long-gone mother.  Opal will start to grow up, learn how to make friends, and begin to understand forgiveness, all with the help of a dog named after a grocery story.  “It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.”  The movie based on this book is definitely worth watching AFTER you read the book (let’s face it – the book is ALWAYS better!).

   Title: Because of Winn Dixie
   Author: Kate DiCamillo
   Genre: Children’s Fiction
   Pages: 288
   Publication: Candlewick, 2000

ImageA fortune teller answers Peter’s question with an odd answer – an elephant will lead him there.  The question?  Peter is an orphan and wants to know if his little sister is still alive.  The same day, a magician will somehow conjure an elephant which will bring together the lives of Peter, a society matron, a beggar, the magician, a policeman, a sculptor, and a nun in a series of events that will eventually lead him to his answer, and will provide answers to others as well.  “That is surely the truth, at least for now. But perhaps you have not noticed: the truth is forever changing.”

   Title: The Magician’s Elephant
   Author: Kate DiCamillo
   Genre: Children’s Fiction
   Pages: 208
   Publication: Candlewick, 2009

ImageRob’s mother has died of cancer and he and his father move to Florida looking to find a new life.  Rob is terribly unhappy when he meets someone else new at school, Sistine, who is also struggling with the hope that her father is going to come and get her.  When Rob discovers a caged tiger in the woods, the events that follow will allow him to understand what it means to be free, to open up and forge a friendship with Sistine, learn to forgive his father, and deal with his grief.  “Rob had a way of not-thinking about things.  He imagined himself as a suitcase that was too full… He made all his feelings go inside the suitcase; he stuffed them in tight and then sat on the suitcase and he locked it shut. That was the way he not-thought about things.  Sometimes it was hard to keep the suitcase shut.  But now he had something to put on top of it.  The Tiger.  Rob imagined the tiger on top of his suitcase, blinking his golden eyes, sitting proud and strong, unaffected by all the non-thoughts inside straining to come out.”

   Title: The Tiger Rising
   Author: Kate DiCamillo
   Genre: Children’s Fiction
   Pages: 128
   Publication: Candlewick, 2001

Kids’ Books About Books!

I love to read to kids, particularly my own, but I also love the opportunity to read to the kids that come into the library.  I try (with varying success in the middle of drama rehearsals, karate classes, piano lessons, etc) to read to my kids every night.  It doesn’t matter that they are 11 and 16 and perfectly able to read by themselves, there is something about sharing a story aloud and sharing it as a family.  Sometimes it’s a picture book, sometimes a classic, sometimes a new juvenile or young adult chapter book that has appeared on the library shelves, but we all enjoy the time in the evening, curled up on the couch, sharing a story.

Children’s books are no less engrossing than those written for adults.  Whether they are teaching a moral lesson, taking you on an adventure, or just plain silly, these books really can be enjoyed by people of any age, and are always best when they are shared.

I have a special affinity for picture books.  I can get lost in the illustrations which can add so much to a story, taking you to different times and places, making you laugh, or just awing you with the works of art contained within the pages of a children’s book.  As a self-admitted bibliophile, what could be better than picture books about books?  Below are some of my favorites.  No matter your age, if you love books, they are worth a look, and the illustrations alone make them worth owning.

ImageElizabeth Brown loves books, spends all her time with books, and is always reading.

“Elizabeth Brown

Preferred a book

To going on a date.

While friends went out

And danced till dawn,

She stayed up reading late.”

Following Elizabeth from her birth through her old age this beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a true bibliophile.  When her house is so full of books that there is no longer room for her, Elizabeth donates her collection to the town to create a public library and spends her old age walking to the library each day with her friend, still enjoying her books while others do as well.

Title: The Library
Author: Sarah Stewart
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 40
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,  April 1995

ImageMy favorite thing about this book is definitely the illustrations.  It tells the story of Peter and his cat, characters from a book themselves, on a quest for the one missing book in a library that holds all the books ever written.  The book is How to Live Forever, and in a library that comes alive at night, containing the world within its pages, they discover the Ancient Child who has the book and need to decide whether to read it.  For every bibliophile who ever dreamed of a world within books, and built of books, the beautifully detailed illustrations provide a dream come true.

Title: How to Live Forever
Author: Colin Thompson
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 32
Publication: Knopf Books for Young Readers,  April 1996

ImageThis is a book of poems, about books, written for children.  Again, the illustrations are fantastic, a little on the dark side, but definitely engrossing.  Little kids seem to love the poems – some are silly, some offer great plays on words, some are touching, and some are even a little sad.  My favorite is definitely the title poem:

“Please bury me in the library

In the clean, well-lighted stacks

Of Novels, History, Poetry,

Right next to the Paperbacks,

Where the Kids’ Books dance

With True Romance

And the Dictionary dozes.

Please bury me in the library

With a dozen long-stemmed proses.

Way back by a rack of Magazines,

I won’t be sad too often,

If the bury me in the library

With Bookworms in my coffin.”

Title: Please Bury Me in the Library
Author: J. Patrick Lewis
Genre: Children’s Poetry
Pages: 32
Publication: Harcourt Children’s Books,  April 2005

ImageThe Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is by far my favorite book about books.  The illustrations are truly magical, as is the story of a man who spends his life being surrounded by, caring for, and being cared for by, books.  And as his story is finished, the cycle begins anew, with the books remaining the one constant.  As much as I love the book, and I do, immensely, the short animated film that preceded the book is perhaps even more fantastic (and I NEVER say that about a film!). It won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and can be found on iTunes.  I highly recommend that any book lover own both!

Title: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Author: William Joyce
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 56
Publication: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, June 2012

And so it begins…

For awhile I’ve been contemplating of finding a way to share my thoughts on books: what I’m reading, quotes that inspire me, what’s happening in the world of libraries.  Today I woke up and decided I would try to put together this blog as a way of doing that.  I am sure it will take me a little while to work out the kinks, so please be patient and hang in there with me!

A little about me and why I am inspired to do this.  I received my BSEE from Clarkson University in 1995 and spent the next 16 years working in the engineering field.  Feeling unfulfilled by my career, in 2009 I announced to my husband that I was going to go back to school to get my degree in library science.  Why?  Definitely not for the power or the money!  😉  I have long felt that the power of the written word to entertain, inform, educate, and inspire is immeasurable.  To me, there is no greater purpose than to provide everyone with open and free access to books.  There are very few things that have the same capability to change people’s lives.  The greatest good that a community can provide for its citizens is to support a public library.

So began my journey.  For the next two years my family would provide unwavering support as I pursued my MLIS from Drexel University while continuing my engineering career.  In 2011 I received my degree and was fortunate enough to receive a position as the Director of the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library in Sherrill, NY.  The destination was worth the journey and I now spend my days pursuing my passions.  This blog is my way of reaching out to an even wider audience, sharing what I love.

Why the name “Watching the Words”?  It is part of a quote from what is probably my most treasured book, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.  For now, all I will say about the book is that if you have not read it, you should, immediately.

As for a brief summary about me personally, I live in Canastota, NY, a small town in upstate NY in an old farmhouse.  I share this life with my husband, Todd (still an engineer!), and our children William (16) and Madalyn (11).  Other members of our family include a cranky cat (Jo-Jo), our protector Nala (a German Shepherd), and our newest addition Hugo (a Pug puppy).  Our life here is chaotic, fun, and full.  We are truly blessed.