Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite children’s authors and I always enjoy her books. I read Because of Winn Dixie several years ago and I loved it so much I read it out loud to my fifth grade classes. India Opal meets a dog in the grocery store and calls him Winn Dixie. Her story grabs you right from the first page and you can’t help but want to tag along and see what the Preacher (her father) is going to say about her bringing home a stray dog. I am not even a dog person, but I loved that story. India and Winn Dixie speak with clear, personable voices and seem to jump right off the page into life.
Mercy Watson to the Rescue I read in bus room yesterday. It is a quick read, targeted at the Pre-K to 2nd grade crowd. Mercy is a lonely but friendly pig who likes the comforts of warm buttered toast and a cozy bed. He causes some distress to his family and neighbors without even seeming to realize it, and becomes a hero just by pursuing his passions. Buddy Boy is going to find this one very amusing. It looks like DiCamillo is planning to write several more in this series.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is another quick, satisfying read. It reminds me a lot of the Velveteen Rabbit. Edward is a china rabbit, well loved by his mistress, until he gets hurled into the sea by some bullies. He has many adventures and is loved by many other people, but never feels any love in return until he meets a little girl on her death bed. The main differences between this and Velveteen Rabbit are that Edward Tulane doesn’t want to become real, and the lesson he learns is the necessity of loving others, rather than just the need to be loved. This is a story that sinks in and stays with you.
The Tale of Despereaux is a fable about a mouse with unusual talents who loves a princess named Pea. He becomes friends with a rat named Roscuro and teams up with a serving girl who wants to become a princess. The narrator tells the story with wit and tension, often giving asides to define terms, ask pressing questions and drop intimations of coming drama. I found this style somewhat distracting, but the fourth graders who listened to the story read aloud were intrigued and drawn in by it.
The themes of this book and DiCamillo’s others revolve around loneliness, hope, love, forgiveness and belonging. Her characters are finely drawn and speak from the heart. I have The Tiger Rising, her book from 2001 on my desk as my next bus room book and I am looking forward to it. Check out her website linked above, where she gives advice about writing and keeps a journal as well as information about her books and speaking tours.