This week in my roundup of favorite author’s we’re talking about the great Kate DiCamillo! Oddly enough, I didn’t grow up with DiCamillo’s books as a child. So when I tell you that I love her work, I mean that it has great appeal to readers of any age. Her command of children’s fiction is so impressive it’s easy to see why she’s one of the few people in the world to be a two time Newberry Medal winner.
Unlike many authors, DiCamillo doesn’t limit herself to one style or genre. She instead writes in very similar themes, often writing on topics of family, loss, and belonging. Her books may be written for children, but she covers difficult problems we all face with fearless trust that a reader of any age can follow where she’s going. It’s this approach that makes DiCamillo one of the greats that you can’t miss out on. While she has many great books, these three are my personal favorite recommendations from her works.
Because of Winn-Dixie
One of DiCamillo’s best-known books, Because of Winn-Dixie is the sweet and charming story of India Opal Buloni and the scrappy stray dog she finds by chance in the grocery store. Opal tries to find her place in a new town with her emotionally distant father while simultaneously trying to reconcile her feelings of abandonment from her mother. The closer she grows to the wildly unpredictable Winn-Dixie, the more Opal learns about the hodge-podge of town residents and learns their stories are just as unique and rich as her own.
This book is a charming read for readers of all ages. DiCamillo shows off her writing chops in her ability to trust young readers to contemplate big issues. Opal is facing issues far beyond her years and she rises to each occasion with grit and determination that serves as a great reminder to anyone that while we may not have control of our circumstances, we always have control over our reaction to them. In time, Opal learns that most valuable lesson that we all need to remember: sometimes the closest families we have are the ones we make for ourselves.
The Magician’s Elephant
Sometimes a book comes along that doesn’t just tell you a story about magic but has magic in the very pages. You assume at the start of this book (and quite correctly) that you’re in for a story of magic and wonder, but DiCamillo finds a way to extend that from storytelling to feeling from the very beginning. The story sounds almost off-kilter in it’s premise: Young Peter is desperate to know if his sister is still alive and how to find her. The only clue he has is that an elephant will lead him there. Fortunately, a magician has just made an elephant appear and what the world sees as chaos, Peter sees as an opportunity.
DiCamillo fearlessly spreads a sense of wonder and magic through this book. We become conditioned to expect so much realism in our world of fiction, it’s so refreshing when a book comes along that fully embraces the whimsy of imagination. DiCamillo winds a tale in The Magician’s Elephant full of sweet dedication, love, and magic that’s an absolute delight to read.
Louisiana’s Way Home
Oh, this book. Where to begin with this book. It’s overwhelmingly charming, sweet, and moving while somehow managing to do all those things with subtlety. The story follows Louisiana Elefante in her own standalone book from some of DiCamillo’s other works. In this adventure, Louisiana wakes up to her slightly crazed grandmother rushing her out the door under the idea that they have to break a curse placed on their family. Taken away from the world she knows and the friends she loves, Louisiana begins a sweet and courageous fight to discover a new home for herself.
Louisiana’s Way Home brings forth that question that so many people end up facing far too young in life: how do you find somewhere to belong? The story could so easily be bogged down by weighty subject material, but any chance of that is warded of by Louisiana’s upbeat spirit and wild imagination. She has a charming way of viewing the world that makes her border on the unreliable narrator, but for all that she can’t escape the reality of her circumstances and she fearlessly faces each difficulty as it comes. Louisiana’s way home is an excellent and charming read that can delight anyone.