Kate DiCamillo is an award-winning writer who has penned numerous books for kids of all ages. She is also the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a post she was appointed to by the Library of Congress. In this role, DiCamillo promotes the importance of reading to young people at events around the country.
TFK reporter Liliana Scott recently spoke with DiCamillo about summer reading, libraries and her favorite books.
TFK: What do you do in your role as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature?
Everywhere I go — and I’ve gone to a lot of places —, I encourage people to read together and I remind them about the pleasure, privilege and joy of reading. I have been all over the U.S., and it has been a lot of fun.
TFK: Why are summer reading programs at the public library so important?
There are all these statistics about how sometimes when kids are out of school their reading level can drop because they are not reading during the summer break. That’s one reason, but the reason that I like to talk about is just because libraries matter. The library is such a fabulous place because it can remind kids that reading is a joy. With summer reading, no one tells you what to read so you can read whatever you want that interest you. The summer reading programs at the public library are free, there are prizes to make it even more fun and it’s just a great place to go.
TFK: In addition to summer reading programs, what are some other ways families can encourage kids to read more?
I am really fond of recommending that families read together, either a parent reading to a kid or a kid reading to the parent. That makes a big difference.
TFK: Why is reading important for kids?
Well, do you know what empathy is? So there is sympathy, which is when someone tells you a story and you think, oh, that makes me feel bad for you. Empathy is when you can imagine somebody else’s pain. You don’t just feel sorry for them; you can feel their pain, too. There have been studies about how when you read a really good book it makes you more empathetic as a person. It makes you able to relate more to the people around you and to empathize.
TFK: In your opinion what are some of the other things reading helps develop?
If you can read, you can do anything you want to do in this world. It opens the door to everything. You can teach yourself anything. It is also interactive. When you are reading a book and the character picks up a pencil and moves it on the desk, all the synapses in your brain that would fire if you are actually picking up the pencil yourself, fire so even though you are reading about it, it’s interactive. There is just so much to gain from reading. There is not only the educational part — it’s the emotional part too. You can learn about yourself and other people.
TFK: With the current trend toward digital reading on tablets and computers do you think libraries are in danger of becoming a thing of the past?
No, I do not. I think libraries will always be a vital place where people gather and read books and talk about books. How they read books and how they talk about books might be different because of the technology but I think that the libraries will always) be there. They are too vital to who we are. It’s like a community, that’s why I think that libraries will last.
TFK: What was your favorite book as a child, one that you could read over and over?
I read so many books when I was a kid and I have lots of favorites, not just one favorite. I loved the Little House on the Prairie series and checked those out a lot from the library. I also loved Beverly Cleary’s books about Ralph Mouse. Those are great. Speaking of mice, I loved Stuart Little and I loved Harriet the Spy. I read that again and again. A Little Princess is so good. The author of that book, Frances Hodgson Burnett is fabulous. I read that one over and over. I was just a kid who loved to read. I am an adult who loves to read. I hope what I write encourages people to read, and that my Ambassador message reminds people of the joy of reading.
Below is a list of Kate DiCamillo’s suggestions for summer reading:
By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Friedman
Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb and Eliza Wheeler
X, a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Jim the Boy: A Novel by Tony Earley