National Reading Month: Kate DiCamillo on the Power of Stories
March is National Reading Month and today is World Read Aloud Day, so we are kicking it off with a guest post from children's book author Kate DiCamillo that brought a lump to my throat (yes, I'm a total sap but don't judge 'til you read it...).
Probably best known for her novels Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, DiCamillo has had quite a year already. At the start of 2014 she was named the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a post voted on by a panel of booksellers, the Children's Book Council, and the Library of Congress. Then when the Newbery award winners were announced at the end of January, DiCamillo took home the medal for Flora & Ulysses (an Amazon Best Children's Book of 2013), marking her third time as a Newbery recipient (she won the medal for Tales of Despereaux in 2004 and an honor for Because of Winn-Dixie in 2001). DiCamillo is a powerhouse advocate for reading and getting books into the hands of children and, as you'll see in her post below, she does it with immense grace, gratitude, and always a touch of humor.
When I was nine years old, my mother checked Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy out of the public library, and read the book aloud to my brother and me. We read a few chapters of the story every night. The three of us sat side by side on the flowered sectional couch in the Florida room. The Florida room had orange shag carpet. Its walls were paneled in cypress, and we could see Lake Minnehaha from the large bank of windows that faced south.
On the floor, stretched out parallel to the couch, was our dog Nanette. Nanette’s flank rose and fell as my mother read, and the dog would raise her head off the floor and look at us every time we laughed.
We laughed a lot.
Ribsy is a funny book.
There was a lamp by the couch. And as the darkness outside grew darker, as the lake disappeared into the sky, as more of the story got told, the light by the couch seemed to grow brighter.
We were a pack of four: my mother, my brother, the dog and me. In the book, Ribsy the dog was lost. But we were all safe inside. We were together.
That was over four decades ago.
Nanette is gone and my mother is gone. My brother and I live far away from each other.
But every time I see the cover of that book, every time I see a picture of Ribsy, I am transported back to that time, to that cypress-paneled room, to the flowered couch, to the lamp and the laughter and the safety.
Reading together is a very particular kind of magic.
When I meet teachers and librarians who tell me that they read aloud to their classrooms, I always try to make a point of thanking them.
Reading a story together brings us together: large groups, small groups, packs of four and packs of two. When we read together, we come in from the darkness, the cold.
It occurs to me as I write these words, as I remember the darkness outside that room in Florida, that I never explicitly thanked my mother for reading to us.
So, I will thank her here, now, in the best way I can, by encouraging other people to do what she did for me, and for my brother.
I will ask you to read aloud to your students, your children. Read aloud to your husband, your wife. Read aloud to your dog.
Push back the darkness.
Sit down beside somebody you love.
Turn on a light. Open a book.
For more on Kate DiCamillo, you can check out our Omni interview with her about Flora & Ulysses (before it won the Newbery) and here are *some* of her books: