I love Kate DiCamillo! I "met" her many years ago when I read Because of Winn Dixie. Winn Dixie and Opal warmed my heart in such a way that I can still "see" Winn Dixie's doggy smile when think of him. After my first experience with Kate's book, I actively sought out her other works. She has been busy...She has a wonderful beginning chapter book series about a lovable pig named Mercy Watson that transitional readers can really enjoy.
This year I read The Tiger Rising with a small group "promising" fourth grade students. The book was the catalyst for the best book discussion with young students I have ever had. The students experience with the book was so real, so authentic, so joyful that they would come running in from recess all red-faced and winded to discuss the latest development in the story. Sistine, Rob, and Willie May became friends of ours for whom we cared deeply.
Like avid readers, when we finished The Tiger Rising, this group wanted more! Next we wanted to read, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I had not read the book before, so I asked my colleagues what they thought of the book. I heard from them that the book was challenging because of the vocabulary and the story's circular framework over time. Tigger, my youngest son, and I love to listen to books on CD. I checked Edward Tulane out from the library and we listened to the amazing story in the car every day. We loved it and I knew my promising readers would as well....if they listened to it as they "read" it. I felt that we needed to keep the momentum going. I wanted to continue to give them the strong message that reading is fun, engaging...JOYFUL! They listened to the CD in their classroom during their reading workshop and we discussed, sketched, and recorded important information in our journals during our brief 30 minute lessons. It was magical!
Two weeks before Winter Break, I found another gem by Kate DiCamillo, Great Joy. This moving picture book is a wonderful story about a little girl who spots a homeless accordion player and his monkey on the street corner. She worries about them and eventually invites them to see her Christmas play performance. The man and his monkey come and stay for the reception following. It is a heartwarming story that is beautifully illustrated by the same man who did the artwork for Edward Tulane. This gem also included the book on CD and...drum roll please...a incredible interview with the author, my new BFF, Kate DiCamillo.
I shared this book with all of my promising readers as well as Shelly's fourth grade class. We carefully listened to and discussed the interview over 3 days. It was powerful. The students and their teacher took her message to heart. In order to be a writer you need to do two things: read all the time and write every day. I have the wonderful opportunity to go into this classroom every day and that is exactly what they are doing...reading and writing every day. Simple, but powerful stuff.
In thinking about my latest experience with Kate DiCamillo's books, I can't help but feel validated. As a Reading Specialist, I feel strongly that our focus needs to be on create joyful experiences with books. So many remedial reading programs focus on the skills, strategies, and levels that young readers need to have in order to read. In our efforts to "tool" them up, we forget what made us "real" readers...the Joy! Thanks Kate for creating books that bring JOY to us all.