Books / Culture

New Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: Kate DiCamillo

By: Swampish

UPDATE: On January 27, Kate DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses won the 2014 Newbery Medal!  Congratulations, once again!  See a complete list of the 2014 American Library Association youth media award winners and honor books here.


Congratulations to University of Florida alumna Kate DiCamillo!  Last week, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced that DiCamillo had been chosen to fill the position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

The two-year position was created by the Library of Congress in 2008 and was previously held by Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales), Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia) and Walter Dean Myers (Monster).  The Ambassador’s job is to raise awareness nationally of the importance of children’s and young adult literature to the education, literacy, and betterment of young people’s lives.

DiCamillo has already won the Newbery Award for The Tale of Despereaux (2003), was a National Book Award finalist for A Tiger Rising (2001), and her current book, Flora & Ulysses, about a cynical girl and a philosophical squirrel, is a New York Times bestseller.  But DiCamillo’s new position requires a person who not only has made valuable contributions to young people’s literature, but who can also relate well to children and adults.  Given her intelligent, assured, and affirmative interview responses to Jeffrey Brown’s questions on the PBS Newshour, it seems that DiCamillo will fulfill these requirements very well.

I appreciate the celebratory angle DiCamillo takes regarding the issue of young people’s reading, and I imagine that she will approach her role as Ambassador with the same thoughtfulness and wisdom with which she has always approached her role as children’s author.

DiCamillo’s books for young people feature funny and spirited characters, but they don’t shy away from complex topics. Her works often explore themes of loneliness and loss.

In the past, DiCamillo has spoken about what it means to write stories, not just for children, but for anyone.  In a lovely vignette called “On Writing,” DiCamillo talks about how she came to discover that writing was about paying attention and seeing the world.  When she was young, she notes, she had a much different perspective on what writing was for: “I didn’t want to see the world. I wanted the world to see me.”  Later, though, she realized that she had things reversed.

Now, she writes: “I cannot control whether or not I am talented, but I can pay attention. I can make an effort to see.”  The piece is worth reading in its entirety, but one of its most inspiring points details what happens when you truly “make an effort to see” rather than concern yourself with trying to be seen: “each time you look at the world and the people in it closely, imaginatively, the effort changes you. The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine. What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past everyday? What love? What hopes? What despair?…Writing is seeing. It is paying attention.”

We here at Swampish are glad that the wisdom of Kate DiCamillo will be reaching an even larger audience in the years ahead!


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