I have to confess, I am slightly obsessed with my next recommendation. In my humble opinion Kate DiCamillo is the best children's author of our time. DiCamillo's stories are powerful, yet simple, and they always include excellent word choices. The first Kate DiCamillo story I ever read was, "The Tale of Despereuax." You might have heard of it, especially because they made a movie out of it, but I implore you - please do not waste your time on that film. They deviated so far from the original book that it shouldn't even have the same title. The book, on the other hand, is perfect. It won the Newberry Medal in 2004, which is right around the time I discovered it, at no other than the CM Scholastic Book Fair. The extended title of the book is actually, "The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread." I was so intrigued by the author's short description that I purchased it and started reading it that very evening. It was one of those stories that I continued reading long past the time I should be asleep. The next morning I immediately began reading it to my class. They loved it just as much as I did. The PTA moms that were running the book fair had to order many, many more copies, as all of the third graders wanted to have that book. Thereafter, I have read every story Ms. DiCamillo writes. I thought Despereaux would always remain my favorite story, but Kate wrote another amazing book several years later that ties for the top spot, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane." If there was only one last book you could read, I would recommend 'Edward Tulane.' You know how people love Rocky movies because Rocky had heart, well this book has heart. It can tug at the heartstrings of the most jaded and cynical among us. Edward Tulane is about the unlikely journey of a rabbit made almost entirely of china. But like all of DiCamillo's books there is a theme of love and of being loved and our place in this world.
I think any author needs to have a bit of variety in their books to keep it interesting. For Kate DiCamillo I think this break from the norm would be in her "Mercy Watson" series. Mercy Watson is a pig, more often called a porcine wonder by her human parents. Mercy is a pig that is treated like she is a child. She even has her own room. The Mercy Watson series is great for second and third grade readers. They are chapter books, but easy ones. She also is in the middle of writing a series of books called, "Bink and Gollie." Kind of like Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series, Bink and Gollie is written comic book style, with thought and speaking bubbles back and forth. Bink and Gollie are a fun pair.
Kate DiCamillo's latest book, "Flora and Ulysses" won the Newberry Award this past year. I guess I am not alone in noticing her amazing talent for the written word and for crafting memorable stories. Flora and Ulysses is about a squirrel with super powers and a vacuum cleaner. You will have to read it to see how those two things could be so closely related and important to the story as to be right there on the title.
Here is a list of DiCamillo books:
~The Tiger Rising ~Because of Winn Dixie ~The Tale of Despereaux ~The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ~The Magician's Elephant ~Louise: The Adventures of a Chicken ~The Mercy Watson series ~Bink and Gollie series ~Flora and Ulysses
I think Kate DiCamillo's books make great stories for family reading time. Start with The Tale of Despereaux, as I did, and you are sure to be a quick fan of her work. Until next time, happy reading!