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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Kate DiCamillo - March 25

Happy Birthday Kate DiCamillo - March 25

Last year's impromptu birthday celebration for Kate DiCamillo provided one of the most memorable reading experiences I have had with my daughter.  I think it is quite possible that I will be remembering this week with the same clarity.

Thankfully, it is Spring Break for my children and I wasn't worried about getting them to bed on time this week, so I had a bit more freedom over the books we read.  Over the course of three nights we read all six books in DiCamillo's Mercy Watson Series which is illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (whose birthday is March 17th - just missed it - on the calendar for next year.)

We had checked out Mercy Watson books from the library twice before.  Last year, for DiCamillo's birthday the books weren't even opened because we got sucked in by her novel The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Then, about two or three months ago I grabbed a few from the shelf and slid them in my daughter's library bag, but they went unnoticed and unread.  This time, I checked out the whole series and the books sat on the floor of my children's room for about a week and half.  Then, last Sunday I chose to read Book One, Mercy Watson to the Rescue, as my choice for a before bedtime reading and my daughter followed suit choosing Book Two, Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride.  Reading these two books along with another book chosen by my son lead to the longest bedtime reading session on record.  We read for over an hour before bed!  In that reading time, both of my children fell in love with the selfish, recklessly impulsive, hot-buttered toast loving pig, Mercy Watson.

According to Kate DiCamillo on, "Mercy Watson had been in my head for a long time, but I couldn't figure out how to tell her story. One day my friend Alison was going on and on about the many virtues of toast. As I listened to her, I could see Mercy nodding in emphatic agreement. Sometimes you don't truly understand a character until you know what she loves above all else." Not only does Mercy Watson love toast, but so do my children. I have been serving it for breakfast all week. I ask, "What would you like for breakfast?" My daughter replies, "Two pieces of hot buttered toast with a great deal of butter, please." My son replies, "Hot buttered toast." I ask for clarification, "How many pieces?" He says, "Six..or ten."

Kate DiCamillo also spoke of Mr. and Mrs. Watson's unwavering love for their porcine wonder, Mercy, and the series, "They continue to see her in the best possible light.  I've come to believe that that is what love is all about: somebody insisting, mercifully, on seeing us as better than we truly are. So these books, meant to celebrate the absurdity of life, also celebrate the amazing blessing of love."  In each book, there is an "absurd life" event for Mercy.  My daughter's favorite was Mercy's assault on bottomless buckets of buttered popcorn at a drive-in movie and my son loved the frequent appearances that were necessary by Ned and Lorenzo, the local firefighters.

The absurd events would not have been as amusing without a great cast of characters. My favorite character was Eugenia Lincoln, an old, grumpy, slightly angry, opinionated neighbor.  It was so much fun reading her dialogue; my fist was pumping and my voice was quite loud.  I also held a special place in my heart for Leroy Ninker, a wannabe cowboy (Yippie-i-oh) who appears as a robber in Book Three, Mercy Watson Fights Crime and a concession stand worker in the final book, Mercy Watson: Something Wonky this Way Comes.  Finally, I have to mention the sweet ladies, Mrs. Watson and Baby Lincoln, Eugenia's sister. My daughter kept giving me a hard time because she felt the voices I was using when reading were too similar.  (She's a tough critic!)

Kate DiCamillo closed her comments on by asking, "Will you be able to find room in your heart for a little love? A not-so-little pig? Will you be a friend to Mercy? I hope so."  We certainly found a friend in Mercy.  These books will be memorable for a long time. Thank you so much Kate for writing books that have had such a positive impact on my family.

I often include video interviews in many of my posts.  They help give me a perspective for the week.  They allow me to tell little stories about the author to my children when we are reading the books.  An informal interview of Kate DiCamillo and her writing process conducted by Jenny Brown is one of my favorites. This video provides a glimpse into a typical day of writing for DiCamillo.

I ran across the video above last year when I was first learning about Kate DiCamillo.  This year I found another great interview, but great for a different reason.  The video below is much longer, about 30 minutes, and it is much more formal.  However, the questions asked by Stacey Cochran allow Kate to open up about the journey she has had becoming the author that she is today.

Back in November 2010,  Kate DiCamillo began taking questions from Facebook Fans (Click here to visit her Facebook Notes page to view the other questions and responses from readers).  I immediately submitted my question asking her to share a birthday memory or tradition.  I am so grateful to have received her response:

My favorite birthday memory. the fifth grade, for my birthday, I had a slumber party to end all slumber parties.  We (six of us) stayed up all night.  We put on my mother's "shoes of her youth" and danced to all her Arthur Murray Dance records.  It was grand.  Birthdays now involve scrabble games and cheesecakes made with honey and good, good friends.

Check out her latest book and a recipient of the Theodor Seuss Giesel Honor Award, Bink and Gollie:


2.  The Official Kate DiCamillo Page - Facebook
4.  Reading Rockets Video Interview
5.  Kate DiCamillo talks about movie Tale of Despereaux - YouTube
6.  Kate DiCamillo talks of writing - YouTube (Cool Interview!)
7.  The Magician's Elephant  - WebsiteActivity GuideDiscussion Guide, Video Reading Chapter 1
8.  Happy Birthday Author 2010 - How we discovered Kate DiCamillo?
9.  Mercy Watson Website (Good Teachers Section, Games section too - I played a memory game and was rewarded with watching a video about the illustrator Chris Van Dusen)
10. Bink and Gollie Website
11. Kate DiCamillo 2009 National Book Festival - YouTube Library of Congress Channel
12. Tale of Despereaux Trailer - YouTube

Who wants toast? WE DO!

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