November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Joy of Reading | Q&A with National Summer Reading Champion Kate DiCamillo

Photo credit: Amy Gibbons Photography

Photo by Amy Gibbons Photography

She’s spreading the word. Author Kate DiCamillo has always gotten kids reading, whether by writing mesmerizing stories, like the Newbery-winning The Tale of Despereaux (2003) and Flora & Ulysses (2013, both Candlewick), or by advocating for the importance of literacy, as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Recently named National Summer Reading Champion by the Collaborative Summer Library Program, she’s continuing to push reading, letting kids, parents, and teachers know that their local public libraries are crucial. Though literacy has countless academic benefits, DiCamillo says conveying the joy and delight of reading is her true aim.

Why is summer reading so important?

Obviously there are academic reasons why we want kids to keep reading during the summer, [but there’s also] the joy of it. The great thing about the summer reading program at the library is that nobody tells you what to read. You can read anything you want.

What’s your experience as National Summer Reading Champion been like so far?

I just got back from a couple weeks out on the road, and it was truly thrilling to stand up in front of a group of kids and say, “How many of you know where your public library is?” and watch 95 percent of the hands go up. “How many of you know that your public library has a summer reading program? How many of you know that it’s free? That you can read anything that you want to read?” That is my biggest responsibility: reminding parents, kids, and teachers that [the public library] is there.

How did you develop your own love of reading as a child?

I think [being a reader] is who I am, but, boy, was it fostered by my mother, who read to me and bought me books and took me to the library twice a week. And it was fostered by the librarians there. One librarian called me a “True Reader,” capital T, capital R. And I [thought], “Great. I know who I am.” I don’t think the eight-year-old in me has ever gone away.

Do you think summer reading lists are beneficial, or do they make reading into a chore?

I think, sure. They can be offered as a suggestion. One of the things I love so much about the summer reading programs, though, is that [ability to read] anything that you want. Anything that calls to you, you can check it out. But as far as a summer reading suggestion list, that’s a great idea. I would have taken that as a kid.

How do you feel about kids reading things that aren’t necessarily great literature (graphic novels or nonfiction instead of high-quality novels, for instance)?

I’m in the camp of “one book leads to the next book.” Who am I to say what you should be reading? It’s a journey that every reader goes on and finds their way through. People would put the next book in my hand [as a kid], but I don’t think you should say, “You shouldn’t be reading this.” Read whatever your heart tells you to read.

How do you recommend getting reluctant readers interested in books?

Reading with them is spectacular. Reading out loud is a really powerful thing.

To say to a kid, “You have to go off and do your 15 minutes of reading, and you can’t come out of your room until you do it” just makes [reading] into a chore, when really it is a joy. It would be great if your kids could see you reading a book, too, for your own pleasure, because that sends a very strong message. If a kid sees a parent reading a book for their own pleasure, it becomes a more natural thing.

I made the very big mistake once of reading the last paragraph of my mother’s book out loud to her, and she chased me around the house because I gave away the ending. It made a big impact on me—that was her book and her story. She was always reading, and it modeled that behavior.

Librarians can play an important role, too.

That’s the way it was for me when I was a kid. It’s deeply moving to me that I have never stood in front of a librarian and asked for something that they didn’t move heaven and earth to find for me. I need this book, I need that book, I need to read about this. The librarian will find it for you. That’s the other thing: if it’s not there in the library, it’s a great thing for kids to know that librarians will find it for you.

How does it feel knowing that so many of your books have turned kids into readers?

It’s an amazing thing. It makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world.

What’s been most rewarding about this position?

[It’s reminded] me—I’ve never forgotten—of that public library that I grew up with, Cooper Memorial Library [in Clermont, FL]. It’s made me remember more and more and made me realize how much [that library] shaped me as a human being and as a reader and a writer.

Have you been back to your childhood library?

The old library that I grew up with moved into a newer building when I was in high school. When I graduated from college, I served on the board of that library. But the building of the old library has new been preserved and is a little historical village. I keep thinking that I want to get back there and stand on the steps. That’s on my to-do list.

Watch DiCamillo’s public service announcement for the Collaborative Summer Library Program.

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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Comments

  1. Barbie Halaby says:

    I love Kate DiCamillo, and my children and I are big fans of summer reading programs. Glad to see her spotlighted as an outspoken proponent of kids reading. (One thing: “Author Kate DiCamillo has always kids gotten reading” should probably be “has always gotten kids reading.”)