Author Kate DiCamillo has created some of the most beloved characters in modern children’s literature.
Her popular books, which include “Because of Winn-Dixie” and “The Tale of Despereaux,” are often included on school reading lists and even used for classroom lessons.
DiCamillo has resisted revisiting her characters — until now. Her new book, “Louisiana’s Way Home” (for ages 10-13), out Oct. 2, tells the story of 12-year-old Louisiana Elefante, who first appeared in her 2016 novel “Raymie Nightingale.”
“I’ve never done this — closed the door and then opened it up again,” DiCamillo told amNewYork. “Louisiana’s voice just would not leave me alone. . . . This voice of hers kind of hounded me.”
Written in the first person, Louisiana tells her own story — one that is both harrowing and heartwarming. Plucked out of bed in the middle of the night by her grandmother, the bewildered Louisiana thinks it might just be another eccentric episode until she realizes they have left her Florida home and are headed into Georgia.
Thrust into situations with ineffective (and surprisingly indifferent) adults who seemingly don’t care if the sensitive tween has a safe place to sleep and enough food to eat, Louisiana proves incredibly poised and resilient.
It is a relief when she finally encounters the kindly Burke Allen and his family.
DiCamillo said writing the novel in the first person was challenging but necessary to keep Louisiana’s voice real. Trying to sugarcoat her dire situation would have been unfair to readers, she said.
“I feel like that part of my job is to tell the truth, which seems odd when you are talking about fiction,” she said. “But kids feel like they are being condescended to when people don’t tell them the truth.”
DiCamillo’s books often deal with difficult themes such as loneliness and abandonment, but they are also filled with humor and hope.
“Hard things happen,” she said. “The one responsibility you have, when you write for kids, is to end with hope.”
DiCamillo has been a strong advocate for reading and often shares stories about how books shaped her life.
“I had a mother who made sure she got me to the library, she read to me and she bought me books,” she said. “It helped me know who I was.”
A self-professed “introvert,” DiCamillo is still amazed and grateful at the response her books receive from readers of all ages.
“We hear so much that kids aren’t reading,” she said. “There are so many passionate readers out there and I get to meet these kids — it’s deeply satisfying. Books really do matter to kids and stories really do matter to kids.”