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Interviewing Kate DiCamillo

By Chloe Grant, Read to Them staff

Welcome back, readers! We hope you’ve been enjoying your first couple of days with Flora & Ulysses. We’ve had a hard time putting it down, which isn’t hard to believe considering the talents of its author, Kate DiCamillo. And holy bagumba are we lucky, because we had the opportunity to interview her! We got to ask her all of our questions about how these adventures found their way to the page, and where these characters came from. Check it out!

What was your relationship with reading like growing up?

I loved to read as a kid, and I was lucky enough to have a mother who read to me, bought me books and took me to the library often. Reading was refuge and celebration, solace and illumination. In a word: everything.

Going off of that, Flora is quite the avid reader herself having read every issue of Terrible Things Can Happen to You! Did you have a favorite book, series, or comic book as a kid?

I read everything when I was a kid. If it was a book, I loved it. As far as favorite comics, it was far and away Peanuts. There were big anthologies of the Peanuts cartoons at our public library and my brother and I checked those anthologies out so often that we could quote certain sequences from memory.

How did you find your way to becoming a writer?

Well, the first thing that turned me into a writer was reading. "Reader" is still the first word that pops into my head when I am asked to define myself. When I went to college, I turned that love of reading into an English degree and I started to get the idea in my head that I might want to write. I procrastinated for a long time, though: and didn't actually start writing until I was 30 years old.

What was your inspiration for writing Flora & Ulysses?

My mother had a vacuum cleaner that she loved. I mean *loved*. And in the year before she died she kept saying to me: what's going to happen to the vacuum cleaner when I'm gone? And then when she passed away, I took the vacuum cleaner (as I promised I would do) and the spring after my mother died, I found a squirrel on my front steps who was in some distress, and I started to think about ways to save a squirrel's life--and I combined it with the vacuum cleaner. Which is odd, I know, but there you have it.

How did you land on the pairing of a natural-born cynic and an unassuming squirrel to be the dynamic duo of this story?

For squirrel, see above. For natural born cynic, see: me. As in, I sometimes err on the side of cynicism; but it hides a hopeful heart.

What can we learn from Flora?

That it is a brave and daring thing to love and hope.

In addition to what we can learn from Flora, what can we learn from her and Ulysses’ friendship?

That life is sweeter when we rely on others, and when we show others our hearts.

The comic book style illustrations in this text are so charming, and the vocabulary is dazzling. What made you decide to frame this story within the realm of comic books and illuminated adventures?

I knew from the beginning that Flora was a comic book reader, and then the art director at Candlewick had the brilliant idea of putting the squirrel superheroics into comic panels. It was so much fun.

What is something you hope families get out of reading Flora & Ulysses with Read to Them?

I hope they laugh together. I hope they feel connected. I hope they feel more hopeful when they have finished reading.

We’re thrilled to be entering the adventures of Flora & Ulysses. What stories have you been venturing into recently?

I'm reading Meg Medina's fabulous Merci Suarez Can't Dance. Also, Laura Amy Schlitz's truly dazzling (to borrow your word) Amber and Clay.

Flora & Ulysses was recently turned into a film, what was that experience like for you? Similarly, as this isn’t your first title to take on the big screen, what can you tell us about what it’s been like to have your stories travel from text to screen?

It is the most wonderful thing to have a book turned into a movie. More people find their way to the book because of the movie, and the whole idea of someone translating your words into images is magical.

What advice do you have for young readers & writers?

Read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more. Carry a notebook with you. Pay attention to everything. Write a little every day. Read. Read some more.

We encourage you to take Kate’s advice and “Read. Read. Read.” We’ll be reading along with you as we continue our adventures with Flora & Ulysses. With so much fun to come, we can hardly wait to delve back into the story again and hope you’re just as eager, too. If you’re in need of a place to voice your thoughts about the book don’t forget to hop onto the Flipgrid to share them with your peers. Happy reading!

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