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Reading ambassador DiCamillo receives A.P. Anderson Award

Kate DiCamillo talks about her career, her inspirations and her love of children’s literature after accepting the annual A.P. Anderson Award for her contributions to the cultural and artistic life of Minnesota. (Photo by Chap Achen)

Kate DiCamillo left balmy, busy Florida for cool, calm Minnesota at age 30 and discovered that leaving behind what she was then opened her to becoming what she could be.

“I fell in love with the sky,” the award-winning children’s author explained to a crowd gathered to honor her on the occasion of receiving the 2014 A.P. Anderson Award. Ceremonies were held May 9 at the Anderson Center.

Ranking right up there with the sky were Minnesota’s bookstores and libraries, and people who read. She got a job in a Minneapolis book warehouse and the inevitable happened.

“I fell in love with children’s books.” She soon realized, “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

DiCamillo’s first book for young adults, “Because of Winn-Dixie,” was a New York Times bestseller and a Newbery Honor novel; it was made into a movie in 2005.

She followed that one with “The Tiger Rising,” which became a National Book Award finalist in 2001. Two years later, “The Tale of Despereaux” won the Mark Twain Prize and the Newbery Medal, and became a movie in 2008. Honors and awards continued when “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” was published in 2006.

DiCamillo turned her attention to “The Mercy Watson Series,” a humorous set of chapter books for younger readers, and she also wrote several picture books.

Her most recent children’s novels, “The Magician’s Elephant” (2009) and “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures” (2013) continued receiving rave reviews and honors. “Flora and Ulysses” was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of the 2014 Newbery Medal.

Recently DiCamillo was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress.

Quizzed about what that role involves, she explained, “I’m supposed to remind parents, grandparents and children that reading matters.” Her advice to them all: “Sit and read together. It changes everybody involved.”

The Anderson Center chose DiCamillo as the 16th recipient of the annual award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the Arts and Culture of Minnesota.

Following brief comments, she chose to let people at the award ceremony satisfy their curiosity about how and why she does what she does.

For inspiration, DiCamillo admitted she’s an eavesdropper who writes everything down in her ever-present notebook.

She does not build her stories around morals. “I tell the story and you find the moral.”

She gets up early every day to write, and rewrite, and rewrite.

Don’t look for an adult novel from her. “I feel I have found the sort of book I am supposed to write,” she explained.

The hardest part of being an author is that “You never know if you’re doing it right. … You don’t know until it gets in the hand of a kid.”

Regarding having two of her books made into films, she said that once the rights have been sold, the author has no more control. However, she added, “Movies are a great advertisement for books.”

The A.P. Anderson Award is named in honor of Dr. Alexander P. Anderson, who invented the cereal products known as Quaker Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat. He also was an educator, botanist, writer and naturalist.

Since 1999 it has been given to Minnesotans involved in literature, theater, music, visual arts, poetry, dance, pottery, photography, storytelling and arts advocacy.