DiCamillo Shares Inspiring Festival Tale

Kate DiCamillo speaks to young readers at the Washington Pavilion during the 2014 Young Readers Festival of Books. DiCamillo recently shared a heartwarming tale from that event in a letter to Time Magazine. Photo by Emily Spartz/Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Newbury Medal Winner Had Special Interaction with Young Reader

The South Dakota Festival of Books is an excellent place to make connections.

Readers connect with writers. Writers connect with and draw inspiration from readers. Nearly everyone connects various mental dots during the three-day event.

The interactive Festival, with its informal lectures and amiable book signings, humanizes authors and inspires writers. It presents famous novelists as potential future versions of the aspiring author's ideal self. They see regular, if highly inspired, people who used to be on the other side of the autograph table, not stereotypically stuffy Manhattanites who are enjoying drinks at faraway, Gatsby-esque cocktail parties.

Reading is also therapy. At the very least, it is empathy. Feeling alone in their thoughts, readers pick up books and find companion thinkers. Best of all, perhaps, they can process thoughts or feelings by sitting through a $7 paperback instead of a $150 therapy session. The Festival allows these readers to share their moments of connection and feeling with authors.

The mutually-inspirational Festival environment created an unforgettable moment for author Kate DiCamillo, the headliner of the inaugural Young Readers Festival of Books in 2014. She recently shared the experience with a national audience.

Young readers get their books signed at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood and Rapid City.

Finding Catharsis: Kids and Adults

As the two-time Newbery Medal winner discovered first-hand, adults aren't the only ones who find catharsis in books and author presentations. Young readers, who got their own SDHC Festival of Books in 2014, make connections, too.

They can also draw inspiration from authors in the same way as adults; they can be optimistic while picturing their future selves.

Children, however, may not be as likely as adults to share their thoughts, especially the deep ones, aloud.

Not only did a young Festival fan develop a meaningful connection with DiCamillo, but he also circumvented the shyness common at his age and shared his thoughts with her at the 2014 Festival. The moment was so poignant and memorable for her that she relayed it to Time Magazine in a letter four years later.

Find the passage below. Stories like this show why SDHC added a Young Readers component to the Festival of Books.

Kate DiCamillo to Time Magazine

Here's a question for you: Have you ever asked an auditorium full of kids if they know and love Charlotte's Web? In my experience, almost all of the hands go up. And if you ask them how many of them cried when they read it, most of those hands unabashedly stay aloft.

My childhood best friend read Charlotte's Web over and over again as a kid. She would read the last page, turn the book over, and begin again. A few years ago, I asked her why.

"What was it that made you read and reread that book?" I asked her. "Did you think that if you read it again, things would turn out differently, better? That Charlotte wouldn't die?"

"No," she said. "It wasn't that. I kept reading it not because I wanted it to turn out differently or thought that it would turn out differently, but because I knew for a fact that it wasn't going to turn out differently. I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen, and I also knew that it was going to be okay somehow. I thought that I couldn't bear it, but then when I read it again, it was all so beautiful. And I found out that I could bear it. That was what the story told me. That was what I needed to hear. That I could bear it somehow."

So that's the question, I guess, for you and for me and for all of us trying to do this sacred task of telling stories for the young: How do we tell the truth and make that truth bearable?

When I talk to kids in schools, I tell them about how I became a writer. I talk about myself as a child and how my father left the family when I was very young. Four years ago, I was in South Dakota, in this massive auditorium, talking to 900 kids, and I did what I always do: I told them about being sick all the time as a kid and about my father leaving. And then I talked to them about wanting to write. I talked to them about persisting.

'And So I Think That I Will Be Okay Too'

During the Q&A, a boy asked me if I thought I would have been a writer if I hadn't been sick all the time as a kid and if my father hadn't left. And I said something along the lines of "I think there is a very good chance that I wouldn't be standing in front of you today if those things hadn't happened to me." Later, a girl raised her hand and said, "It turns out that in the end you were stronger than you thought you were."

When the kids left the auditorium, I stood at the door and talked with them as they walked past. One boy — skinny-legged and blond-haired — grabbed my hand and said, "I'm here in South Dakota and my dad is in California." He flung his free hand out in the direction of California. He said, "He's there and I'm here with my mom. And I thought I might not be okay. But you said today that you're okay. And so I think that I will be okay, too."

What could I do?

I tried not to cry. I kept hold of his hand.

I looked him in the eye.

I said, "You will be okay. You are okay. It's just like that other kid said: you're stronger than you know."

I felt so connected to that child.

I think we both felt seen.

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