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A headshot of a woman with blonde hair and a blue shirt in front of a grassy background, next to a photograph of a woman with gray hair and a medal
Headshot of illustrator, Sophie Blackall, from National Book Festival promotional materials. Kate DiCamillo, 2014-15 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Photo credit: Shawn Miller, Library of Congress.

Lit Bits: Finding Beauty in the Darkness with Sophie Blackall & Kate DiCamillo

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This blog was written by Katya Soto, a former intern under the mentorship of Guy Lamolinara, Head, Center for the Book. Additional collections connections were added by Alli Hartley-Kong, Educational Resource Specialist in the Informal Learning Office.

There are special kinds of books that are able to transport readers into a universe of magic. This month on Lit Bits, a series of book-related blog posts featuring video snippets from your favorite authors, we listen to Sophie Blackall, illustrator of Kate DiCamillo’s novel, The Beatryce Prophecy. The novel focuses on a young monk and her adventures to fulfill her destiny. In addition to the words, the special universe of the novel is also conveyed through Sophie Blackall’s illustrations.

DiCamillo and Blackall spoke at the virtual 2021 National Book Festival about their excitement for the book. “This book made me feel as if everything else in the world fell away. I feel like it is written just for me, a story that is so completely consuming that you step into that world,” said Blackall. Below, listen to how Blackall describes of the creation of one visual moment in the otherworldly book with DiCamillo.

The novel also provides an insight into DiCamillo’s own difficulty in learning to read as a child. In their full appearance, DiCamillo told Blackall how her own experiences allowed her to keep going even when the outcome was unknown. “It’s hard to make and hard to tell a story, but it is entirely a worthwhile and wonderful thing to do. And you do it by doing a little bit each day,” DiCamillo said.

As a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and as an author beloved by multiple generations for books such as Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, DiCamillo is no stranger to the Library of Congress. Some videos of her past appearances include:

Caldecott-wining illustrator Sophie Blackall is also a regular at the National Book Festival, appearing in 2016, 2019, and 2020. In addition, Blackall’s website is preserved as part of the historical records that make up the Library’s web archives.

Collections Connections

As well as listening to the authors’ 2021 National Book Festival talk, you can help young readers and researchers extend their exploration of The Beatryce Prophecy through Library collections. As DiCamillo and Blackall discuss, the book features many elements that engage children—such as animals, specifically goats and wolves, mermaids, castles, and books. Below are a few of our favorites.

A black and white photograph of a garden with two children riding a goat
Riding the goat, 1904. (Detroit Photo Collection/Library of Congress)

There were many selections to pick from when choosing the G.O.A.T. of the Library’s goat-related collections. I was taken by the playful quality of Charles Livingston Bull’s 1890 drawing of Two Goats, books about goat breeds such as this one, as well as this frolicking advertisement for an adult beverage. Ultimately, the charming children in the above image helped me make my choice.

A street scene of an office building. A sculpture of a mermaid with flowing blonde hair, a green tail, and a green bikini top is in front of the plaza street scene.
Mermaid sculpture in Norfolk, the largest city in what’s called “Tidewater Virginia” on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean Virginia(Carol Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Mermaids are abound in the Library’s collections; mentions range from drawings, early 1900s sheet music, and even a 1960s film about mermaid performers in an amusement park! Above is my favorite contemporary photograph of a mermaid, which reminds me of a family trip to Norfolk.

Black and white drawing of the head of a wolf with the word Jack London above ithe wolf head, framed in a pair of snow shoes
Bookplate of Jack London (Prints and Photographs/Library of Congress)

Wolves feature prominently in the collection as well. Our team loves the above Jack London bookplate, featuring the head of a wolf and snowshoes. This 1872 stereograph image of a sculpture of wolves in Philadelphia made me wonder if it still exists (it does—although in a new location at the Philadelphia Zoo). Finally, I was enamored with this photograph, accompanying a 1962 Look Magazine piece titled “Girl Who Plays With Wolves”.


A piece of yellowing paper with two vibrantly-colored hand drawn images in color. The circle on teh right has teh wrods "Sunlight- the Castle" and is a brightly-lit scene of a beautiful castle with a bridge over a creek in front of it. The castle is framed by beautiful trees. The left oval is labeled "Moonlight, the Ruins." It shows the ivy-colored ruins of a castle. There is only one tree, and the stream looks rocky and raging. There is a full moon.
Sunlight: The Castle, lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1856. (Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Castles appear throughout the collections, from the above Currier & Ives print, to stereographs, to prints and drawings. Searching with your family will surely yield many more!

At the end of the Lit Bit video that starts our post, Blackall reflects how The Beatryce Prophecy blends darkness and hope—particularly during a devastating scene that happens on the most beautiful of days. She says “there’s this shaft of light. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those shafts of sunlight that feels like it’s got tiny pieces of gold floating in it.”

For inspiration as you reflect on this Lit Bit, we’d like to leave you with the shaft of light below, captured in the Colorado Valley in 1875 by J.W. Powell and A.H. Thompson. We hope it brings you as much joy as Blackall and DiCamillo’s talk brought us.

A stereograph images- two very similar images side to side. the images are black and white on a yellow backing board. The images are of a rocky cliff with a sunbeam in the center.
A ray of sunlight, publisher unnamed, 1875 (Stereograph Card Collection/Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)


This post is the third in the series Lit Bits, shared on Minerva’s Kaleidoscope and Bookmarked. Check out the first post featuring Meg Medina, and the second post featuring Colson Whitehead. Ensure that you are subscribed to both blogs so you don’t miss a “Bit!”

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