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Kate DiCamillo: Stories Connect Us

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This post is by Rebecca Newland, the Library of Congress 2013-14 Teacher in Residence.

On Friday, January 10, 2013 the Library of Congress inaugurated Kate DiCamillo as the 2014-15 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.  The role of the Ambassador is to raise “national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.”  DiCamillo, the fourth to hold this position, has chosen “Stories Connect Us” as her theme, saying “When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see each other.”

The Organ Grinder, No. 1
The Organ Grinder, No. 1, 1901

This is a great time to feature DiCamillo’s work in classrooms and libraries. Pair the books with primary sources to help students connect to the world in the books. Display items near her work in the school or classroom library. Encourage discussions of the ways in which the primary sources might enhance or contrast with the characters or scenes that appear in the books.

To accompany the picture book Great Joy, compare the illustrations of the organ grinder with  one or more of these photographs. If you are musical or can team with your school’s music teacher, consider a singalong with the musical score of “The Organ Grinder” and discuss the view of the life of an organ grinder as presented in the song.

If your students are a bit older and reading the Bink and Gollie series, take a look at this drawing or this photograph of the Andes Mountains while reading Bink and Gollie to give students a sense of place when the girls make their trek.

Swing ride at the 2012 California State Fair
Swing ride at the 2012 California State Fair

In Bink and Gollie: Two for One, the girls visit the state fair and see a fortune teller. These recent photographs bring a state fair into your classroom, illustrating the excitement of carnival rides and fair food for children who may never have had the opportunity to attend. Ask students who have visited a state fair to share their experiences with the class. This picture of a Louisiana State Fair fortune teller and this one of a fortune teller’s booth offer an old-fashioned view of this profession.

Lillian Russell, 1861-1922, three-quarters length, seated, facing right; with cards at table, in the "Tzigane" (fortune teller)
Lillian Russell…with cards at table, in the “Tzigane” (fortune teller), 1895

The Magician’s Elephant also involves a fortune teller, who may or may not resemble this fanciful portrayal by Lillian Russell. Ask students to draw their own version of a fortune teller based on the novel’s description or their own imaginings.

In The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Edward rides with transient men on the railroad. Young children may have no concept of hopping a rail car, or even of regular train travel, and photographs may help them visualize what these experiences might look like.  This photograph shows both a man and a train to illustrate life on the trains, while this one shows two hobos who have been put off a train.

Try these ideas to take a closer look and draw students in deeper:

  • As a class or in groups, look for details in the photos that correspond to the descriptive details in the book. Ask students to compare details in the text and illustrations to the details in the primary source photographs. How does viewing the photograph versus the illustration affect your understanding?
  • Interested students may investigate topics they discover in the books, such as places visited, organ grinders, fortune tellers, or hobos and other transient populations.
  • Use these or other images or maps as prompts for students to write their own stories.

What are your students’ favorite scenes from Kate DiCamillo’s stories? Let us know in the comments!

Comments (5)

  1. I love the connections to Kate DiCamillo’s stories almost as much as I love the stories themselves.

    I actually thought of DiCamillo’s story, Great Joy, when I heard a BBC story about the current state of organ grinders in Mexico City. It might be a nice addition to the story and the photos mentioned above to connect the past to the present.

  2. I love the connections made between the stories and the photos. Adding the visual draws so much on connections to personal memory which adds another element to the story elements.

  3. I’d like to think Rebecca was prophetic in her choosing to focus on the great work of Kate DiCamillo with her winning the Newbery just weeks later!

    Kate DiCamillo’s “Flora & Ulysses” has won the John Newbery Medal for the year’s best work of children’s literature. Brian Floca won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in “Locomotive.”

  4. It is amazing how much students glean from analyzing photos from different time periods. In my experience, my students gain a much deeper understanding of the cultural/historical surrounding within the novels we read when accompanied with photos from the era.

    And aren’t these images simply fun?!

  5. I LOVE Kate DiCamillo! She is my favorite children’s author! Every September I read my class Because of Winn Dixie. That is by far my favorite because of the gentle way DiCamillo exposes hurt and healing. Now we are reading The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses, and my students want me to read more and more each day! I love that when I close the book and say, “until tomorrow!” they beg for more! 🙂

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