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Our Favorite Posts: Kate DiCamillo: Stories Connect Us

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Summer is a perfect time to reflect on the school year gone by. This week, Danna Bell of the Library of Congress showcases one of her favorite posts from 2013-2014.

As my colleagues know, for the past year I have served as the president of the Society of American Archivists. At the organization’s upcoming conference one of my duties will be to give a plenary address that highlights a theme that is of importance to me and that connects to issues of importance to archivists. For my presidential address, I’ve decided to focus on the importance of knowing and sharing your story.

Since the beginning of my term, I have talked about the importance of story in our lives and of sharing your story–be it with family or friends or with those who can help protect and preserve archival collections. The primary sources found in archives provide a new avenue to share a story; a way that can engage and inspire. Kate DiCamillo, the current Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, chose the theme “Stories Connect Us” for her inaugural address and it resonated with me. So did Rebecca Newland’s post on using DiCamillo’s stories and primary sources to help draw students deeper into the story.

Kate DiCamillo: Stories Connect Us

January 14, 2014 by

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

DiCamillo_Organ Grinder
The organ grinder, No. 1, 1901.

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.”

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. Carol Highsmith, 2012
Swing ride at the 2012 California State Fair. Carol Highsmith, 2012

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," 1895.
Lillian Russell, 1861-1922, three-quarters length, seated, facing right; with cards at table, in the “Tzigane,” 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!


  1. Love these ideas! We always do an author study and I think it would make sense to study Kate DiCamillo this year! Thanks!

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