The Hamilton Spectator

Kate DiCamillo

‘I am trying to write not for the moment, but for the heart,’ says the twotime Newbery medalist and author of ‘Because of Winn-Dixie.’ Her latest book, ‘Ferris,’ follows a girl and her family during the supernatur­al summer before she starts fifth grade.

- An expanded version of this interview is available at nytimes.com/books.

What books are on your night stand?

On the literal night stand, the pile includes Alice McDermott’s “The Ninth Hour” (I loved “Absolution” so much that I went searching for every McDermott I had missed); “The Best American Short Stories 2023”; and Niall Williams’s “This Is Happiness.” At the top of the pile that is by my armchair (and where I give myself permission to read in the afternoon, after the writing is done): “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham’s graphic novel “Lunar New Year Love Story”; and “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” by Carlo Rovelli.

How do you organize your books?

They weren’t organized at all until the pandemic. During that time of solitude and uncertaint­y, I went through every bookshelf in the house. There were many duplicates of books that I loved (three copies of “Gilead,” two of “Old Filth”) because I could never find them when I wanted them, and so I would end up just buying another copy. I’m happy to report that the books are now organized alphabetic­ally by author, and the extra copies have been put into other people’s hands.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I am most myself when I am sitting in an armchair holding a physical book. I am an underliner, a dog-earer. I like a patch of sun, a cup of coffee and a dog somewhere nearby. This is heaven.

What’s the last great book you read?

For me a great book is a book that I want to make someone else read immediatel­y. And, too, a great book is one that makes me want to tell a story back. The last story that made me feel that way was in the 2023 “Best American Short Stories.” It’s by Da-Lin. A story entitled “Treasure Island Alley.” Will you read it? Huh? Huh? Will you?

How has your style or approach changed over time, given that young readers live in a very different media landscape than when you began writing?

I still write the same way — which is trying to get out of my way and listening for the voice of the story. And that means, I guess, that I am trying to write not for the moment, but for the heart.

What’s the last book that made you laugh?

“A Bear Called Paddington” by Michael Bond.

That made you cry?

“Sandwich” by Catherine Newman. It will be published in June and I have to say it made me laugh out loud, too.

How do you gauge what a young reader might find funny?

I am, basically, an 8-year-old who is still laughing at Paddington being chased by a pack of dogs because, unbeknown to him, a piece of bacon is sticking out of his suitcase. Does that answer the question?

“Every good story is a love story,” Ferris’s grandmothe­r announces in your new book. Agree or disagree?

Ha. A trick question. I think that every good story helps us to imagine our way into someone else’s heart. That’s love, isn’t it?

“You’re so good at details, darling,” that grandmothe­r reminds her. What makes you good at details?

I just wrote at the top of a draft of a story that I’m working on, “Details, details, everything is in the details.” And everything is. I tell kids who want to write: Pay attention to everything. I think that paying attention is a way to love the world.

Do you reread “Because of Winn-Dixie” or your other popular works?

I read each book aloud so many times before it is published, and then once it’s published I don’t read it again. Which is interestin­g, because the readers often know the book better than I do.

Is there a less popular book that’s a secret favorite of your own?

I never think of favorites. But I do think of “The Tiger Rising” as my “shy child.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

I would never organize a literary dinner party. I don’t cook and it’s all too intimidati­ng. But I would love to be a fly on the wall for a gathering of Isak Dinesen, Margaret Atwood and Marilynne Robinson.

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