"Don't tell me that there is a Kate DiCamillo universe," scoffs the bestselling Minneapolis author when confronted with the breadth and depth of her published work. "That's the most terrifying news I have ever heard."
Terrifying perhaps, but probably true. She's published dozens of books over nearly two decades. And now DiCamillo just completed her first trilogy.
Her latest book "Beverly, Right Here" involves Beverly Tapinski, a character readers first met in 2016 in the book “Raymie Nightingale." That was the story of three 10-year-old girls: Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana Elephante. They are rivals in the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, although it should be pointed out that Beverly's involvement is as a would-be saboteur.
"You know, if I was talking to you when just Raymie came out, I never would have thought there would have been a Louisiana book and a Beverly book,” she said. “So I means there is one thing I have learned absolutely which is anything is possible."
The first book ended with the three as unlikely friends. And DiCamillo kept thinking about Louisiana. That led to writing, and last year DiCamillo published “Louisiana's Way Home.” It's set two years after the first book. It described the misadventures of Louisiana as a result of actions by her increasingly erratic grandmother.
Then it was Beverly who DiCamillo couldn't escape. Her story is set two years after Louisiana's, and begins with the death of Beverly's dog.
“Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off towards Lake Clara. She went the back way, through the orange groves. When she cut out onto Palmetto Lane, she saw her cousin Joe Travis Joy standing in front of his mother's house.
Joe Travis was nineteen years old. He had red hair and a tiny red beard, and a red Camaro, and a job roofing houses in Tamaray Beach.
Beverly didn't like him all that much."
Beverly overcomes her dislike enough to ask for a ride out of town. Joe agrees, but by the time they get to Tamaray Beach they're arguing. He stops by the side of the road and she stomps off. She doesn't know where she is going, other than away from her cousin, and her old life.
"She's 14 and she literally leaves home and walks up to a stranger's door, and makes a series of really questionable decisions," DiCamillo said
But DiCamillo says for all that Beverly has good instincts, and she is brave.
"And to me the most daring thing that she does is trust people," she said. "And the people she puts her trust in are very very worthy of her trust."
DiCamillo writes engagingly about recognizably flawed characters surviving in an imperfect world. That honest humanity is what draws in her readers, young and old.
When pressed, she grudgingly admits she has produced a lot of books over the years: picture books for young readers, and novels for older readers, including a lot of adults.
"I don't know, I am at 27 books and more that I am working on," she said. "So yes, OK, even though I feel like I am moving so slowly, I have to say OK, I guess that's prolific, that's a lot of books, so I am not going to argue with you."
There are now legions of fans, spanning at least two generations. At DiCamillo’s readings, she regularly meets parents who read her books as children, who are now reading those same books to their own youngsters.
She's in for a busy next few months touring to 20 cities with "Beverly, Right Here." And 2020 is also the twentieth anniversary of the publication of her bestselling debut novel "Because of Winn-Dixie."
"I'll say sometimes there's a part of me that still can't believe that I got published. I have to stop saying that because here I am. And that 20-year anniversary will make me think 'lucky me!'"
The new year will bring something entirely new: an opera called "Edward Tulane" based on her 2006 book about a china rabbit. The Minnesota Opera production premieres in March.
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