Like a dream: Newbery authors read in St. Paul


Newbery award-winning authors Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech and Katherine Paterson came to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul last Sunday, October 14, in a literary afternoon co-sponsored by the Red Balloon Bookshop, MPR and their publishers. Elowyn Pfeiffer, a sixth-grader at Adams Spanish Immersion School, an avid reader and a fan of these writers, reports for the TC Daily Planet.

Has something ever happened to you and you think, “Oh, my gosh. This is most kids’ dream?” Last Sunday that happened to me. I got to see three Newbery Award winners: Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, and Katherine Paterson. (Unfortunately, Karen Hesse, also scheduled to be there, was sick.)

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Minnesota author Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery in 2004 for The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread (Candlewick Press).

Sharon Creech won in 1995 for Walk Two Moons (HarperCollins).

Katherine Paterson won in 1981 for Jacob Have I Loved (Crowell).

One of my favorite things about this reading was in a section they read from Walk Two Moons. I read this book in about fourth grade and went on to read a lot more of Sharon Creech’s writing. The great part was when Grandma, who is on a road trip with Salamanca and Grandpa, is in the car stopped at a rest stop, and she starts singing and slapping her knees. Now this is funny enough just reading it, but it’s even funnier to watch Katherine Paterson up on stage singing in an old grandma voice and slapping her knees. Now imagine Kate DiCamillo up on stage with her laughing so hard she’s almost crying. And Kate kept laughing, as everyone in the whole theater was laughing, except for Katherine, who kept an amazingly serious face, not even the slightest giggle.

I was amazed that they all put so much character into their voice and hand motions. That Kate laughed so uncontrollably showed that these great books didn’t just pop up out of nowhere—these authors are normal people who have feelings and can laugh.

In Bread and Roses Too, Katherine Paterson was a grandma again, and she sounded just like an old Italian woman full of energy waving her arms around. Kate was an intelligent educated young girl and when she talked she did indeed sound like a young girl—and a bit shy. Sharon Creech was Mama, an understanding, loving, and very proud mother and that’s exactly what Sharon Creech acted like. These are expressive readers and writers, I thought. But lots of that expressiveness came from the words themselves.

In Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, the characters are going to drown some cats because they’re too vicious to be given away, but they don’t have the heart to do it. So one girl (Sharon Creech) has the idea to drug the cats with medicine. As the girl is giving away the cats, Katherine read, “The cats were so doped up on medicine that they almost appeared to smile. Sometimes the cats would even utter a pathetic little mew, and the girl would say, ‘see he likes you already.’” Sharon Creech was standing up there on the stage sounding just as charming and convincing as the girl in the book.

Two books had something in common. When reading Spuds by Karen Hesse and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, the readers spoke in unison. In Spuds it was “mmm, mmm, mmm,” a sound the little boy made when he was happily thinking about the yummy potatoes his mom would make. When said in unison by four readers it sounded a lot like the sound you make after delicious soup slides down your throat. In The Tale of Despereaux it was “boom boom boom tat tat,” the sound of a drum in a procession leading Despereaux to the dungeon where he will supposedly get eaten by rats (Despereaux is a mouse). The readers chanted the beat of Despereaux’s death. Saying these things together seemed to give them more impact.

Afterward, in the question-answer time, I learned more about the authors. When asked what her reaction was when she found out she won the Newbery Award, Sharon said she was living in England at the time and didn’t know what it was. When her publisher called, she asked, “So how many people win this a year: 500, 1000?” Her publisher said, “Just one.” Then she cried.

Katherine said her husband went downstairs to heat milk because he knew the news would go straight to her stomach. Kate said she cried, and she isn’t much of a crier.

I also learned what they had wanted to be when they grew up. Sharon said a journalist and Katherine wanted to be a missionary or a movie star. Kate said she wanted to be a veterinarian until…she paused and asked the journalist how gross she was allowed to be.

The MPR lady said, “Go ahead.”

“When I was 10, I saw a dog at the vet’s office with its eye hanging out.”

The MPR lady was obviously grossed out, and Kate said, “Well, you told me to.”

It was cool to see these authors that I know so well through Salamanca, Zinny, Edward, Despereaux, Jess, and Leslie. But now I’ve seen them without their masks or hidden behind a mouse or a rabbit or a boy or a girl. Now I’ve gotten to know them a little more than their characters have showed me—now I know them more as Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Paterson, and Sharon Creech. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.