Newbery-winning author Kate DiCamillo found her calling in a warehouse full of books.
DiCamillo, well-known for such children’s novels as “Because of Winn-Dixie” and “The Tale of Despereaux,” will speak Thursday in Lacey as part of Lacey Loves to Read, an annual program that itself is a testament to the power of books and stories.
DiCamillo decided in college that she wanted to be a writer, she said in a recent phone interview, but she didn’t get far until she began work filling orders in the warehouse, picking books off the shelves on the third floor — the children’s section.
“I started reading some of the books,” she said. “I read a book by Christopher Paul Curtis called ‘The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963.’ It’s such a beautiful, funny book that deals with really difficult things and tells the truth and is just warm and heartfelt, and I thought, ‘Man, I want to try to do something like that.’
“That’s how I ended up writing for kids.”
DiCamillo of Minneapolis is the 15th writer showcased by Lacey Loves to Read, a joint effort between the North Thurston Public Schools, the Lacey Timberland Library, the City of Lacey and Lacey South Sound Chamber.
The program celebrates authors whose work appeals to a range of readers. DiCamillo’s ouevre includes not only children’s novels but also chapter books (including the popular Mercy Watson series, about a pig who adores buttered toast) and picture books (notably her latest, “La La La,” a nearly wordless collaboration with illustrator Jaime Kim).
She’s one of only six authors to have won two Newbery Medals, one of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature.
Her work has been turned into films (2005’s “Winn-Dixie,” 2008’s “Despereaux” and 2012’s “Bink and Gollie”) and plays, including “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” which opens March 16 at Olympia Family Theater.
“We are thrilled to have such a legend come to Lacey,” said Courtney Schrieve of North Thurston Schools. “Many generations are excited to hear her on this brief stop.”
Bringing together generations — along with families and the community as a whole — is a central focus of Lacey Loves to Read, and it resonates deeply with the author, too.
When she served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2014 and 2015, DiCamillo chose “stories connect us” as the theme for her work raising awareness of children’s literature and its impact on literacy, learning and lives.
“A good story gives us a window into another life, and it also gives us a mirror for our own heart,” she said. “We need that so much now. When you feel connected, it’s easier to hope and it’s easier to act.”
But when she chose the theme for her term as ambassador, DiCamillo didn’t realize it was also the central theme of her own writing.
“It didn’t hit me until almost at the end of that tour that that’s the thing that shows up in all of my stories,” she said. “There are other themes that show up, too, but the unifying thing is that togetherness and that connection.”
Though it began not with a plan but with a doodle, 2017’s “La La La” is no exception. It’s about a small girl who sings and sings and sings some more, venturing further afield until she finds a friend who sings back.
Thursday, the author will talk about “La La La,” answer questions about her other books and, she hopes, inspire readers and writers.
“Maybe some kid will walk out of that auditorium thinking, ‘Wow, she’s nothing but a mess of a human being, and she gets to do this amazing job of telling stories. Maybe I could do that, too,’ ” she said. “When I was a kid, I loved to read so much, and I never really thought about becoming a writer, because I didn’t really think human beings wrote books.
“I didn’t know where they came from, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with people, necessarily.”
Meet Kate DiCamillo
What: DiCamillo, the Newbery-winning author of “Because of Winn Dixie,” “The Tale of Despereaux” and many others, will talk about her books, her passion for writing, and the importance of reading as part of her appearance as part of the annual Lacey Loves to Read campaign.
When: 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, with a pre-show scene from Olympia Family Theater’s upcoming production of DiCamillo’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” at 6:45 p.m.
Where: James Koval Center for the Performing Arts at North Thurston High School, 600 Sleater-Kinney Road NE, Lacey
More information: www.nthurston.k12.wa.us/read