Come Hang out with me, Ann Patchett & Kate DiCamillo, the Author Who Changed Her Life

I just recorded one of my favorite radio shows of all time — and that’s saying a lot, since I’ve been doing DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) for 675 shows over 13 years. It is why I especially want to make sure you don’t miss it.  THIS episode of DOG TALK  was inspired by Ann Patchett’s New York Times essay about the power of the books during the COVID-19 shutdown, and particularly of the award-winning children’s books of Kate DiCamillo, whose book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane Ann wrote about in her essay as having “changed my life.”

For those of you who, like me, think Ann Patchett hung the moon, and you want to know everything she writes, reads, says or does — this was a big deal. “I want to have my life changed, too!” I thought. However, I felt I was a “day late and dollar short” since I regrettably did not know about Kate DiCamillo so I needed to find out. Like Ann, I don’t have human children, only four-legged ones (or “dependents not descendants” as a like-minded dog-centric friend once described our family structures) so I have turned a blind eye to children’s and young adult books. As it turns out, that’s been a big mistake — and my loss, until now.

For those of you who read Patchett’s essay in The Times and knew all about Kate’s work, you already thought she was the cat’s pajamas — and wouldn’t want to miss a thing Kate wrote, said or did, either. The topic of the essay was a double-whammy of the confluence of two widely-beloved, prolific, influential authors. I wanted to talk to them both about the healing, joyful power of books at a time like this — in particular children’s books, books to read aloud, books about animals, and more specifically Kate DiCamillo’s award-winning books.

The beauty of having my own radio show on NPR is that I can reach almost anyone whose work intersects in any way with dogs, cats or other animals and invite them to join me on the air. I could reach Ann Patchett because I had interviewed her once before in this hour long episode of DOG TALK® devoted entirely to her work and reading canine-selections from her luminous book of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Good grief, I see now that interview was February of 2017, yet feels like it was just yesterday. It was at the top of my favorite interview experience and was a truly fabulous conversation that I urge you to listen to, or re-listen to, also.

I was able to reach Kate DiCamillo with a  simple email query to her publisher, Candlewick Press, an independent children’s book company nearby in Massachusetts, who were happy to get copies of her books to me right from their warehouse. My show format is to have three guests one at a time so I wanted to talk to each author separately — but when I proposed this to Ann she said, “I’m in, but on these terms: I want to have the discussion with Kate, not about her.” So because Ann Rules in my book, I agreed for the first time on my show to have a three-way conversation. It was something I feared might be unruly with three strong-willed, verbally gymnastic, big personalities — which it was! As it turned out, it was just what the topic and this moment in time required: energy, passion, opinions, emotion, devotion.

I planned this show as a small antidote to the stress, confusion, and disconnection we’re all living with — hoping that people might find a little respite listening to this interview. I also hope it will inspire you to consider the idea of turning to classic children’s books — and discovering newly-classic ones — as a delightful escape during the challenge of staying-at-home and distancing ourselves from other people. I hope that in listening to this free-wheeling interview you will feel as though you are eavesdropping on three women having a fun, nostalgic, and enlightening conversation about what books meant to us as children and the power they have into adulthood. The conversation is also about where the great ideas come from in creating books for young people that can resonate through all age groups, and the comfort factor in reading aloud as a balm in these discombobulating times.

Please indulge yourself — and your aging parents or growing children — with as many of DiCamillo’s books as you can get. Consider reading aloud to them, whether in the same room or over an internet connection — it’s a very different experience of the material. I respectfully ask that you do NOT get your books from Amazon, which is overburdened anyway with sending food and toilet paper to people, which is what it is good at. Now is a very good time to break the quick easy habit of going to Amazon for books, which should be the purview of bookstores. Please turn to any local actual bookstores you might have near you — they love books and authors and are a lifeline even in the best of times to support literature. During the lockdown they are trying to stay in business by shipping online orders. If you don’t have a store near you, then I invite you to explore the website of Ann Patchett’s co-owned store Parnassus Books, renowned around the world, which has all of Ann’s books as well as Kate DiCamillo’s — including Because of Winn-Dixie (from which Kate reads the first two chapters during the interview) and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which inspired Ann’s New York Times essay.

Join us, please, for something we can all do together, alone.

—Tracie Hotchner

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