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Ferris by Kate DiCamillo

Updated: Apr 12

Kate DiCamillo shares Ferris (Candlewick Press), a hilarious and achingly real love story about a girl, a ghost, a grandmother, and growing up.

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About the book: Ferris by Kate DiCamillo. Published by Candlewick Press.

"Kate DiCamillo's new children's novel is a balm for the soul." - The New York Times

The beloved author of Because of Winn-Dixie has outdone herself with a hilarious and achingly real love story about a girl, a ghost, a grandmother, and growing up.

It's the summer before fifth grade, and for Ferris Wilkey, it is a summer of sheer pandemonium: Her little sister, Pinky, has vowed to become an outlaw. Uncle Ted has left Aunt Shirley and, to Ferris's mother's chagrin, is holed up in the Wilkey basement to paint a history of the world. And Charisse, Ferris's grandmother, has started seeing a ghost at the threshold of her room, which seems like an alarming omen given that she is also feeling unwell. But the ghost is not there to usher Charisse to the Great Beyond. Rather, she has other plans--wild, impractical, illuminating plans. How can Ferris satisfy a specter with Pinky terrorizing the town, Uncle Ted sending Ferris to spy on her aunt, and her father battling an invasion of raccoons?

As Charisse likes to say, "Every good story is a love story," and Kate DiCamillo has written one for the ages: emotionally resonant and healing, showing the two-time Newbery Medalist at her most playful, universal, and profound.

Episode Transcript:


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.

I am a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and a fan of kids. 

There are a few folks I’ve interviewed over the life of this podcast that have become something more than a guest. You can hear it in the interview, can’t you? A connection. An ease. A warmth. I hope this is a conversation that sticks with you the way I know it will undoubtedly stick with me.

Today I welcome Kate DiCamillo back to the podcast.

Kate’s latest novel, Ferris (Candlewick), is a hilarious and achingly real love story about a girl, a ghost, a grandmother, and growing up.

I listened to Ferris as an audiobook, which was just terrific. Most especially because it was read by Cherry Jones, the quintessential voice to bring this family to life. Of course, that didn’t stop me from dog earing pages in my Advanced Reader Copy or from highlighting favorite lines of text.

Penguin Random House Audio provided a clip from the audiobook that you’ll hear shortly into the interview. 

Let’s step into my conversation with Kate DiCamillo. Ready? Here we go.


Kate: Hi, my name is Kate DiCamillo. I'm a reader. And I'm a writer, and the most recent book that I've written is a novel called Ferris. 

Matthew: Ah, Kate, you've, do you remember, do you, do you know, do you keep track of what number novel this is?

Kate: Technically, I keep track, uh, as I have it written down in my notebook and, um, but it, it's all now, um, seems so unbelievable to me when I, you know, I could go get my notebook and, and tell you that the, the number 10, 11. 

Matthew: You know, it was unbelievable to me, speaking of those numbers, 10, um, was that the Tale of Despereaux came out when I started teaching and was might have been the first read aloud that I read to my class of fourth graders.

Kate: And you told me that before. I don't know. 

Matthew: We wrote, we had on my wall. We had, I was at in a portable and wrote on my wall, stories are light. Uh, I honor you. There were so many lines still. I talk, I don't know if I even mentioned to you that I've, I still dog ear my pages and highlight things from, from the books that I read of yours.

Um, because I, 

Kate: I, I underline and dog ear all the time as a reader. I, I, I love living in a book that way. You know, I love, love that they would not do it to a library book, but that, that is one of the great gifts of, um, of. making a good enough living that I can go and buy books and mark them up. 

Matthew: Mark them.

And then return to them. I've had, I did this with my copy of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevon. I had marked some and went back and re read it. and thought, I don't know why I highlighted this. This is interesting. I have different things that I'm, must just be a different part of my life now where different words are speaking to me, but, uh, yeah.

Okay. So let's, let's talk about Ferris. Um, how would you describe the story or how are you book talking Ferris to readers that haven't yet encountered it? 

Kate: Yeah. I'm not as good a book talker as you are. I have to say it's, I'll book 

Matthew: talk to you. Would you like me to book talk your book to you? 

Kate: Well, I would love it, and then I may be able to retweet it back, but what I say, and I had a, right when the book came out, I had a kid in the neighborhood when I was walking past with Ramona, who like, um, shouted out, um, the front door, Kate, what's the new book about?

And I, I said something like, It's about, um, raccoons, and ghosts, and chandeliers, and it's about music, and stars, and grandmothers, and family, and, um, mostly it's a book about love. 

Matthew: Oh, yeah. Oh, I can't, I can't best that line. That's great. . 

Kate: I bet you you can't invest it. 

Matthew: I, I mean, you, you could have added it. It it, it's about pulling your front teeth out with pliers.

I don't know. What else do we missing? Uh, 

Kate: that's a spoiler though. I don't wanna give that away. , 

Matthew: uh, every good story is a love story. Yeah. Um, so you, you mentioned. The kids in your neighborhood that are asking you about your books. What a wonderful thing to you, Kate. I don't know that I ever asked you in so many books that you've written.

Do you ever have a reader in mind or, or speaking to you do school visits? I hear so often on, on these interviews, just that when you're out in front of children, you can't help, but. But, but come home with their fingerprints all over, all over your, your subconscious as you're, as you're writing. Do you, did you have anybody in mind as you were writing Ferris?

Kate: Um, it's a good question. And I love, I love that idea of like the getting to be around kids and how then it would imprint on the story that you tell. Um, and. There, there is, uh, a particular child that, uh, instigated this story, in a way, the birth of this child. Her name is Rainy. Um, she's my best friend's granddaughter and, uh, she was born on the last day of 2019 early in the morning.

And 2019 is also when my father passed away and she passed away on my dad's birthday. And so it, it seemed, um, very, I was walking through the world that, that, that, that, uh, cold morning of January 1st, 2020. And I was looking at all these pictures come in of this child surrounded by, um, her parents and both sets of grandparents.

And I thought, wow, here's a kid that is gonna know that she was loved from the very second that she arrived in the world. And that was certainly not my father's experience. And I thought, what if I wrote a story about that? about a kid that is in a complete family and never doubts that she's been loved.

And so that, that child was at the center of this story. But also, Matthew, uh, every story that I write is for the kid in me too, um, who has never gone away. 

Matthew: I can't help but think, not for whatever reason, because it influenced me, I can't help but think about Mark Twain coming in with the comet and leaving with it.

There's some sort of connection there. There's some sort of, you know, the hand of the universe sweeping. I've really grown to love the feeling, Kate, of the hand of the universe sweeping through my life. And that feels to me like that. 

Kate: Yeah, I love that, that notion because, um, the hand of the universe, cause it also is that thing about being held, but you know, it, and, and it has to me when you make that, um, your listeners won't be able to see us making that swooping motion in the hand of the universe, but it's like, there's a circular thing at work here for me in that, um, I wrote my way towards wholeness.

Um, uh, and these books and these stories and connecting with, with readers, um, and, uh, and feeling that circle of love. And then Ferris to me seems like a completion of that. I don't know if I articulated that very well. 

Matthew: Have you felt like you've been writing toward wholeness with all these books, writing to know yourself, writing to, just to understand, writing to understand, I have found, I've, I've, I've written since you and I first met, I've, I went from teaching and telling stories that way to, to writing comics, to writing picture books, to writing, to writing, to expressing thought through writing.

And I have experienced a handful of times, I didn't, didn't realize that that was in me or that I didn't realize I thought about things that way. I have taught myself about myself, sort of an unusual thing to say, but, and yet you're giving that back to me saying that you've been Even working on that.


ate: Yeah. Subconsciously, I don't, you know, and it's the same thing where it's revelatory to you. It's revelatory to me. Yeah. And so much a part of that is not just writing the stories and and that process of self discovery, but the, the, the the amazing miraculous gift that happens of connecting with the readers.

And, um, and that's not necessarily, I mean, it sure can happen in person, but it's like, it is something that you can feel, um, even if you never meet the reader. And so that kind of, that has taken me towards fullness too. People reading the stories that I write. 

Matthew: You mentioned just a moment ago about giving Ferris a complete family. So was having a large cast in this book something that, that you, you, you had from the start? It strikes me, Kate, that of, of the many, many books of yours that I've written, never has the timeline of the story felt so short. It just feels like the camera keeps passing between characters.

Like we don't really miss a minute in this story. We do, but it feels to me like I didn't really miss a minute. It just sort of kept going from this character to another, to another. And it felt familial in that way. I wonder though, if You started with this cast or if you just kept bringing in Ferris's world as you were writing.

Kate: Yeah, it's funny that you say When you say bringing in what I want to say is they walked in, you know, open 

Matthew: the door 

Kate: Yeah, so it's um, you know, I knew that there was going to be this complete family and I knew there was going to be a grandmother um, but I everybody else You just kept on walking in the door and I'm like, welcome, welcome, welcome, you know, okay, here's Billy Jackson.

Okay. Here's Mr. Bowie. Okay. You know, here's, here's Ms. Milky, Ms. Milk. I say milk. Um, there's lots of ways to say it. You know, all these people just, Shirley and Uncle Ted, I did not envision them in the beginning and, um, I didn't envision Boomer the dog either. Everybody just started piling in. Yeah. 

Matthew: Ah, well, I, you can't mention Ms.

Milk without me thinking of like all the vocabulary words. And now it must just be the whole world is just craving language, or at least through my social media algorithms, because over and over Kate, I'll get on Instagram, this word and its meaning is this and this word and its meaning is this. And so often these posts that I see are expressions of love, of security, of connection.

And here's this German word for it and this Japanese word for it. And here's all these words. So, um, to mention Ms. Milk and to have Ferris so often bring up, Oh, I know what this word means. We studied this word, which is a word our teacher taught us. Um, yeah, it's just, uh, that to me feels like a very school thing.

Like, like I can, I can, I can imagine having just that teacher, but. 

Kate: But it's also the thing from, um, that Ferris again and again, and I don't, this is sometimes this is expressed explicitly and sometimes it's implicit. This great, huge gratitude she has for Mrs. Milk giving her the words because words, um, are like containers, right?

That where we can, It's a little handy way that we can say I feel this way and hand it to another person who goes, Oh, it's like that. You're, you're bereft and it, it has this, it's like, it's a gift. You feel the, it, you feel like somebody gave you a gift when they give you the word that describes how you feel and then you can hand it to somebody else or explain to yourself how you feel.

I feel bereft. 

Matthew: Especially when you feel the satisfaction of the completeness of the right word. 

Kate: Yeah. 

Matthew: Because I think so often we can feel like that, that word's not really, the way I feel. Oh, there's, there's the word. I want 

Kate: something different. I want something. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 

Matthew: You, um, I want to connect with another friend of ours because you blurbed his book.

I interviewed John Shu for Louder Than Hunger and it strikes me. I was just about to ask you, do you have favorite words, Kate? And then it's reminding me, oh, that was in John's book talking about favorite words, because while you were sharing the word that came to my mind, just because, goodness, I love the way it sounds is contemplative.

Kate: Yeah, I love contemplative. Because we 

Matthew: contemplate and we, we, we, we, we, our syllables hit differently than when we are contemplative. The adjective to the verb is a, is a pronunciation switch that I just, it's, it's, it's like chewy. I like 

Kate: it. And to say contemplative, induces contemplation. 

Matthew: It induces contemplation.

Kate: Yeah, it does. And there's a satisfaction too. This is for me who, I'm not good at pronunciation. Um, and, uh, because Somebody I used to work with at a bookstore said that's everybody else's fault if I've read so many words and books and I'm not hearing them pronounced around me and I don't, you know, and so you just, I read so much as a kid and I knew so many words, but I didn't know how to pronounce them because I was just reading them.

Um, yeah, that, that's a great thing now about technology is to be able to like click. and hear just how to say something, but there are still a lot of things I mispronounced, but to me, there's always an intense satisfaction of being able to say a multi syllabic, deeply meaningful word, um, correctly.

Contemplative. Numinous. I love numinous. Yeah. I like that. 

Matthew: The first word I ever mispronounced, read it in a book and was like, I don't know this word, was cooperation. And it was just cooperation to me. I was like, I don't, I don't understand what this word is. And I don't even remember what the novel was that I was reading.

It was an assigned book. And I, that word came up over and over and over. And I was like, what is this? And I remember, I could picture being in the back of my parents car as we were driving. And we went to some antique show or something. I can like picture all the, it's such a memory around this one word that I didn't understand.

What, how, how do you pronounce this word? This is clearly a typo. 

Kate: And I have that like, um, Capacity, which when I was reading, I said it. to myself as Capacity. And then there is always a pause for me when I'm speaking to rearrange from my eight year old brain. 

Matthew: Yes. 

Kate: And not say Capacity. You 

Matthew: know why? Cause unlearning is hard.

Unlearning is so hard. Our brain made that, made that connection so strongly. Um, I, I, speaking of connections, uh, I did not mean this as a segue, but, uh, it's taken me reading a lot of your books to realize, oh, there's like so many books that happened in Florida. And I believe I …the connection I was making was, well, yeah, you were like raised there.

I remember you talking about, uh, your Florida libraries that you would visit, but as I was reading Ferris. It just, I wrote to you when I was thinking out questions, that Florida just, it occurred to me that maybe Florida is, is your muse in some way. Do you love Florida or are you, just as you're trying to understand yourself as you write these characters, are you in part also understanding or exploring that place that raised you?

Kate: I think what happens, it's, it's, it's interesting because I, I'm such a, I think in images. If I think of myself as a kid, I, I put myself on, uh, uh, the dead end street, um, in central Florida. Um, 1713 Sunset Drive, that's where I grew up, on a dead end street, um, and I can just see myself standing there on, uh, the macadam barefoot, um, and there's heat lightning around.

That's like one of the So it's just like, if I'm going to tap into my child self. That place is one of the most potent places to do it. Um, but I feel like what I'm always writing when you think about place, it's less a specific place and more that I'm always, it's the geography of home that I'm after. 

Matthew: I understand that.

Kate: Yeah. And so it's just like what I'm almost always writing toward is a moment, and I find this again and again, um, and in my writing, where I, and I do it without even being aware that I'm doing it. And I just know now that it's always a place that I'm headed. Um, which is a table with, uh, everybody around it.

And that moment happens again and again and again, where I want everybody inside, safe, warm, fed, connected around a table. And that to me seems where I'm always, that is the home of my heart that I'm always after. 

Matthew: You literally wrote that into Ferris. You literally wrote it. And what was even strange to me, and I'm listening on audio and we'll, uh, talk about Cherry Jones reading it because my word is she, what a great voice to read your book.

But that scene from your cover is the end of the book. The entire time I'm reading this book, I'm like, when are we getting to this scene? And to have that table scene depicted on the cover, just at. At the end was, yeah, we all, we all got, we all finally did get gathered around the table at the end of the story, didn't we?

Kate: Right, and you know, and that's kind of like, I want all the characters there. I want the reader there too. And it's so much, um, you know, it's conscious. It was conscious with this book, not to get to the table, but to, to make the, the reader feel welcomed into that house. Into that family and part of that family.


Excerpt from the audiobook adaptation of Ferris from Penguin Random House Audio.


Kate: And then I almost laughed out loud when it's like, oh boy, here we go. We're heading to the table again. Yeah. And let's talk about Cherry Jones for a minute. Is. Is that not just like, is that not the most divine reading? 

Matthew: I mean, I had to even look it up going, wait, has she read all of your books? Because her voice is, it's just, it's exactly the right voice for, I listen almost exclusively as I'm to read middle grade.

Um, I, I listen on audio because that's, that my, I read so slowly that reading it either aloud or having someone read it to me allows me to read at a faster pace and, um, comprehend more and remember more. And to have Cherry read it was just right away. I was like, Oh, I know this voice. I don't know the name.

I know this voice. And then it, yeah, just, just a hope that of, of whatever else she could possibly be reading. She, she read your characters. I had to even look it up. She's from Tennessee. I was like, Jerry, are you also from Florida? Why were you picked for this book? Uh, yeah, she was such a great voice. I had known her from, I mean, a million different things.

I knew her, I guess, best from, uh, the TV show Transparent, but, um, I've seen her pop up and pop up and it's 

Kate: amazing. Um, it, it is. It's so beautiful to listen, for me, to listen to her read this because, um, what happens is that, that wonderful gift of, um, me, it's not mine, it has nothing to do with me. It becomes something that, that is just a gift that she's giving me as a listener.

Matthew: That's, it's a gift that you can't get reading back over your drafts. It's somebody. performing your story, bringing life to your story. I mean, you have this wonderful line that anchors your book that I brought up earlier. Every good story is a love story. But also, is that not what makes anything successful?

Is that not what makes this audiobook successful? Is that, Cherry cared. 

Kate: Or at least 

Matthew: she sounds like she does. I mean, or any of us do. I, I wonder if not also that line just feels like a thesis for the body of your career. Maybe you, maybe it caused you to look back and go, yeah, those, those stories. There's just love.

In them that story felt trend that line. I'm sorry. Every good story is a love story. That line felt transcendent of this novel. Kate is what I'm trying to say. 

Kate: Well, it's certainly transcendent of me because it was like, you know, and doing the interviews before the book came out, everybody's like, um, how did you think of that line?

It's like, I can take no credit for it. 

Matthew: Universe dropping it down there for you. 

Kate: You know, we can credit Sharice, um, but like it's. And, um, and, you know, I, and when I step back and step back and step back far enough away that I can see, um, it sounds ridiculous to say it, uh, the, the body of work, um, that, um, I've been lucky enough to, to get to write.

Um, it's, it is that thing of me working towards wholeness, um, and, and that's love, right? 

Matthew: Yeah, it is. It felt profound to me in the way that it felt profound to first learn, understand, take on in library school so many years ago, that the thing that separates children's literature from work meant for adults is hope.

Hope is the thing that separates them. That's how you know when you have. 

Kate: Who, you know, cause I have that in my head because I read a quote from Katherine Patterson and that's where I learned that. And, and, and it was like, Yes, that is true. And so, did anybody, was it a particular teacher that said that? Oh, I 

Matthew: can't remember.

It was the head of the library program, Mona Kirby. I can't, I can't recall her connecting it to Katherine Patterson, but it wouldn't have surprised me that, that she may have. It wouldn't have surprised me even because she was running the library program. SCBWI chapter for the state there that she very well might have had Katherine Patterson to the conference and Katherine might have spoken that very thing and then she brought it right into her program.

Kate: And it is so true. And you know, I, um, I, I, I say that line, I attribute it to Katherine Patterson. And then I also say, um, and I wonder if you agree with this, that, uh, there's also something else. Children's books, which is, for me, at least, um, kind of like this feeling of peripheral magic, where if you turn slowly and carefully enough, you're going to catch sight of something wondrous out of the corner of your eye.

I always use, um, the borrowers as you know, the concrete, as it were example of that, that like, um, those tiny little creatures, human beings living in your floorboards, um, and they're there. And, um, you know, an adult would absolutely dismiss that idea, but, um, there is all kinds of magic and wonder. and, um, children's books allow for that, you know, that those things that, that dazzling light you catch out of the corner of your eye.

Matthew: So if we combine those two, to have that dazzling light caught out of the corner of your eye, the hope that is threaded within, and then to speak of love, those combined feel to me, they feel like teaching. They feel, I guess, because that's what else would I project onto other than what I've devoted my career to.

It feels like.

Aren't we doing our best work when we're communicating everything through love? Isn't that what a good story is? Am I not living a good story? Am I not telling a good story? Um, am I not affirming the stories in others if, if, if not through love? 

Kate: Yeah. Hope, possibility, and love. Hope, possibility, and love.


Matthew: I had another question, but instead I'm just going to leave it in this space, Kate, because, because hope possibility and love. I want, I want that to be what resonates. I'm so grateful that our paths intertwined once again. Um, I love the light that I see in you and that I see coming out of your books. And, um, I look forward to when our paths cross again.

And, um, I look forward to the readers that meet Ferris and. the relationship that those readers build with this world. 

Kate: Yeah, I see that light in you too, and I see that light even though I'm not looking at them and all your students, so will you tell them I said hello and that I believe in them?


Matthew: Thank you to Kate DiCamillo for joining me on The Children’s Book Podcast. 

You can pick up your own copy of Ferris wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through or by downloading the audiobook through You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.

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Be well. And read on.

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