In the past two days, I've read two of Kate DiCamillo's kid books and the one pictured to the left is fabulous.
There are appealing characters who are remarkably complex especially when you take into account the economy of the writing. But the prose isn't simplistic in the least and does not talk down to kids. The author uses words like "perfidy" and tells you if you don't know the word to go look it up. And the plot moves along quickly but also knows when to slow down so that the experience of reading it isn't breathless.
The illustrations, by Timothy Basil Ering, are also beautiful. I can't say I'm the greatest fan of having illustrations in books that aren't strictly "picture books" because often they don't jibe with the prose (I read a horrible edition of some Trollope novels last year which had the most hideous illustrations and completely ruined the spell the prose would cast) . But Ering renders DiCamillo's story perfectly; it is a treat to turn the page and see one of his beautiful, smoky drawings.
I also read DiCamillo's first book, Because of Winn-Dixie. It was ok. The southern voices were done well and again, there was an economy to the story, nothing superfluous or excessive. But I can't say that I found the plot or characters that interesting. I'll definitely be reading The Tale of Despereaux to my kids (I think Ian is almost ready for it) but I doubt I'll read them Winn-Dixie.
DiCamillo's books might be directed at a slightly younger audience than I have been craving so next up I'm going to revisit a favorite children's author: Joan Aiken. I loved her book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase when I was a kid--I must of read it 10 times. It turns out that this book was the first in a series dubbed The Wolves Chronicles so I checked out the next book in the series Black Hearts in Battersea. I am hoping that a re-read of Wolves and this next book turn out to be as good as I remember. I just noticed that Nixie Knox has Wolves on her recommended books side bar and since I like (or, let's be honest here, love with an unreasonable passion) many of the other books on her side bar, maybe my adolescent self had decent taste (in books at least) after all.