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Sad Stories, Happy Endings

Author Kate DiCamillo is known for writing realistic stories with extraordinary poignancy. Her books are both funny and sad, and her characters often face difficult issues like poverty and loss and touch a chord with both children and parents.

The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm reported Monday that DiCamillo's books have sold more than 7 million copies. Her latest, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," recently debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. Last year, her novel "Because of Winn-Dixie" was made into a movie.

All this success did not come easy. DiCamillo spent six years counting rejection letters — 470, to be exact, before her luck turned. "I like to say it all the time: 470. And at that point you might think, 'Maybe this isn't the job for me,'" she told Storm (video).

Instead, she kept pushing — and today, four of her books have been best-sellers. She tends to use animals for characters, such as, in her latest book, a china rabbit named Edward. Storm's daughter Hannah, 9, is such a big fan of DiCamillo's books that she helped to interview the author, asking how she comes up with the different kinds of animals she uses for characters.

"I never sit down and pick one. It's more like they pop into my head. The pig, Mercy, popped into my head. The dog, Winn-Dixie, came because dogs are my favorite animals," she said, adding that animals help her tell stories about how hard life can be for people.

"It diffuses things in a way," she explained. "Just like with [the character Edward Tulane], where there's so much raw emotion there. And to have it in an animal who's not even a real animal, makes it more palatable, I think."

DiCamillo's books tend to explore painful issues, as in "Because of Winn-Dixie," which is about a girl who has been abandoned by her alcoholic mother. In "The Tiger Rising," a boy has to deal with the death of a parent. The author experienced her own difficulties during childhood. For the first five years of her life she fought pneumonia. Later, when her mother moved the family to Florida, her father never came to join them.

"It's funny sometimes because I think that if that didn't happen I might not tell stories, if I hadn't been sick, and if he hadn't gone missing," DiCamillo told Storm. "There's no way that you're going to get through this life without going through bad things, I don't think. And it makes you deeper and wiser. And it makes life richer when you go through those things even though you don't necessarily want to go through them, you come out the other side of them better."

Although there is lots of hardship along the way, things turn out well for DiCamillo's characters. "I like happy endings, and I know that's where I want to end up. I don't know how it's going to happen, but I know that's where I want to go, and I know bad things will happen along the way but I'm always shooting for a happy place," she said.

DiCamillo's fans will be happy to learn that there are plans to make two more of her books into movies, and the author told Storm that she's working on several new stories.

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