More than 43 million copies of Ms. DiCamillo’s award-winning children’s books are in print — stories like “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” and “The Tale of Despereaux” and “The Tiger Rising” — and they are read-aloud favorites of teachers. It’s a fair bet that her books are on the shelves of every elementary and middle school in this country, including the classrooms where children have been executed by madmen. For Ms. DiCamillo, these massacres are deeply personal.
“We writers who write for kids offer our hearts in stories, and the kids offer their hearts in return; the teachers, when they read stories aloud, offer their hearts,” she wrote. “In this way, we bear witness to each other’s lives. It’s magical. And I am heartbroken that that magic could not save those kids, those teachers.”
This is not a political statement, and it is not a prescription for how to solve the problem of a country awash in guns and toxic resentment and groundless fears. This is a howl of grief, and I felt every word of it settling into my own shaken soul. Grief and fear are equally primitive emotions, but only grief can lead to any realistic hope for change that will keep our children and teachers safe.
In the usual way of social media, Ms. DiCamillo’s Facebook message is very short. I couldn’t help wondering if I were reading too much into it, imposing my own anguish on her simple post. So I called the author at her home in Minneapolis and asked. She answered by telling me a story:
“I was out walking late this morning, and some kids were running around a nearby elementary school as some kind of physical education thing. Two girls ran past me, and one girl said to the other girl, ‘That’s Kate DiCamillo.’ And then they both screamed, and they stopped, and they told every kid that came by. And one of the kids who going really fast, a boy, he stopped. And the girl said, ‘This is Kate DiCamillo,’ and he said, ‘Oh, Kate, hi, cool!’ and he hugged me.
“I worked so hard not to tear up when I was talking to them, but it made me cry when I was walking away. They were all about the same age as the kids would’ve been in Texas, and I thought, ‘I am so heartbroken.’
“And then I thought, ‘That’s my job: to stay heartbroken, to stay heartbroken about this.’”
Yes, there’s a place for fury here — a burn-the-whole-town-down fury at Washington’s continued inaction while American children are being blown to unrecognizable bits. But we need to take a cue from a master storyteller, too. We need to stay heartbroken about this.
We must study the photos of the beloveds we have lost, make ourselves look at the miniature caskets, learn the stories of brave children who should never have been called to heroism. We must speak to our leaders from a place of heart-wrenching, gut-churning, inconsolable grief. The endless policy discussions, the craven lobbying, the gun-industry talking points — all the brutal machinery of our gerrymandered, unrepresentative democracy — will grind on and grind past us unless we can make our feckless leaders taste our hot salt tears and hear our wails of pain. We need to make them feel our grief.