A landscape spattered with books and tea cups and whimsical characters from children's novels

Illustration by Vicki Ling / All Rights Reserved

This week's letter is written by Krista.

Dear Friends,

I sat for several hours writing and rewriting about what I learned from Kate DiCamillo that is not only helping me walk through this time, but that has helped me smile and laugh and cry a few necessary tears, too. I’ve been heading towards interviewing her for years, this wise and vivid and luminous human whose words and stories have accompanied so many classrooms and bedtimes across the last two decades. In the end, I’m deleting most of my own words and offering you below just one of the verbatim gifts from our conversation in this week's episode, which turns out to not only or really be about children. Each and every one of us is a former child. There is wisdom and there are capacities that we strangely relinquish when we “advance” to adulthood, and that we have never needed more than now: to hold the mysterious reality that wonder and danger, heartbreak and hope, live so vivid and close, side by side in this life. And to walk with eyes wide open to both. 

Kate wrote this letter years ago to another writer in response to his question about whether it is our job to tell children (read: ourselves) the truth of the harshness of reality or to preserve their innocence. This was never widely published or circulated, and I can not recommend highly enough that you listen to this week's show and hear Kate read this — and impart so much more — in her own voice.

Here’s a question for you: Have you ever asked an auditorium full of kids if they know and love Charlotte’s Web? In my experience, almost all of the hands go up. And if you ask them how many of them cried when they read it, most of those hands unabashedly stay aloft.

My childhood best friend read Charlotte’s Web over and over again as a kid. She would read the last page, turn the book over, and begin again. A few years ago, I asked her why.

“What was it that made you read and reread that book?” I asked her. “Did you think that if you read it again, things would turn out differently, better? That Charlotte wouldn’t die?”

“No,” she said. “It wasn’t that. I kept reading it not because I wanted it to turn out differently or thought that it would turn out differently, but because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to turn out differently. I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen, and I also knew that it was going to be okay somehow. I thought that I couldn’t bear it, but then when I read it again, it was all so beautiful. And I found out that I could bear it. 

That was what the story told me. That was what I needed to hear. That I could bear it somehow.”

So that’s the question, I guess, for you and for me and for all of us trying to do this sacred task of telling stories for the young: How do we tell the truth and make that truth bearable?

When I talk to kids in schools, I tell them about how I became a writer. I talk about myself as a child and how my father left the family when I was very young. Four years ago, I was in South Dakota, in this massive auditorium, talking to 900 kids, and I did what I always do: I told them about being sick all the time as a kid and about my father leaving. And then I talked to them about wanting to write. I talked to them about persisting.

During the Q&A, a boy asked me if I thought I would have been a writer if I hadn’t been sick all the time as a kid and if my father hadn’t left. And I said something along the lines of “I think there is a very good chance that I wouldn’t be standing in front of you today if those things hadn’t happened to me.” Later, a girl raised her hand and said, “It turns out that in the end you were stronger than you thought you were.”

When the kids left the auditorium, I stood at the door and talked with them as they walked past. One boy — skinny-legged and blond-haired — grabbed my hand and said, “I’m here in South Dakota and my dad is in California.” He flung his free hand out in the direction of California. He said, “He’s there and I’m here with my mom. And I thought I might not be okay. But you said today that you’re okay. And so I think that I will be okay, too.”

What could I do?

I tried not to cry. I kept hold of his hand.

I looked him in the eye.

I said, “You will be okay. You are okay. It’s just like that other kid said: you’re stronger than you know.”

I felt so connected to that child. 

I think we both felt seen.

My favorite lines of Charlotte’s Web, the lines that always make me cry, are toward the end of the book. They go like this: “These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, then the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur — this lovely world, these precious days…”

I have tried for a long time to figure out how E. B. White did what he did, how he told the truth and made it bearable.

And I think that you, with your beautiful book about love, won’t be surprised to learn that the only answer I could come up with was love. E. B. White loved the world. And in loving the world, he told the truth about it — its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we were not alone.

I think our job is to trust our readers.

I think our job is to see and to let ourselves be seen.

I think our job is to love the world.

I asked Kate to share this letter because I’m so impatient with language about the children in our midst as a “lost generation.” Somehow, though, it speaks to the present lostness in all of us, and the kinds of orientation by which we might again experience ourselves found.





Tune in


On Being with Krista Tippett
Kate DiCamillo
For the Eight-Year-Old in You

On bearing wonder and heartbreak side by side in this life. The everyday magic of reading. The redemption of animals. The making of capacious hearts.

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Events with Krista Coming Up





Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing

6pm CT / 7pm ET

Virtual Event

For the first time, this beloved and biennial gathering is fully virtual. Register to attend a lively array of conversations between readers and writers, March 21-24. Krista interviews the journalist and lawyer Min Jin Lee, author of two widely-acclaimed books, Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko.





Company of Grace 2022

7pm CT / 8pm ET

Virtual Event

Join an evening of dialogue with Krista and the Ignatian Spirituality Project, exploring the cannonballs and crossroads in our lives, what recovery looks like, and the role of companions along the road. Register and tune in to this annual event.





This Here Flesh

4pm CT / 5pm ET

Virtual Event

Krista joins Cole Arthur Riley for a conversation on spirituality and liberation, hosted by our Minneapolis neighbors, Moon Palace Books and New City Church. Cole Arthur Riley is author of This Here Flesh, and creator of “Black Liturgies,” a space for Black spiritual words of liberation, lament, rage, and rest. She serves as Executive Curator of The Center for Dignity and Contemplation.



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