Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

It's 1975 and introvert Raymie Clarke, 10, needs to learn how to twirl a baton. Raymie is convinced that if she can win the Little Miss Central Florida General Tire competition, her father will come back home after seeing her winning picture in the newspaper. Her father, owner of Clarke Family Insurance, has run away with a dental hygienist and now her depressed mother just sits and stares.

Showing up at the home of former twirling champion Ida Nee's for lessons, Raymie meets jaded tough girl, not afraid of anything Beverly Tapinski, and orphaned, optimistic Louisiana Elefante, a girl with "swampy lungs" and whose parents were trapeze artists called The Flying Elefantes. Both girls are also entering the competition, Beverly's plan is to sabotage it; Louisiana's plan is to win the $1,975.00 prize money that she and her grandmother so desperately need.

That afternoon, after a first disastrous baton twirling lesson, Raymie realizes she has to do a good deed in order to enter the competition. Her father's secretary, whom Raymie has taken to calling now that both parents are unavailable, suggests she read to the elderly. Choosing a book about Florence Nightingale, Raymie heads off to the Golden Glen Nursing Home, helps a cantankerous patient named Isabelle write a complaint letter, and loses her book under the bed of a sick patient. Since it is a library book, Raymie knows she must get it back, but how? Beverly "fear is a big waste of time. I'm not afraid of anything" Tapinski, of course.

The next day, at yet another disastrous lesson, Beverly is up for the library book retrieval challenge, but Louisiana wants to be included. By now, she has dubbed the three of them the Three Rancheros, "bound to each other through think and thin" and always willing to rescue one another.

Over the course of the next few days, the Three Rancheros go on a series of adventures and misadventures together. Besides the library book escapade, they steal one of Ida Nee's batons, and search for Louisiana's cat at a shelter in the middle of the night, a rescue that doesn't go quite according to plan. In the end, though, their newly formed friendship is solidified in an incident where the girls must rely on the each other to avoid disaster.

We have been reading a lot of Kate DiCamillo books this summer and it provided me with a chance to re-read Raymie Nightingale. As always, the second time around, was such a richly rewarding experience. There is a lot going on in the otherwise kind of laid back story,

The Three Rancheros couldn't be more different. Each has strengths and vulnerabilities that reveal themselves over the course of the novel, as readers discover why each one is grieving their loss of childhood's innocence and the trust they had in those who job was to care for them, instead forcing them to deal with feelings of abandonment, and of being neglected and abused.

Besides Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana, DiCamillo has populated Raymie Nightingale with a cast of some very quirky characters, each of whom have an impact on Raymie's life. There is Mrs. Sylvester, the secretary who thinks all problems can be made better with candy corn; the neighbor Mrs. Borokowski, who sits in a lawn chair in the middle of the road, and who, even in death, provides Raymie with wisdom, and my personal favorite Mr. Stapholous and his drowning dummy Edgar, who has moved away but not before he taught Raymie life saving, how to isolate her objectives, and that she is indeed a problem-solver. And then there is Raymie's soul, which alternately expands and shrinks depending in the situation she finds herself in.

Raymie Nightingale is a well-crafted, beautifully written early coming of age  novel that explores themes of loss, friendship, courage, rescue, and hope. Not everything works out for them, but as the Three Rancheros, Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana so learn to trust each other and in doing so, they manage to find themselves and their own truths.

Book Group Discussion Guide is available to download from the publisher, Candlewick Press

There is also an Activity Kit available to download from Candlewick Press that includes reproducible activity sheets, interactive projects and crafts, and suggestions for doing good deeds.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Candlewick Press

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