The word summertime signifies many things to many people. In thinking about its arrival it seems to always begin in the same way. It starts as a blank sheet of paper. Regardless of or in spite of plans and spontaneous opportunities, the stark emptiness fills with memories, some of which will last a lifetime.
The tiniest variable or larger influence can and will make a difference. Raymie Nightingale (Candlewick Press, April 12, 2016) written by Newbery Medalist (Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, September 24, 2013) Kate DiCamillo invites readers to participate in the transformative experience of three individuals. No one will be unchanged.
There were three of them, three girls.
They were standing side by side.
They were standing at attention.
This trio of ten-year-old girls is taking baton twirling lessons. It is the 5th day of June in 1975. Raymie Clarke, Beverly Tapinski and Louisiana Elefante all want to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest. Each one of them has very real reasons for participating.
Raymie's father, Jim Clarke, of Clarke Family Insurance has run away with a dental hygienist. If he sees Raymie's picture in the paper, surely he will come back. To avoid staying in the county home and to get Archie back from the Very Friendly Animal Center, Louisiana needs to win the one thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars. Sabotage is the only thing on Beverly's mind. In a flurry of is-this-really-happening activities these very different people come together like parts of a single heart.
It all begins with a requirement to do a good deed, a book about Florence Nightingale and the Golden Glen Nursing Home. Along the way a hand is held, screams are heard, a yellow bird finds freedom and Granny Elefante comes racing down the road in the family's rattletrap station wagon. It's time to get the heck out of Dodge. The wisdom of school librarian Mr. Option, a lifesaving coach, Mr. Staphopoulos and his sidekick, an eternal grinning Edgar, elderly Mrs. Borkowski and the insurance agency secretary Mrs. Sylvester is infinitely helpful.
A clandestine nighttime escapade increases their number. Swans, sinkholes and shopping carts swirl together, stirred by the hands of the Fates. The Rancheros are held together by hope...and a miracle.
There is richness to the writing of Kate DiCamillo. We feel wealthy from the reading of her words. Her descriptions of things we might not notice, those things we should notice and of everyday life with its too-much-sometimes sadness are overflowing with hope; the flame that can shrink to a tiny flicker or swell to a blazing inferno. When we see the world through the eyes of her characters' lives we become better people.
Each of the three main characters comes to this improbable friendship with talents and troubles. Their strengths, the best part of each of them, are revealed in the events, Raymie's thoughts and their conversations. Rough and tumble Beverly, imaginative, ethereal and optimistic Louisiana and shy, careful and ultimately courageous Raymie are exactly what each of them needs to create an unbreakable bond.
The secondary characters, especially Granny, are wonderfully marvelous. Her energy, sense of adventure and creativity in the face of huge obstacles generate promise as well as providing the story with comic relief. It's as if there are small stories all around the three girls (us) which contribute to their much larger story.
This narrative unfolds through DiCamillo's short chapters, beginning and ending with moments moving us forward as quickly as possible. We have to know what will happen. We have come to feel great affection for these three girls. Here are only a few of my many marked passages.
The sun was way, way up in the sky, and the whole thing was like high noon in a Western. But it was not a Western; it was baton-twirling lessons at Ida Nee's house in Ida Nee's backyard.
"Oh, my goodness," said Louisiana. "I'm just all filled up with feather and regrets. And fears. I have a lot of fears."
She stood there staring at both of them. Her eyes were dark. They were brown. No, they were black, and they were set very deep in her fact. She blinked. "I've got a question for you," she said. "Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on you?"
Raymie didn't even have to think about the answer to this question. "Yes," she said.
"Duh," said Beverly.
"It's terrifying, isn't it?" said Louisiana.
The three of them stood there looking at one another.
Raymie felt something expanding inside of her. It felt like a gigantic tent billowing out.
This, Raymie knew, was her soul.
They were going very, very fast, and the car emitted a lot of noises: screeches (from the piece of loose wood siding), thumps (from the door that would not stay closed), and a cacophony of mechanical grinding noises---the overworked and desperate sounds an engine makes when it has been pushed beyond its limits.
I've finished Raymie Nightingale written by Kate DiCamillo for the second time. With each reading it gets better; the sign of a classic. This is a book to cherish. This is a book to read aloud. Her characters resonate with readers, bringing all our lives into perspective. It is love which defines and binds us.
To learn more about Kate DiCamillo and her other books, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. At the publisher's website you can read the first five chapters, download an Event Kit loaded with activities, download a Teachers' Guide, and a Book Group Discussion Guide. At another site you can lesson to an audio clip. Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries, John Schumacher, chats with Kate DiCamillo on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read. Kate DiCamillo is interviewed about this title at NPR All Things Considered, Public Libraries Online, and BuzzFeed Books. Enjoy the videos.