“Raymie Nightingale” by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo Candlewick Press, 2016, 272 pgs
Raymie Clarke is a girl with a plan. A plan to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, which will get her picture in the paper. A plan to convince her father to leave the dental hygienist he has run off with and come back home. Like most plans in life, Raymie’s plan does not go as expected, but the journey that ensues is a story full of friendship, heartache, and courage.
In order to have a talent for the competition, ten-year-old Raymie enrolls in baton twirling lessons. This is where she meets Beverly Tapinski, the clever, no-nonsense daughter of a police officer, and Louisiana Elefante, the sweet and tender girl who claims her parents were circus performers who drowned. Raymie provides a middle ground between Beverly’s tough exterior and the naïve and sometimes clueless Louisiana. The three girls develop a close friendship, with Louisiana dubbing them The Three Rancheros. The girls have many adventures during the summer, including rescuing a library book about Florence Nightingale from a nursing home, lock picking, finding Louisiana’s lost cat, and exacting revenge. However, readers should not expect an action packed story. Much of the book is spent in Raymie’s mind, thinking about the past and the people who have had an impact on her life, like Mrs. Borkowski, her elderly neighbor, Mr. Staphopoulos, her swimming instructor from last summer, and Edward Option, the school librarian who realizes something about Raymie that she has yet to discover. Because so much time is spent exploring Raymie’s thoughts, she is the well-developed character, though the supporting cast is fleshed out enough to not feel flatly drawn.
Raymie Nightingale moves slowly like one might on a hot summer day. It might take readers a few chapters to become invested in the story, but once they get to know the three girls, it will be hard to turn away from their adventures. This book deals with heavy issues, including animal abuse, loss of a loved one, infidelity, death, and poverty, but these topics are handled in a tender and thoughtful way. Raymie Nightingale would best be suited for upper elementary readers at the youngest, but the truths in this book could be enjoyed by a much older audience. The book is set in 1975, but there is nothing in the story that makes it feel dated, and the themes of the story will surely resonate with today’s audiences.
Kate DiCamillo is an excellent author whose stories are full of heart. She has won the Newbery Medal, a medal given by the American Library Association for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” for her books The Tale of Despereaux in 2004 and Flora and Ulysses in 2014. She also served as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2014-2015. Her novels break the classifications as children’s books and offer wonderful stories for readers of all ages.
Raymie Nightingale, like the character of Raymie, is kind and thoughtful, and this is a book that is not to be missed.
Elizabeth Weislak works in the children’s department of the Mebane Public Library. She may be reached at 919-563-6431 or at eweislak@alamancelibraries.org