Last week, through the amazing generosity of Mr. John Schumacher (@MrSchuReads) and Margie Myers-Culver (@Loveofxena), I won a copy of Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. Within days of receiving notice on Twitter, I received my very own copy in the mail.
It didn't take me long to jump right into it with both feet. What a terrific book this is! This wasn't really a surprise since Kate DiCamillo is the author of so many wonderful books including Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. I knew that I was in for a treat.
"I'm too terrified to go on!" At the opening of this book, Louisiana Elefante utters these words right before she faints at Ida Nee's baton-twirling lesson. Those six words so succinctly state how all of us feel at one time or another. It's this universal emotional state that grabs ahold of the reader and sucks him or her back in time to the summer of 1975 and into the lives of these three girls: Raymie Clarke, Beverly Tapinski, and the aforementioned Louisiana Elefante.
Raymie Clarke's father left his family and went away with another woman, a dental hygienist. She believes that if she can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant, she would get her picture in the newspapers and her father would come back home. This is why she is attending the baton-twirling lessons.
In addition to the fainter, Louisiana, Raymie also becomes friends with Beverly. Beverly, the daughter of a police officer, doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. All three of these girls are planning to enter the contest.
As the story develops, Raymie decides that in order to have a good deed that she can include on her contest application, she would go to the Golden Glen Nursing Home and read to one of the residents. She chooses a book that was lent to her by her school librarian: A Bright and Shining Path: The Life of Florence Nightingale. The theme of being a guiding light and helping "those who have fallen on the battlefield of life" runs throughout the book.
I love the way that Raymie uses what she learns from the grown-ups in her life as her own "bright and shining path" to guide her. On her way to the nursing home she flexes her toes and isolates her objectives:
"Every day in Lifesaving 101, Mr. Staphopoulos had all the students stand on the dock and flex their toes and isolate their objectives. Mr. Staphopoulos believed that flexing your toes cleared your mind and that once your mind was clear, it was easy to isolate your objectives and figure out what to do next. For instance: save whoever was drowning." (p. 57-58)
What great advice! After reading that, I found myself flexing my toes and isolating my objectives at school and around the house.
The character development is masterfully achieved. As Raymie starts overcoming her fears and disappointments, she can sense the growth of her spirit. On one of the several occasions in which the characters are "getting the heck out of Dodge," Raymie starts laughing and then "something was happening to her. Her soul was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. She could feel it lifting her off the seat, almost." (p. 119)
One of the things that makes this story seem so true is that overcoming fears doesn't happen all at once. I appreciate that the book deals with the back and forth of this process.
On of my favorite quotes shows Raymie grappling with doubt and wondering why the world exists:
"What if every piece of dust was a planet, and what if every planet was full of people, and what if all the people on all the planets had souls and were just like Raymie - trying to flex their toes and make sense out of things and not really succeeding very much? It was a terrifying thought." (p. 151)
This book is full of humor, characters learning to trust each other and overcoming fears. I'm so grateful to have received a copy of this book. I'm very excited to take this book to school and share it with my students. And I know that as we're placing our orders for the next school year, I'm going to need several more copies of this book.
Make sure you have a box of tissues handy, as these girls will tug at your heartstrings!