Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, 2016
Children’s novel for grades 3-6; Historical fiction
At her first baton twirling lesson, Raymie Clarke meets Beverly Tapinksi and Louisiana Elefante. All three of them have a plan regarding the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. Raymie wants to win so that her father, who left with a dental hygienist, will see her picture in the paper and come back. Louisiana wants to win because she and her grandmother need the prize money. And Beverly wants to sabotage the competition. The three girls become friends and share a series of adventures, including retrieving a book that Raymie left at the nursing home, having a tuna-fish feast at Louisiana’s home, and attempting to get Louisiana’s cat Archie back from the Very Friendly Animal Center.
I have been eagerly awaiting this book for some months, because Kate DiCamillo is a two-time Newbery award winner and because I have heard much speculation that this book might win her a third Newbery. The plot summary that I’d read sounded a little cliché, so I was glad when the book wasn’t at all what I expected. Baton twirling and pageantry play a very small part in the plot. What Raymie Nightingale is really about is adventure, friendship, and self-discovery through interactions with other people. In addition to her experiences with her two new friends, Raymie is influenced by all the adults who play a role in the book. That’s probably my favorite thing about the story. It features a cast of bizarre and memorable characters and a fairly normal protagonist, but the reader can see how each of the other characters influences her and teaches her something.
It’s a little hard to fit Raymie Nightingale into a genre. It’s almost but not quite realistic fiction; some of the characters are a bit exaggerated and unbelievable if this was to be classified as realistic fiction. But it doesn’t fall into any other genre except technically historical fiction. It takes place in 1975 and is loosely based on the author’s childhood.
Do I think that this book will win the Newbery? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s a bit early in the year for that kind of speculation. But I do think it’s a great book. I would recommend it to any middle-grader looking for a light-hearted but substantial summer read.