“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
‘What? You, too? I thought I was the only one.'”–CS Lewis
Review and Comments
Raymie Clarke’s father has left her family for a dental hygienist, but she has a plan to bring him home. She will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, he will see her picture in the paper, and he will come home. All she has to do is learn how to twirl a baton.
It is in her incredibly awkward baton twirling class that Raymie meets her two greatest friends, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Though each girl has different motives for wanting to learn to twirl a baton and join the contest, they realize that they all care about each other very much, and their very different personalities don’t stop them from having a few adventures together.
Each character is described in such wonderful detail that they seem as though they could exist in real life. Raymie often speaks of her soul and how it shrinks when she feels threatened or guilty or sad. She shares past experiences that all come together at the end when she is able to save one of her friends from a great tragedy. But most importantly, Raymie’s heartbreak about her father leaving and her effort to try to bring him home are incredibly realistic for a young person. Her grief is palpable.
Louisiana and Beverly are also described beautifully. Louisiana’s life seems a mess, but her underlying joy and love for others is contagious. She sees beauty in everyone and she is unafraid to speak her mind and be herself. Beverly has deep wounds. As an adult reading the novel, it is obvious there is little love from her mother, and she has animosity towards pretty much everyone because of that.
The story itself is mostly introspective on Raymie’s part. We walk with her through her sadness and confusion and ultimately acceptance that her father is not coming back. She is able to find strength through her friends. They each bring truth to Raymie’s life and help her become a stronger and more resilient young woman.
I can’t get over how much I love Kate DiCamillo’s stories. Though this is the first I’ve reviewed on the blog, I’ve become quite a fan of her writing and I’m on a bit of a kick with her. I feel as though her writing is at a high enough level for good readers to find a stepping stone to higher literature. Her perspectives and descriptions are warm despite the harsh realities her characters endure.
I recommend this book to OLDER elementary readers and middle-schoolers. Though the book is advised for 4-8th graders, I’d err on the side of caution and wait until kids have a certain maturity so they can appreciate all that Raymie deals with.
Points of Concern
- Raymie’s father runs away with a dental hygienist and has no plans to return to the family. This may be particularly difficult for some children to read.
- Louisiana’s grandmother is quite unique and seems to suffer from delusions.
- Beverly comes to baton twirling class with a bruised face and chipped tooth, probably from her mother.
- The baton twirling teacher is abusive as well and seems to be an alcoholic.
- SPOILER: One of the girls almost drowns.
- Raymie’s mother is described as just sitting there and staring off into space after her husband leaves. This may be sensitive for some children to read.
- The girls break into an animal shelter because they hear a dog wailing. This may be hard for someone who has lost a pet recently.
- Raymie often speaks of her soul shrinking and/or growing as things happen throughout the novel. Have you ever felt that a part of you shrinks and grows when things happen?
- How do the girls help each other emotionally throughout the story?
- How does Raymie change from the beginning of the story to the end?
- What do you think will happen to each of the girls?
- How has each girl’s situation formed them into the girls they are?
General Teaching Resources
Kate DiCamillo has exceptional voice in her writing. Use these lessons to help discuss “voice”.
- Review ‘voice’ in literature and in your own writing by using ideas from Education World.
- Use this lesson plan from Scholastic to help with “voice” in your writing.
- Use this lesson from Learning Lab to analyze “voice” in literature.
Here are some great resources for teaching the novel to your students.
- From TeachingBooks.net you’ll find quite a few helpful links.
- Use these ideas from Teaching and Technology Ideas.
Watch and interview with Kate DiCamillo as she discusses Raymie Nightingale.
- Read any of these blog posts about holy relationships from Lifeteen.com.
- Read this blog post about authentic friendship from Lifeteen.com.
- Say this prayer for a holy friendship: (It can be found here)
A Prayer for Friendship
Dear Lord, teach me to love others the way you first loved me. As I build relationships with others, let them see you in the extent of my generosity, the authenticity of my kindness, and the depths of my love. All of those things are only possible through you, the God who abides with me and calls me friend. Amen.
- Learn about these “Sixteen Pairs of Catholic Saints who were Friends IRL”
- Reflect: Do you have good and holy friends who will bring you closer to God? Do you lead your friends to God?
Raymie Nightingale is the first of the set of three novels that each tell the story of one of the girls. Louisiana’s Way Home is the second novel. Our review of that novel will be available shortly!