Raymie Clarke’s father left town with a dental hygienist. Raymie is sure that if she wins Little Miss Central Florida Tire, her father will come home to her and her mother. In order to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire though, Raymie needs to learn how to twirl a baton and its at her baton twirling lessons where Raymie meets two other girls hoping to win Little Miss Central Florida Tire: whimsical Louisiana Elefante and saboteur Beverly Tapinski. Over the course of the summer, the three girls bond over the sadness in each of their lives.
In my opinion, the best way to talk about RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE is to pretend that Kate DiCamillo didn’t write it. That way, bias can be set aside. DiCamillo has a well-earned following. THE TIGER RISING and BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE are widely studied in elementary classrooms across the country. She has multiple Newbery Medals and Honors to her name. She’s a talented wordsmith and storyteller. But does that mean RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE is any good?
When you discover that you are not the ideal reader for a book, it seems a little unfair to continue reading it with a critical eye. DiCamillo’s fans will undoubtedly adore this book. I can’t say that I did. Maybe it’s because I keep trying to imagine Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly in my 5th grade classroom. I can’t imagine them fitting in socially with many other kids. This is why they are drawn to each other. They are equally quirky and desperate. Sure, the friendship they form is sweet, but it’s also clunky and convenient. Their lives are filled with sadness and the resolution of the story brings no real closure to their glum situations. They call themselves the “Three Rancheros,” but I’m not sure if they actually like each other, or if they are just forced to because they have no one else.
This was probably DiCamillo’s point, and if the plot of this story would not have been so thin I could have forgiven the similarly drawn characters, but events transpire for the sake of the story and not in a genuine fashion. I found myself caring for the characters only because they were drawn so sad and not because of their development or depth.
There is no question that DiCamillo is one of the best, but this sad little story of convenient friendship doesn't compare to her other accomplished work.