Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, reviewed by Pauline Francis

Wednesday, 1 February, 2017

I decided that it was time to leave my comfort zone for this review. I’ve been choosing books that are either the same genre as my own, or books that I wish I’d written because they chime with me. That’s how most people choose their books, isn’t it? When I was a librarian, some pupils went away empty-handed because they wouldn’t choose a new writer or genre. Nothing would persuade them.

Choosing books is like making friends. It needs time and trust – as Raymie Nightingale found out.

I don’t know why I wasn’t initially attracted to this book, although the title intrigued me. I knew that Kate DiCamillo had been the National Ambassador for Young Children’s Literature. I knew that she had been short-listed for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Yet I did have to persuade myself to choose it.

The first few chapters did not engage me. However, in Chapter Five, a Mrs Borkowski says that most people waste their souls – they let them shrivel up.

I was hooked.

Raymie Clarke, aged ten, has lost her father. Two days before, he had run away with a dental hygienist. Raymie has a plan: she will become the Little Miss Central Florida Tire (baton twirler) so that her father will read about her in the newspaper and come home.

Raymie meets Louisiana and Beverley at her baton classes. The three girls (they call themselves the Three Rancheros) come together in an unlikely friendship, based on loss and loneliness. They search for a lost library book about Florence Nightingale and a lost dog called Archie. They meet compelling older characters along the way, such as the philosophical Mrs Borkowski. There’s a completely clever touch in the telephone calls Raymie makes to her father’s insurance company. She loves hearing the secretary, Mrs Sylvester, say “Clarke Family Insurance. How may we protect you?”

Advice rains down on the girls.  Fear is a waste of time.  The trick is to keep moving. It will all work out right in the end.

Raymie, in time, learns the most valuable lesson of all:  “The world – unbelievably, inexplicably – went on.”

She doesn’t need her baton twirling competition. She makes it into the newspaper for a far more compelling reason, which brings her father to the telephone - but Raymie finds that she has very little to say to him.

This novel is narrated in the third person, in fifty-one short chapters, using simple words to deal very cleverly with complex questions.

I enjoyed the humour and the hope of this book. I enjoyed feeling Raymie’s soul expand and I hope that mine has, too, by leaving my comfort zone.

Isn’t that what reading is all about?

Pauline Francis


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