Raymie Clarke’s father has left town with a dental hygienist, and she is convinced that if she wins the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, he will see her picture in the newspaper and want to come back. To that end, she has decided that she has to take baton-twirling lessons from Ida Nee, who is famous and has an office covered with baton-twirling trophies. When she arrives at her first lesson, Raymie meets Louisiana Elefante, daughter of the Flying Elefantes, who has “swampy lungs” and faints at the slightest provocation, and Beverly Tapinski, one tough little chick who refuses to answer questions about the bruise on her eye. These two become Raymie’s best friends, the “Three Rancheros,” who set out to do great deeds, such as to recover Raymie’s library book about Florence Nightingale and save Louisiana’s cat from an animal shelter.
Kate DiCamillo is such a decorated middle-grade author that her books become classics as the letters leave her fingers for the screen. Her pitch-perfect language and her ability to write lightly and humorously while dealing with deep, painful issues show her grasp of her young audience, acknowledging their struggles without overwhelming them with adult expectations. Raymie is at an age where the adults in her life have tremendous influence, and she literally sits at the feet of her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Borkowski, and follows the advice of her swimming instructor to “flex your toes and isolate your objectives.” As an earnest young lady, she does the very best she can—even though that is sometimes not what she thought it should be—but Raymie eventually learns that she cannot control everything that happens in her life, and even more importantly, that she is not responsible for other people’s decisions, and she may never understand them. A moving, semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story that is a joy to read.
Very highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.