Tag Archives: Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here, by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly Right HereNow that Buddy was dead, no one would care if Beverly Tapinski ran away from home. She hitched a ride to Tamaray Beach in her cousin Joe Travis Joy’s red Camaro and landed a job at Mr. C’s seafood restaurant, busing tables under the watchful eye of Freddie, who was only waitressing until her modeling career really took off. Beverly missed her dog so much that she was determined not to become attached to anyone ever again, but when elderly Iola Jenkins discovered that Beverly had no kin, she invited her into her pink trailer for a tuna melt in exchange for Beverly’s promise to drive Iola wherever she needed to go in her ancient Pontiac. Beverly was only fourteen, but she agreed. What else could she do? When she’d called her mother from the phone booth to tell her that she was okay, her mother had taken a long drag on her cigarette and said, “Whoop-de-do.”

Here, Kate DiCamillo completes the series of companion novels that she began in Raymie Nightingale and continued in Louisiana’s Way Home. These three Floridian girls may have heartbreaking circumstances in their lives, but the love and courage in their hearts propel them forward to create a new life wherever they can. Although Beverly strives to keep all the walls up around her fragile soul, she can’t help but fall for that acne-scourged boy at the checkout counter, the one who is poring over massive volumes of Renaissance art.

DiCamillo’s books explore the tenacity of the human spirit, especially in young people whose caregivers have failed them. We crave connection, and our scarred and vulnerable hearts still reach out in hope, even when our reason warns us to choose stoicism. As a children’s librarian, I have read almost all of DiCamillo’s works, and her delicate sense of humor in the midst of heartbreak glows through all of them. When I recall her many characters, from Despereaux to Flora to Beverly Tapinski, I can’t help but smile.

Highly recommended for 10 and up. All children should grow up with Kate DiCamillo.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo

louisiana's way home“The day of reckoning has arrived,” said Louisiana Elefante’s granny before she packed her in the car at 3 AM and headed away from their home in Florida. Somewhere near the Georgia state line, Granny started moaning and moved into the back seat, leaving twelve-year-old Louisiana to drive off the interstate and find a dentist in a strange town.

The problems all go back to the curse of sundering that Louisiana’s family has carried ever since her magician great-grandfather sawed her great-grandmother in half on stage and neglected to put her back together. Her trapeze-artist parents, the Flying Elefantes, died long ago in a tragic accident, and she and Granny have only one another to lean on. However, as Granny often tells her, she is wily and resourceful, and besides, she can sing.

Louisiana will need all of her resourcefulness, as well as that of her new friend, Burke Allen— son of Burke Allen, son of Burke Allen—to help her with the unexpected catastrophes that befall her in this delightful and tragic story. Readers may remember Louisiana from DiCamillo’s earlier novel, Raymie Nightingale (reviewed here), in which we learn that she is the winner of the Little Miss Central Florida Tire beauty pageant. Two years later, she is still taking her grandmother’s practical and somewhat devious advice, such as:

“It is best to smile. That is what Granny has told me my whole life. If you have to choose between smiling and not smiling, choose smiling. It fools people for a short time. It gives you an advantage.” (p. 11)

Kate DiCamillo is one of the most consistently excellent children’s authors living today. She turns out book after book for younger and older children, and all are instant classics. Her distinctive characters– from porcine wonders to heroic mice to diminutive beauty queens– are stalwart and brave, even when their circumstances are tragic. The dialogue is precocious, hilarious, and poignant. DiCamillo understands that children are rarely in control of their lives, but that there is enough love in the world to rescue all of us, if we can just find it—or give it.

Although Louisiana is twelve, this is a middle-grade novel, like its companion. It is not necessary to read Raymie Nightingale in order to enjoy Louisiana’s Way Home, but why would you deprive your child of the chance to read two Kate DiCamillo books?

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo

ImageFlora Belle Buckman’s mother wrote romance novels for a living. Flora did not believe in romance; she was a confirmed cynic. Her mantra was, “Do not hope; instead, observe,” a piece of advice she picked up from one of her favorite comics, Terrible Things Can Happen to You. Since her parents’ separation, Flora had preferred to live in a comic book world, where superheroes could fight off any villain and make the world alright again. Her mother did not approve of this at all, but then, Flora did not approve of her mother’s smug shepherdess lamp, either. One day, when Flora was upstairs reading The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!, her next-door neighbor’s new Ulysses 2000X vacuum cleaner ran amok and vacuumed up a squirrel. When the poor creature plopped out of the machine, minus a good deal of fur, he had been transformed into a superhero! Holy Bagumba!

Flora is sure that she and the squirrel are destined to have great adventures, and since her mother wants to get rid of Ulysses (named after the vacuum), she is revealed as his arch-nemesis. The neighbor, Tootie, and her loquacious great-nephew, William Spiver, become devoted Ulysses fans, particularly when Ulysses writes such lovely poetry on Mrs. Buckman’s typewriter. Ulysses accompanies Flora on her weekend visit with her dad, during which the squirrel hero runs into some trouble in a donut shop when he has to fly through the air in order to escape from a waitress with a Marie Antoinette hair-do. Unfortunately, his flight ends suddenly on a glass door. Cradling the bleeding squirrel, Flora asks for help from her dad’s neighbor, Dr. Meescham, who turns out to be a psychiatrist, not a medical doctor. However, she cares very much that they are all well-adjusted, and she feeds Flora and Ulysses jelly sandwiches, regaling them with stories of her childhood in Blundermeecen while they slide off her horsehair sofa. Everyone in this story is looking for love, a search that involves tromps through the woods, battles with evil cats, temporary blindness, hateful shepherdesses, and, most importantly, avoidance of sacks and shovels.

How is it that most of us put these squiggly black lines down on paper and they say things like “milk, eggs, toilet paper,” while Kate DiCamillo puts squiggly black lines on her paper (or screen) and they break your heart open? This book is a humorous children’s story, but it is written with such delicacy and poignancy that it takes on layers of meaning. Every character is quirky, but most are so endearing and vulnerable that we have to hope, and not just observe. The children are both precocious and use the sort of formal, vocabulary-test language that could become cute in a lesser writer’s hands, but neither their dialogue nor their sorrow ever turn into what Flora would disparagingly call “treacle.” Flora and William Spiver (never just William, and certainly not Billy) just need to know that their parents love them unconditionally.

The absence of parents, whether physically or emotionally, is a major theme in children’s literature, and I’m finding it in our award contenders this year more than ever. It’s always been around, as we can see from all of the stepmother stories through the ages, but the increasing number of children whose parents have divorced—whether they are living with stepparents or not—has perhaps made it more difficult for children to feel secure and cherished. Flora and William have both found ways to cope, to toughen their little hearts and deal with the world, but they are still children and therefore fragile.

At this point in my reading, Flora & Ulysses is my Newbery front-runner, and it will be very difficult to topple it from its peak. Admittedly, I am a DiCamillo fan, and The Tale of Despereaux was my favorite the year it won the Newbery, but she is truly a tremendously gifted writer. I was misty-eyed through much of the book, but there is one passage that concerns sardines on crackers that I had to immediately reread, put the book down, and sob. You’ll get it when you read it. I also wept at the end of the book. Furthermore—and not unimportantly— she even works in a scolding on the misuse of apostrophes, a rant that is always dear to my heart. So, just hand me that lovely gold medal and I’ll slap it on right now. I love this book.

Can I recommend it more highly? For children from 9 to 90.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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