Open Sesame: Must-Read YA Summer Novel

Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Raymie Nightingale: A Must-Read Summer Novel

The new middle-grade novel by beloved author, Kate DiCamillo, is the must-read novel of the summer. Creator of some of the best stories for children including, Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick, 2003), and Flora & Ulysses (Candlewick, 2013), she is also a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and two-time winner of the Newberry Medal. With her newest work, Raymie Nightingale, DiCamillo gives the world a radiant story with quirky, lovable characters that will make your heart sing.

Set in central Florida in 1975, the book opens on a disastrous baton twirling class, where we meet three girls. Sensitive ten-year-old Raymie Clarke is full of both worry and wonder. Her father has run away with a dental hygienist, and Raymie plans to twirl her way into winning the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, so when her father sees her victorious picture in the paper he will be compelled to come back home.

Frail and dreamy Louisiana Elefante, who has a flair for barrettes and dramatic expression, claims to be the daughter of the famous Flying Elefantes. Living with her grandmother on the edge of economic despair, she knows winning the prize money means more than electricity, it means staying out of the county home. Tough and blunt Beverly Tapinski carries a pocketknife and can twirl a baton with ease and skill. Her motivation for being in the contest is to sabotage the competition completely.

As they get to know each other over a summer of baton twirling and misadventures, the girls go from competitors to co-conspirators to best friends. Amidst the hilarious and heart-warming situations they find themselves in, are hard issues of abandonment, betrayal, and loss. But through the bonds of trust and friendship, the girls find strength, self-reliance, courage, and hope. And sweet Raymie – in all her honest yearnings to understand the wonder and woe of the world, to feel her heart and soul expand – steps into her earnest ten-year-old power in the culminating scene. On a midnight rescue mission to save Louisiana’s cat, a mission that involves an animal shelter, a shopping cart, and a lifesaving technique that Raymie was trained for, the girls risk everything. Their mission goes horribly wrong. But by taking a chance on each other they find their own personal truths and even create a miracle.

The effortless flow of the story is built upon DiCamillo’s beautifully crafted prose. Simple language organized into short chapters with ample white space is perfect for early middle-grade readers. And while the prose is simple and straightforward, the complexity of emotions is not. This is a poignant story, and the clean, crisp writing reveals the yearnings, wishes, hopes, and fears of children making sense of a world where adults sometimes fail as parents, and parents sometimes fail as adults, a world where above all, love and compassion are the ultimate rescue mission. Though a work of fiction, DiCamillo has been quoted as saying that Raymie’s story is ”the true story of my heart.”  For more information about Kate DiCamillo and her magnificent stories, visit

  • Raymie Nightingale by Kate.DiCamillo. Published by Candlewick Press, 2016. 263 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-7636-8117-3


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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