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“The True Story of My Heart”– Kate DiCamillo Talks friendship, summer reading, and “Raymie Nightingale”

by Brendan Dowling on May 17, 2016

Kate DiCamillo has been a favorite of young adult readers since the publication of her first novel, Because of Winn Dixie. That book was named a Newbery Honor book in 2001, while her later books The Tale of Desperaux and Flora and Ulysses both won the Newbery Award. Her most recent work, Raymie Nightingale, is sure to be similarly embraced by fans and critics alike. Focused on a trio of ten year-old girls who–for very different reasons–have all entered the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, Raymie Nightingale follows the girls’ exploits through baton-twirling classes, an animal shelter break-in, and a reconnaissance mission at a nursing home. At its heart is the title character, who leaps off the page with her resilience and ingenuity. Brendan Dowling spoke to Kate DiCamillo via email on May 9th, 2016.

Public Libraries Online: You’ve referred to this book as “the absolute true story of my heart.” What did you mean by that?

Kate DiCamillo: This book has certain autobiographical elements.  It is set in Central Florida in the mid-seventies, and I grew up in Central Florida in the mid-seventies.  My father left the family when I was a kid and Raymie’s father has left the family.  So there are those truths.  The story itself is fictional.  But it tells the emotional truth: of loss and friendship and faith and hope.  And that is the true story of my heart.

PLO: You’ve written characters in the similar age range as the girls in Raymie Nightingale, but this is the first time you’ve written explicitly about the friendships among pre-teen girls. What was it like to explore the dynamics of these relationships?

KD: I have been so fortunate (as a kid and as an adult) to have deep, abiding friendships that have sustained me.  It was wonderful to capture that on the page, to pay tribute to those friendships.

PLO: While Raymie Nightingale is heartwarming and very funny, it deals frankly with topics like abandonment, domestic violence, death, and foster care. What was the challenge of balancing the story’s darker topics with its light tone?

KD: I didn’t think too much about that balance . . . maybe because that balance is part of how I see the world.  Like Raymie, I see the darkness, but I’m also deeply, passionately hopeful.  And I think things are funny.

"Raymie Nightingale" Cover Art

PLO: This novel  evokes what it was like to grow up in the 1970s–the girls enjoy a largely unmonitored existence, they take baton-twirling classes, and they get transported around town in a wood-paneled station wagon that would probably fail modern emissions tests. What attracted you to set a story in this time period?

KD: I think that I went back to the time when I was a kid without making a conscious decision.  Raymie is so much like I was as a kid, that I just instinctually went back to *when* I was a kid.

PLO: As part of your role as National Summer Reading Champion for the Collaborative Summer Library Program, you put together a list of “Kate DiCamillo’s Recommended Reads for Summer 2016.” For you, what kind of book provides the ideal summer reading experience?

KD: Oh, I love books that you can get lost in, books that foster hope, and books that help me to see the world better.

PLO: What are your memories of summer reading programs?

KD: I went to the summer reading program at Cooper Memorial Public Library in Clermont, Florida every summer.  I couldn’t believe that I was going to get prizes for doing exactly what I wanted to be doing which was reading.

PLO: Librarians play key roles in your books, both with Miss Franny Block in Because of Winn Dixie and Edward Option in Raymie Nigthingale. What has your relationship with libraries and librarians been like through your life?

KD: Librarians throughout my life have consistently seen me for who I am: a passionate reader.  I feel seen in libraries.  And I feel safe.  It is a wondrous thing.

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