The Tale of Despereaux author Kate DiCamillo's upcoming book: Exclusive excerpt
Kate DiCamillo, the two-time Newbery Medal winning author of The Tale of Despereaux, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, and Because of Winn-Dixie, will release her seventh major novel — Raymie Nightingale — with Candlewick Press on April 12, 2016, EW can announce exclusively.
Raymie Nightingale centers on a spunky 10-year-old named Raymie Clarke, whose father has just run away with a local dental hygienist. Raymie realizes that it’s up to her to get him back, so she concocts a plan: She’ll win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then once her father sees her photo in the paper, he’ll come home. But can she deal with the pressures of baton-twirling and new friends like Louisiana Elefante, who has a background in show-biz, and Beverly Tapinski, who has her own plan to sabotage the entire contest.
DiCamillo tells EW that her initial idea stemmed from the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a funny book about all those Little Miss contests that were around when I was a kid,” she says. “I was in one of them and failed spectacularly. But then it’s like, ‘Why does she want to be in this contest?’ She wants to get her dad back. And then it turned into something different than I thought it would be.”
Raymie and DiCamillo share a childhood memory: DiCamillo’s father also left her family in the mid-70s, while they were living in Central Florida. “I guess it is [autobiographical],” she says, “Although I wasn’t thinking that when I was doing it. I was more like, ‘Let me tell this story right.’ But when you’re done with something you think, ‘I have some distance, and I can start to see what I’m doing.'”
Another possible inspiration for Raymie’s story? Beverly Cleary’s classic tales of Ramona Quimby and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. “I loved Ramona so much,” DiCamillo says. “Beverly Cleary was certainly very much on my mind when I started.” Inspirations like this, she says, often seep in subconsciously, which might be why she ended up naming Raymie’s pal Beverly. “I also grew up with a Beverly next door to me, who’s very different [from the character], but that name ‘Beverly’ sounds like childhood to me.”
DiCamillo is an animal-lover — during our phone call, her dog Henry is as chatty as a dog can be — but Raymie Nightingale might be her first book without an animal on the cover, or as a main character. Fans of DiCamillo’s creatures shouldn’t be dismayed, however: “Something shows up,” she allows. “Let’s just say that.”
While the writing process helped DiCamillo grapple with her memories, she learned something else about herself, too: “I’ve always known this, but I saw it even more deeply by the time I was done with [the book]: How much I have relied on my friends, and how much my friendships have saved me.”
Below, EW presents an exclusive excerpt from Raymie Nightingale:
“They seem like criminals to me,” said Beverly. “That girl and her almost-invisible granny. They remind me of Bonnie and Clyde.”
Raymie nodded, even though Louisiana and her grandmother did not remind her of anyone else she had ever seen or heard of.
“Do you even know who Bonnie and Clyde were?” asked Beverly.
“Bank robbers?” said Raymie.
“That’s right,” said Beverly. “Criminals. Those two look like they could rob a bank. And what kind of name is Louisiana, anyway? Louisiana is the name of a state. It’s not what you call a person. That girl is probably operating under an assumed name. She’s probably running from the law. That’s why she seems so afraid in that rabbity kind of way. I tell you what: Fear is a big waste of time. I’m not afraid of anything.”
Beverly threw her baton up high in the air and caught it with a professional snap of her wrist.
Raymie felt her heart clench in disbelief.
“You already know how to twirl a baton,” she said.
“So what?” said Beverly.
“Why are you even taking lessons?”
“I guess that is exactly none of your business. Why are you taking lessons?”
“Because I need to win the contest.”
“I told you,” said Beverly, “there’s not going to be a contest. Not if I can help it. I’ve got all kinds of sabotaging skills. Right now, I’m reading a book on safecracking that was written by a criminal named J. Frederick Murphy. Ever heard of him?”
Raymie shook her head.
“Didn’t think so,” said Beverly. “My dad gave me the book. He knows all the criminal ways. I’m teaching myself how to crack a safe.”
“Isn’t your father a cop?” asked Raymie.
“Yeah,” said Beverly. “He is. What’s your point? I can already pick a lock. Have you ever picked a lock?”
“No,” said Raymie.
“Didn’t think so,” said Beverly again.
She threw the baton up in the air and caught it in her grubby hand. She made twirling a baton look easy and impossible at the same time.
It was terrible to behold.
Suddenly, everything seemed pointless.
Raymie’s plan to bring her father home wasn’t much of a plan at all. What was she doing? She didn’t know. She was alone, lost, cast adrift.
I’m sorry I betrayed you.
“Aren’t you afraid that you’ll get caught?” said Raymie to Beverly.
“I told you already,” said Beverly. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Nothing?” asked Raymie.
“Nothing,” said Beverly. She stared at Raymie so hard that her face changed. Her eyes glowed.
“Tell me a secret,” whispered Beverly.
“What?” said Raymie.
Beverly looked away from Raymie. She shrugged. She threw the baton up and caught it and then threw it back in the air again. And while the baton was suspended between the sky and the gravel, Beverly said, “I told you to tell me a
Beverly caught the baton. She looked at Raymie.
And who knows why?
Raymie told her.
She said, “My father ran away with a dental hygienist. He left in the middle of the night.”
This was not necessarily a secret, but the words were terrible and true and it hurt to say them.
“People are doing that pathetic kind of thing all the time,” said Beverly. “Creeping down hallways in the dark with their shoes in their hand, leaving without telling anyone good-bye.”
Raymie didn’t know if her father had crept down the hallway with his shoes in his hand, but he had certainly left without telling her good-bye. Considering this fact, she felt a pang of something. What was it? Outrage? Disbelief? Sorrow?
“It makes me really, really mad,” said Beverly.
She took her baton and started beating the rubber tip of it into the gravel of the driveway. Small rocks leaped up in the air, desperate to escape Beverly’s wrath.
Wham, wham, wham.
Beverly beat the gravel, and Raymie looked on in admiration and fear. She had never seen anyone so angry.
There was a lot of dust.
A car painted a brilliant, glittering blue appeared on the horizon and pulled into the driveway and coasted to a stop.
Beverly ignored the car.
She kept beating the gravel.
It didn’t look like she intended to stop until she had reduced the whole world to dust.
“Stop that!” shouted the woman behind the wheel of the car.
Beverly did not stop. She kept whamming away.
“I paid good money for that baton,” the woman said to Raymie. “Make her stop.”
“Me?” said Raymie.
“Yes, you,” said the woman. “Who else is standing here besides you? Get that baton away from her.”
The woman had green eye shadow on her eyelids and big, fake eyelashes and also a lot of rouge on her cheeks. But underneath the rouge and the eye shadow and the fake eyelashes, she looked very familiar. She looked like Beverly Tapinski, except older. And angrier. If that was possible.
“Why do I have to do everything?” said the woman.
This was the kind of question that had no answer, the kind of question that adults seemed to be overly fond of asking.
Before Raymie could even attempt some sort of response, the woman was out of the car and had hold of Beverly’s baton and was pulling on it and Beverly was pulling back.
More dust rose up in the air.
“Let go,” said Beverly.
“You let go,” said the woman, who was surely Beverly’s mother, even though she wasn’t really acting like a mother.
“Stop this nonsense immediately!”
This command issued from Ida Nee, who had appeared out of nowhere and who was standing in front of them with her white boots glowing and her baton stretched out in front of her like a sword. She looked like an avenging angel in a Sunday-school storybook.
Beverly and the woman stopped wrestling.
“What is going on here, Rhonda?” said Ida Nee.
“Nothing,” said the woman.
“Can’t you control your daughter?” said Ida Nee.
“She started it,” said Beverly.
“Get out of here, both of you,” said Ida Nee. She pointed her baton at the car. “And don’t come back until you can behave properly. You should be ashamed of yourself, Rhonda, a champion twirler like you.”
Beverly got in the back of the car, and her mother got in the front. They both slammed their doors at the same time.
“See you tomorrow,” said Raymie as the car pulled out of the driveway.
“Ha!” said Beverly. “You’re never going to see me again.”
For some reason, these words felt like a punch to the stomach. They felt like someone sneaking down a hallway in the middle of the night, carrying their shoes in their hand — leaving without saying good-bye.
Raymie turned away from the car and looked at Ida Nee, who shook her head, marched past Raymie, and went into her baton-twirling office (which was really just a garage) and closed the door.
Raymie’s soul was not a tent. It was not even a pebble.
Her soul, it seemed, had disappeared entirely.
After a long time, or what seemed like a long time, Raymie’s mother arrived.
“How were the lessons?” she asked when Raymie got in the car.
“Complicated,” said Raymie.
“Everything is complicated,” said her mother.
“I can’t even begin to imagine why you would want to learn how to twirl a baton. Last summer, it was the lifesaving lessons. This summer, it’s twirling. None of it makes any sense to me.”
Raymie looked down at the baton in her lap. I have a plan, she wanted to say. And the baton twirling is part of the plan. She closed her eyes and imagined her father in a booth, in a diner, sitting across from Lee Ann Dickerson.
She imagined her father opening the paper and discovering that she was Little Miss Central Florida Tire. Wouldn’t he be impressed? Wouldn’t he want to come home immediately? And wouldn’t Lee Ann Dickerson be amazed and jealous?
“What could your father possibly see in that woman?” said Raymie’s mother, almost as if she knew what Raymie was thinking. “What could he see in her?”
Raymie added this question to the list of impossible, unanswerable questions that adults seemed inclined to ask her.
She thought about Mr. Staphopoulos, herlifesaving coach from the summer before. He was not the kind of man who asked questions that didn’t have answers.
Mr. Staphopoulos only ever asked one question: “Are you going to be a problem causer or a problem solver?”
And the answer was obvious.
You had to be a problem solver.
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. Text copyright © 2016 by Kate DiCamillo. Jacket illustration copyright © 2016 by Lucy Davey. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.