The Power of Words: Personal Connections to Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale


When I was in high school, my great grandmother was placed into a nursing home. Almost weekly, my mom and I went to visit her.  She had Alzheimer’s so our visits weren’t filled with conversations. I paced the halls of the LifeCare Center holding my great grandmother’s hand, even though she seemed to have no idea who I was or why I was walking with her. Over those many visits, I came to know many of the residents at LifeCare and their many quirks. It was strange how even as an introvert I was drawn to certain people who maybe were some of the most risky of residents. One of those residents was Florence.  She was from New York, and you heard her before you ever saw her. She shouted out, “Hey!” over and over.  The workers at LifeCare seemed to have reached a point where her repeated shouting of the same word was tuned out, but I always heard it. While it scared me, I was also intrigued by her, and I remember many instances where despite my fear of being hit, grabbed, or pushed, I chatted with Florence. I think more than anything she just wanted someone to listen to her, to acknowledge that she existed in the world.

As I read Raymie Nightengale, I came to the scene in the Golden Glen retirement home where Raymie encounters a resident who repeatedly says, “Take my hand”, and I was thrust back in time to my own fears, curiosities, and empathy from my many days in the LifeCare Center. I don’t know how she does it, but Kate DiCamillo seems to always write words that speak to my soul. Her words are powerful and link to personal connections or goals in my own life.  As I read Raymie, I closed the book at the end of every chapter, hugged the book to my chest, and said, “How does she do it?”.


I know what we hold in our hands is the final version of a story that has grown and morphed many times. I know there are probably many moments of intense thought, hair pulling, tears, joy, and time spent in the writing chair. Many eyes have looked at these words before they reach the reader, but the final words on the page are powerful. They are concise, yet they bring out the complexities of 3 girls and many unforgettable characters who are very different yet are connected to one another at the same time.

I love Ida Nee and her tell-it-like-it is attitude of not putting up with any nonsense

I love Beverly who is rough around the edges but has a kind heart inside.

I love Louisiana who is innocent and naive as she wrestles with the challenges of poverty.

I love Mrs. Borkowski and her ability to brush off just about anything with a “Phhhhtttt.”

I love Raymie and her strength in making a plan to bring her family back together yet recognizing when she needs to help others along the way.

As I read Raymie, I took a pen and underlined words that spoke to my heart. It seems that no matter which Kate DiCamillo book I read, there’s a line that resonates with me that I tend to carry with me wherever I go. In Flora and Ulysses, it ended up being a line that inspired our library motto and blog title of expecting the miraculous.

There are many lines in Raymie.  I’ll leave them here without any interpretation for now.  These lines are still sitting with me, speaking to me, and finding their place in my life.

“She herself often felt to terrified to go on, but she had never admitted it out loud.” p. 2

“…this made everything she said seem ridiculous, but also possible–both things at the same time.” p. 10

“The sun is nothing but a dying star. Someday it will go out. Phhhhtttt.” p. 22

“Fear is a big waste of time. I’m not afraid of anything.” p. 79

“…stand as if you value yourself and your place in the world.” p. 82

“And I wanted to tell you that no matter what, I’m here and you’re here and we’re here together.” p. 154

I invite you to find your own lines that speak to your heart by picking up a copy of Raymie Nightingale starting Tuesday April 12th at your local bookstore.  My copy will be waiting for me at Avid Bookshop, and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands.  Even if this book isn’t the one that creates a personal connection for you, I hope you’ll keep searching for an author and a book that has lines that speak to your soul.



Wonder is Truly Wonderful!

I started hearing about the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio a few months ago thanks to Mr. Schu at Watch. Connect. Read.  The more I heard him (and others) begin to talk about the power of this book, the more I wanted to read it.  I was very excited when Mr. Schu gave away some Advanced Reader Copies of the book on his blog.  I’m not usually a lucky person, but apparently I was meant to get a copy of this book because I won the drawing.  Also, as luck would have it, I got sick on my birthday and got to stay home from school.  During my day of silence, I finished the whole book.

I don’t even know how to begin describing this book.  It’s so much more than a book; it’s an experience of immersing yourself in the shoes of someone so unlike yourself.  It’s an adventure, a journey.  The main character August Pullman (Auggie) is born with a facial deformity, and as he says, “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”  Up until now, Auggie has been homeschooled, but he’s taking the leap of moving into a new school and all of the challenges that come with making friends, attending a formal school, and more, but he faces all with this with a major difference that he was born with.

R.J. Palacio tells this story from multiple perspectives.  I’ve come to realize that these kinds of books are among my favorites.  I love how the same situations are viewed completely different when seen through the eyes of several people and how individual stories weave together to tell a whole story.  The story starts from Auggie’s perspective, and I couldn’t help but want to reach out and give Auggie a hug.  All of my problems in life seemed so small and insignificant after viewing the world through Auggie.  He’s brave, smart, and funny.  I found myself wanting to spend more time with him, so I was a little sad when the book switched perspectives, but it didn’t take long for me to be glad that it did.  I liked getting inside the other characters’ heads and understanding why they made the choices that they made.  I easily made connections with them when I’ve been in similar situations where someone had a facial deformity.  I was reminded of when my wife and I were seated with a man who had a facial deformity on our 7 day cruise.  Every night, we sat with him and his wife and enjoyed some great conversation, and we didn’t once talk about the deformity.  It was a challenge, but I couldn’t help but think how he probably had to explain his face to every person he came in contact with and how nice it might be to just sit and have some normal conversation.  I was glad that Auggie met some of these kinds of characters in the book.

I know great things are ahead for this book.  It’s early in the year, but this is a standout book that is a must-read.  I’ve already ordered our copy for the media center and can’t wait to share it with students.  In the spirit of Mr. Schu and others who are paying this book forward, I’m giving away my copy to a teacher in our school.  I can’t wait to hear what the class has to say about the book!

Football Double Threat: An ebook triple review

Three 5th grade boys just finished a book study with me in the library using our e-readers.  The boys were interested in reading something football-related, so we looked at several options before deciding on Matt Christopher’s Football Double Threat.  Three days each week, the boys came to the library, read aloud at a table, and discussed the book.  They also used the e-readers to highlight text and to look up words that they didn’t understand.  At the end, the boys each wrote a review and used the iPads to record their reviews.  Here they are for your enjoyment:


Guest Book Review: Grandma’s Gift

We are so excited to have teachers participating in our National Picture Book Month Celebration.  Teachers have been sharing books on our morning broadcast show each morning.  Also, Mrs. Kelly Hocking is doing a guest post on our blog today to review one of her new favorite books.  Enjoy her review.

Picture Book Review by Kelly Hocking

Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez

Have you ever read one of those books that just has so much in common with your life that you just can’t believe it?  Well, that’s what the book Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez was like for me.  I picked it up because the apartment on the front cover reminded me of the apartment my Dad grew up in.  I have fond memories of it because my Dad grew up in New York City, and so when we visited my grandparents, we got to go to that big amazing city.  You can imagine how surprised I was when I started to read the book, and sure enough, it WAS New York City.  The little boy, Eric, had a grandma in the city, just like me!  Eric had a school assignment over the Christmas Holiday to go see a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  My Grandpa worked there as a guard when I was a child, and, just like Eric, I was so inspired by a painting I saw there once that I decided I would go to art school when I grew up…and I did—and so did Eric (in real life.)

Not everything in this book reminds me of myself.  You see, Eric has to translate everything for his grandma.  She is Puerto Rican and cannot read English.  At one point, Eric says he feels like he’s “going to school for two.”  I don’t know how that feels, but that’s why I read books, to try to feel what other people might feel so I can understand them better.  Eric and his grandma feel pretty uncomfortable in parts of the city because no one looks or speaks like them.  They feel much more at home at “ LaMarqueta,” the market in their neighborhood where everyone speaks Spanish and looks more like they do.  Grandma is famous for her Christmas “pasteles,” a delicious Puerto Rican dish that she would serve and even share with all the people in her neighborhood.  My mouth just watered at the description of how Eric and Grandma made the little bundles.  I could smell them in their oven as they baked.  I could swear little puffs of fragrant steam were radiating off that page.  If only I could find that recipe.

That same grandma of mine who raised 7 children (my Daddy being the baby) in a small apartment in New York City once told me to always read EVERY page of a book.  “Don’t stop where the story stops.  There could be a secret just for you on one of the pages about the author or even on the back cover.”  Many times, this little reading tip has led me to my next book.  But this time, it led me to something yummier.  Guess what I found as I went on to read the “Author’s Note?”  I not only found out more about the author (who was really the little boy in the story,) I found a web site that has the recipe for the very pasteles that Grandma and Eric cooked.  You don’t have to guess what I’m making this Christmas to share with my family.  Mmmmmm, I can smell them already!

Penny Dreadful

In my adult life, I’ve watched a few people wish for an “everything change” in their lives, make a complete change in their career and location, and fall on their face and not get back up.  Needless to say, it’s hard for me to imagine a completely successful “everything change” that turns out ok, but in my heart I know they can happen and DO happen.

In Laurel Snyder’s book, Penny Dreadful, Penelope Grey wishes for just that:  an everything change.  Penelope’s father is way too busy with his job and her mother is way too busy with her social life, so Penelope just wants some excitement and adventure for a change.  Here’s where Laurel Snyder brings in the magical power of wishes and dreams.  When Penelope makes a wish in a wishing well, everything changes.  Her father quits his job in order to work on becoming a writer and their bills quickly become too hard to handle.  Then, Penelope’s mother inherits a house in the country called the Whippoorwillows.  It seems their luck is changing, but the Whippoorwillows brings with it a whole other set of worries (along with a cast of unforgettable characters).  Will Penelope (Penny) and her family’s “everything change” turn out for the best or will they fall on their face like a few people you might know?  You’ll just have to go on the adventure to find out.

From page one of this book, I was hooked.  Penny is the kind of narrator that just draws you in, speaks to your heart, and makes you want to help her make her dreams come true.  Laurel Snyder weaves in just a bit of fantastical magic in the way of wish-making, but the majority of the book is about the simple, everyday magic that happens in adventures outdoors, conversations with people you would never dream of speaking to, and unexpected friendships that could last a lifetime.

Two books came to mind as I read.  Penny and the many other children that inhabit the Whippoorwillows make adventures out of their everyday interactions with one another.  They tromp around through the woods and caves (something that many kids seem to be missing out on these days) and create their own magic just like the sisters of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks tales.  When I read The Penderwicks, I was overjoyed at what a wonderful story was created out of simple, everyday adventures between a group of sisters.  Laurel Snyder has captured that same magic here.  I was also reminded of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.  In that book, a dog guides the main character Opal to all of the quirky characters of a community and Opal sees the uniqueness of each person and finds a way to connect them all together.  The residents of the Whippoorwillows reminded me of the community in Because of Winn-Dixie.  Laurel Snyder brings in so many personalities, lifestyles, and unusual hobbies and yet all of these people come together into a tightly connected community.  I love that kind of magic in a story.

Penny Dreadful is a delight and is not to be missed.  Check it out today in our media center or your local library (or at your favorite bookstore).

David C. Barrow Elementary is so fortunate to have Laurel Snyder coming to visit our PreK-5th grade students on February 24th.  I know that her talent as a writer will inspire our young scholars to dream up the most magical of stories when she leaves.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Keeper By: Kathi Appelt Illustrated by: August Hall This edition: Hardcover, 416 pages Publication date: May 18, 2010 Ages: 8 - 12

Kathi Appelt, Newbery-honor author of The Underneath, continues her writing brilliance in Keeper.  Imagine your worst day ever. Does it involve talking crabs, burnt gumbo, a broken ukulele, a terrorized cat, mysterious mermaids, a lost mother, shattered flower pots, and a search and rescue mission?  Well, Keeper’s worst day involves all of those.
Once again, Kathi Appelt weaves together a realistic story with hints of myth, legend, and magic.  She tells us a story from multiple points of view, and I love her for that.  We often hear that when we write, we should choose a point of view and stick with it.  Kathi Appelt masterfully shows us just how to break that rule.  Through the story, we go into the thoughts of cats, seagulls, mermaids, and dogs, along with the main character Keeper, her adopted mother Signe, and her surfer neighbor Dogie.  I was also amazed that in 400 pages, only one day went by, yet I was captivated by every page.
On the surface, this is a story of a girl’s search for her mother and a terrible day she has along the way.  However, deeper down this story has many lessons to be learned for all ages.  I invite you to discover Keeper.

What poem is hiding inside you?

written by Joyce Sidman illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky Houghton Mifflin, 2009 ISBN-13: 978-0-547-01494-4

Summer is the perfect time to sit outside in the sunshine by the pool, under a tree, next to a stream, or wherever else your heart leads you and take time to appreciate the beauty of the world.  It’s also the perfect time to capture your observations in a journal, sketchbook, or your favorite piece of technology.  One thing that I love to do is take my observations of the world and turn them into poetry.  I just finished reading Red Sings from the Treetops: A year in colors by Joyce Sidman & Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.  This book was a 2010 Caldecott Honor book, and it was very deserving of this recognition.  The illustrations are exquisite, and the text is lyrical and insightful.  Joyce Sidman uses her poetic eye and creative imagination to capture how colors change throughout the year.  Definitely check this book out for writing and drawing inspiration.

On Joyce’s website, students can submit their poems for publication.  She posts student poems with only first names visible.  I’m always looking for places where students can make their voices heard through their writing.  If you choose to write a poem this summer (and I hope you do), consider sending it to her site. You can also post it here in the comments section whether your an adult reading this or a student!  If you know other great outlets for young authors to publish their work, leave that in the comments section, too.  Now go outside, pick a spot, listen & observe, and craft a poem!