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I finished reading Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale a couple of weeks ago, and my copy of the book is now making its rounds from one happy and entranced reader in my classroom to the next. But Raymie and her friends Beverly and Louisiana have been very much with me. They are unforgettable characters, really, and the why of that unforgettable-ness has been much on my mind, because when I think of Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana, I think of the children I teach…especially now, when our time together is drawing to an end, when I want to remember as much about them as I can.
Yesterday, I listened again to this interview with Kate DiCamillo:
Actually, I listened to it twice. Because the first time, I got stuck at this quote, and needed time to think about it and chew on the substance of it:
Raymie, she’s very much like the child that I was. Very introverted, watching, worrying, wondering, but also hopeful.
I have Raymies and Kates like this…they are watching and worrying and wondering, too. I see this in the way their eyes focus and unfocus throughout the day. Now they are here, watching, and then they are not, because they are off in some sixth grade zone of worrying and wondering. Many of them have much to worry about, because, as Raymie discovered when her father went off with that dental hygienist, grown ups often do things that the kids who love them, and trust and need them, cannot even imagine they would do. This is why they hope, and why they have to believe in the power of hoping, as Raymie did with her plans to become Little Miss Central Florida Tire so that her father would have a means to live up to that hope. I want my kids to know hope, too: hope in our classroom community, and hope in the great world beyond. What am I doing to inspire and nurture hope?
The second bit of the interview that stopped me short was when Kate said this:
but it wasn’t until after I finished the book that I … [realized] that I was, as a kid, stronger than I thought I was. … Raymie does something that surprises herself and surprised me and made me realize … you’re stronger than you think you are.
And this is the part that gives me hope. Because my kids always surprise themselves (often when they least expect it) by being stronger than they ever think they can be: they try new things, they push themselves to figure out new books and projects I dream up in the middle of the night, and they allow themselves to be kind when kindness is hard to summon up. Because kindness is often hard to summon up in middle school, where simply surviving through the day is challenge number one. What am I doing to inspire and nurture bravery?
These are the questions rattling around in my teacher’s head and heart today, and, considering what had been weighing me down just a few days ago , these are just the sort of questions I need to be thinking about in these last weeks of school.