The first thing to know about Kate DiCamillo’s middle-grade novels is this: They’re not just for kids. DiCamillo – the author of Because of Winn-Dixie and two Newbery Medal winners, The Tale of Despereaux and Flora and Ulysses – creates unforgettable characters that tug at your emotions no matter your age.
My two children are long past elementary school, but I still greet a new Kate DiCamillo book like a handful of gummy bears: They’re too sweet to resist.
Her newest novel, Louisiana’s Way Home, features spunky 12-year-old Louisiana Elefante, the orphaned girl readers first encountered in DiCamillo's prior novel, Raymie Nightingale. Louisiana is whisked out of bed at 3 a.m. by her grandmother, who declares that “the day of reckoning has arrived.” Their journey out of Florida is stopped short when Granny, in desperate pain, requires an emergency trip to the dentist and a couple nights at the Good Night Sleep Tight Motel to recuperate.
Separated from her best friends and her cat, Archie, Louisiana fumes at her Granny and grouses about their station in life. But the girl is wily and resourceful, and she uses those powers – including a beautiful singing voice – to make the best of a terrible situation. Along the way she meets Burke Allen (a boy who knows how to snag free stuff from the vending machine), and a collection of quirky but mostly kindhearted adults.
“In some ways, this is a story of woe and confusion,” Louisiana tells readers early in the novel, “but it is also a story of joy and kindness and free peanuts.” The book is classic DiCamillo, which means it will have you chuckling at times, sighing at others, and once again celebrating the charm and resilience of children.