Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sweet summer friendship center of Kate DiCamillo's latest young reader novel, 'Raymie Nightingale'

             Two-time Newberry Medalist author Kate DiCamillo doesn’t shy away from showing characters in tough situations in her children’s chapter books, but it’s done with gentleness. In “Because of Winn Dixie,” the narrator’s preacher father leads a tiny Florida congregation in an abandoned strip mall store, neglecting his daughter because of heartbreak. A China rabbit gets lost in “The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane,” subjected to the harsh realities of the world where he learns emotions. In her latest, “Raymie Nightingale,” a young girl is convinced that winning the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition will make her father leave the dental hygienist he has run off with and return to the family. She takes classes from eccentric former beauty pageant winner Ida Nee with two other children, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. Beverly’s father has also left and she’s determined to sabotage the contest. Louisiana lives with her grandmother, with barely enough to eat, and wants to win the contest for the money. Together the three girls, each experiencing the sharp pain of loss, give each other courage to face their challenges and assist each other in solving their problems. 
            “Raymie Nightingale” is a sweet tale of a summer alliance and the power that friendship provides.

New releases
            Sometimes books get away from me and hide beneath piles of the to-be-read. It happens more than I’d like to admit. Camille Walsh is a good example. She wrote me last summer, around the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, announcing a collection of oral histories from individuals who worked to rebuild their communities. “How We Came Back: Voices from Post-Katrina New Orleans” consists of 17 stories from four diverse New Orleans neighborhoods and is edited by Nona Martin Storr, Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr, published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. It’s a fabulous tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to rebuild New Orleans. My apologies for taking so long in reporting this.
            University of Mississippi Press has published two books with a Louisiana connection — “The Amazing Crawfish Boat” by John Laudum, an associate professor of English at UL-Lafayette, and “Called to Heal the Brokenhearted: Stories from Kairos Prison Ministry International” by William H. Barnwell, who has served Episcopal churches in New Orleans, among other cities, including as canon missioner at the Washington National Cathedral. As its name suggests, Laudun’s “Crawfish Boat” explains the development of the creative amphibious vehicle that allows farmers to effectively harvest crawfish, an invention that has transformed an industry. Barnwell’s stories about prison inmates and the volunteers who minister them are mostly set at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Award-winning journalist and author Deborah Blumenthal has penned a young adult story about two teens struggling to survive in the face of a hurricane bearing down on Houston in “Hurricane Kiss.” When their evacuation route is gridlocked, the two take shelter in their abandoned high school. Kirkus calls it, “A neatly wrought, effective survival tale.”
Tulane University campus minister Morgan Guyton, a member of the United Methodist Church, published “How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity.” Guyton co-directs the NOLA Wesley United Methodist Campus Center with his wife, Cheryl. He will appear at the May 10 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore., to advocate for full LGBT inclusion in the church.

Le Papillon
            Ballet Acadiana hopes to bring to life some of the drawings contained in Floyd Sonnier’s autobiographical book, “From Small Bits of Charcoal: The Life and Works of a Cajun Artist.” “Le Papillon: Celebrating Floyd Sonnier’s Acadiana” by Ballet Acadiana will include visual art, performance art, live music and history for all ages at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at the Grand Opera House of the South in Crowley. Sonnier grew up in Acadia parish and his pen-and-ink drawings represented life growing up as a French-speaking Cajun in rural south Louisiana in the 1940s and ’50s. The piece is the result of dancer, teacher and choreagrapher Bill Hastings, the Has Beans, who play a mix of Cajun, zydeco, Americana and swamp blues, and Ballet Acadiana artistic director Beverly F. Spell. For tickets, call (337) 785-0440.

Book news
BJ Bourg of Mathews won the 2016 Best Mystery Award from The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition for his debut, Louisiana-set mystery novel “James 516.” The annual EPIC eBook Awards is an international competition recognizing excellence in ebook publishing since 2000. For more info, visit

            The 20th anniversary of the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference will be May 14-15 at the Crowne Plaza Austin. There will be six breakout sessions that include two writer tracks, a professional development track and an illustrator track and chances to meet illustrators, authors, agents and editors. For information about rates, registration and participants, visit