Middle Grade Series Review: Kate DiCamillo's Three Rancheros
Titles: Raymie Nightingale Louisiana's Way Home Beverly, Right Here
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publication Info: Candlewick Press 2016, 2018, 2019
Source: Library digital resources
For Raymie Nightingale: Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who's determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.
These three books aren't really a series, but they are certainly connected, and the "Three Rancheros" (as Louisiana has it, in her usual slightly confused way) are featured in the three books, which take place a few years apart. Each is written with the deft plotting and characterization we expect of DiCamillo, and the stories seem appropriate to the characters as they age from 10 years, to 12, to 14. That age for the final book, about the girl who was always the most in tune with the adult world, could have made the final book more YA than middle grade, but DiCamillo handles the adult issues and decisions Beverly is facing in a manner just light enough to keep it suited to children of 10 or 11 years.
I recently realized there was a 3rd book, after having read the first two when they came out, and had to go back and reread them all since I couldn't remember enough of the stories to satisfy me. In actual fact, however, each story stands alone, even though they reference the others. I do recommend reading in order, just because the later books do offer some spoilers for the earlier ones. Also, it just make more sense to watch the trio maturing!
The 1970s setting does make for a few things we aren't perhaps used to seeing in modern children's books, including (a lot of) characters smoking, even in restaurants. It's a reflection of the times, and may give rise to opportunities to discuss how much that has changed--and why (or, in some states, I guess it hasn't changed so much?). I do love the freedom these little girls have to run around and explore their world, if in their cases it does at times verge on neglect rather than freedom (and at other times is definitely neglect).
It's a great set of books for the adult or child reader. I found them a nice summer read, quick, easy, and full of substance and characters who stick with you.